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  1. #1
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    All that GLITTERS...

    You'll find a lot more than rings and necklaces in the city's longest-established goldsmith's shop

    KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE



    A miniature teapot made of gold, one of the numerous fascinating works by the shop's goldsmiths.Shopping for gold is easier said than done when you're in Yaowarat, Bangkok's China Town.

    But it's not the high prices that make you hesitate, it's the stupefying extent of the choices available. Yaowarat, also known as Thanon Sai Thong (Gold Street), has more than 100 gold shops.

    The oldest of them all is Tang Toh Kang on Mangkorn Road. But it is not just age or wealth of experience that distinguishes this goldsmith's shop from its competitors. Here, gold jewellery and ornaments are still made the old way - painstakingly, by hand. The shop also runs the only private museum in Bangkok dedicated to goldsmithing, a treasure trove of arcane tool, trinkets and collectibles from the late 19th century.

    "We've been in the business for more than 130 years," says Chaikit Tantikarn, the shop's deputy manager, a member of the fourth generation of the Tang Toh Kang family.

    In his opinion, adherence to a strict code of ethical conduct plus training staff to put the customer first are the key factors in attracting, and retaining, clients.

    "Honesty is the best policy, one we've always followed," he says.


    In this country the unit of weight for gold is the baht (not to be confused with our unit of currency). Gold jewellery sold in the Kingdom must be 96.5 per cent pure; the standard for gold bars is even higher - 99.99 per cent. But if you buy a one-baht gold ,how can you be really sure that it contains exactly 15.16 grammes of 96.5 per cent-pure gold? Which is why in this line of business, perhaps more so than in many others, trust is such an important commodity.

    One mark of a reputable goldsmith's, Chaikit says, is an establishment that is always willing to buy back gold from a customer at the current market price. He compares it to a firm offering a life-time guarantee on its products.

    The shop was opened during the reign of King Rama V by Chaikit's great-grandfather, a skilled goldsmith who fled war in his native China and emigrated to Siam in search of a better life. Initially, Tang Toh Kang was only able to find poorly paid work as a labourer but he saved every penny he could and was finally able to realise the dream of being his own boss.

    The family patriarch started out employing four or five goldsmiths, offering both ready-to-wear jewellery and made-to-order items. Their creativity and the quality of their work was such that the business rapidly expanded, eventually employed around 100 artisans. In 1921 the family moved into a new, seven-storey building in Yaowarat; it was then the tallest structure in the area. That same year Tang Toh Kang was awarded a pair of wooden garuda statuettes by King Rama VI in token of his appreciation of the excellent service provided by the shop.

    As the years passed, more and more goldsmiths opened businesses in the neighbourhood, with machines gradually handling many of the tasks formerly done by skilled craftsmen. But Tang Toh Kang and his team continued to make all their jewellery in the tried and trusted way, a practice which is still followed to this day.

    "We believe in hand-made products," says Chaikit, "because the quality is so much better than anything you get by using factory machines."

    Although the number of people patronising gold shops is not as high as it was even a couple of years back, there is still a steady demand. Customers tend to buy gold jewellery not so much to wear themselves but as gifts, especially in the period leading up to Chinese New Year, or as a form of savings. And with the price of gold constantly rising, many now purchase the precious metal for speculative purposes, treating it as another kind of investment, Chaikit says.

    Today his shop only employs three in-house goldsmiths, the sons of artisans who previously worked for the family. All of them live on the premises.

    Now 80, Hungjua Sae-haeng came to Tang Toh Kang as an apprentice at the age of 16. "It was during World War II and I followed my father to work here. I learned how to make jewellery bit by bit until I liked the work so much that I decided to make it my career. I think of it as a labour of love," he says.

    Hungjua, whom colleagues respectfully address as Ah-pae (uncle), was making an oval link chain comprised of scores of very small rings. Although he wears spectacles he has no need for a magnifying glass. "I'm used to it," he says with a smile.

    His work space is an old wooden table which looks like a desk you might find in a primary school. On it is a lamp, tools and several plastic bottles containing chemicals. There's a drawer for keeping gold dust and storing other equipment. His hands are gnarled and covered in liver-spots, but steady as a rock, with none of the trembling that often affects people of his age.

    Ah-pae shares the workshop with two younger artisans: Arun Haemcharoenwong, who's only 27; and Thawee Pitakratchatasak, 51. They've notched up 20 and 38 years of experience, respectively, in the art of jewellery making.

    "I came here to help my father, who's now passed away, back when I was only a kid," Arun recalls. "I was around seven when I started working in the shop," he says as he wields the blowtorch used to heat up the gold wire and make it soft enough to manipulate.

    Observing what the other workers were doing, and closely following orders, Arun says he slowly graduated to developing his own designs.

    "Arun's work is very detailed. He's a goldsmith who shows a lot of promise" was the verdict of Rungradit Ritthiching, a sales assistant in the shop who sometimes doubles as a museum guide.

    Once he has made the length of wire sufficiently malleable Arun inserts one end of it in a metal contraption which contains rows of holes of different sizes. He turns a gear wheel which slowly pulls the wire through, making it longer and thinner. Then he repeats the process, using another hole with a smaller diameter to get the wire to the desired size.

    To make the individual links for the gold [chain, the wire is carefully bent around a wooden rod, the size of the ring depending on the thickness of the wood, and then Arun cuts a short length off with an ordinary scissors. He threads this through a completed link. Next, he uses needle-nose pliers to force the two ends together to form a ring, bonding the tips using a mixture of gold dust and a liquid called nam pra-san thong. His final task is to file off any rough edges.

    "An oval link necklace can be made by one man in a day or less," volunteers his colleague, Thawee, adding that the smaller the diameter of the links the longer the job takes

    Nowadays most goldsmiths use machinery for all but the most delicate steps in the jewellery-making process. Doing it all by hand requires a good deal of patience and "heart", as Thawee puts it. The onerous nature of the work tends to discourage newcomers to the trade, he adds.

    Although this type of jewellery takes a lot longer to make than the mass-produced stuff, the advantage is that unique pieces can be made to the customer's exact specifications. Certainly, the showroom has many unusual items on display including statuettes of animals in the Chinese zodiac and of various Chinese deities, tea sets, antique purses and little boxes.

    A visit to the fourth and sixth floors of the building reveals treasures of greater antiquity. "Our forebears loved collecting old objects from China," Chaikit explains, "and a lot of these things were left behind when the family moved out some 20 years ago. When we did a big spring-clean around five years back to prepare for a visit by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn we discovered more than a thousand items tucked away on the upper floors."

    It was decided to convert two floors into a museum to house the collection. Among the items on display are sets of porcelain statuettes of Fu Lu Shou, the three Chinese deities that represent happiness, wealth and longevity. Here, too, are goldsmithing tools from the century before last, old postcards, weighing scales made from wood plus various sizes and types of moulds, ring- and belt-buckle blocks.

    If you wish to visit this little repository of curios, phone first for permission. And to do the place justice, reckon on spending at least an hour there. So passionate are they about their craft that time tends to fly when you get talking to such knowledgeable gentlemen as these.

    Tang Toh Kang is on Soi Wanit, on Mangkorn Road, a short walk from Yaowarat Road. The shop is open daily, except Sundays, from 9:30am to 4pm. For more information, call 02-224-2422, 02-622-8640/2 or 02-252-2898 or visit http://www.tang-toh-kang.com.

    Bangkok Post
    Last edited by Khun Don; 15-02-08 at 10:14 PM. Reason: clean up lost photos

  2. #2
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    The current very high price of gold is having it's effect on gold shops in Bangkok, sales are down and many shops have less staff now than they did 2 or 3 years ago.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    I noticed that the gold sold in Thailand is soft due to the high amount of pure gold. It is not similar to the gold which is sold in other countries where the gold content is lesser but the gold item is more sturdy.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    Marketing ploy. Current exchange rate value of gold at the 99.999 level is ....fools gold. Color of gold is not an indication of quality. Just a flavor. Don't buy gold at this time. Ornamental gold is and has also been valuless after it is bought. It is time to express what is and has always been fools gold, asian gold is fools gold. Diluted. Ya just don't know what your getting for your money.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    I don't know about worthless, maybe it is the shop that you are used to doing business with Lenss, I think I would find someone else to do business with.

    The shop that we use and Sunee family has used is still in business and still stamps his brand on each piece sold, and still checks the brand when ever anyone in the family [or anyone else I have seen trading back gold] trades in any piece or wanted to sell each piece and gives the prevailing price per gram on the days market when turned back to him.
    And that is the way it has always been done here.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    As FiP says, all gold jewellers tend to secretly mark all the stuff they make and often will not buy stuff made by another gold jeweller-there is little trust. There have been several cases in Pattaya particularly of individuals trying to sell false gold pieces to jewellers.
    Had you or I bought a 1 Baht weight gold necklace 30 months ago, it would now be worth-minus the jewellers relatively small markup for making the piece -double what we paid for it!

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    Bought gold in thailand in the sixties, seventies . 35 bucks a troy ounce. Todays cost of thai gold is an outrage. Ornamental gold is what is sold in thailand. Be it 22 K or less. When I say valuless, I mean at this time, if one buys, they will get hit with the cycle. Ups and downs are routine. But, its, the purity of gold bought in asia that is the problem. One does just not know what they are buying when they buy thai gold. Or indian gold or laos gold. 22 K thai gold is sold in the USa. In the PX. 22K they call it. Try to sell this gold to a local thai/loa/chinese/cambodian gold dealer. Your will be surprised what they say. Gold and other so called precious stones, elements are an uknown. Values of this stuff can gyrate wideley depend on who is the expert. One dealer will not buy another gold piece from another gold dealer because they dont trust other gold dealers.
    Try Gem scams. Posts.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    Yes Lenss, in the 60s gold was $35 an oz, I think in the 70s sometime it went to $38 an oz.
    Thai gold is 23K at 96.5 pure. and by law it has to be 96.5 to be sold as gold in the kingdom.
    If you want to sell a bunch of gold and you are not here in Thailand where you can go back to the dealer that you bought it from then you can take it to a metals dealer and they can assay it and give you what it is worth, My Mil did trade some that came from some other dealer to our dealer we use now and he did an assay on it, I have sold a lot of Placer gold right out of the ground, and also some that we had milled and smelted ourselves, used to be illegal to do that but since the USA went off the gold standard you can now do it.
    The only ones that I know that could buy from the US mint was Standard Oil and they paid their Saudi oil leases in Gold, so they bought it for $35 from the mint and Saudi gave them up to $70 an oz for it. Not bad HUH, and I bet you thought that the BIG OIL had just started to screw you in the recent past.. 555

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    Got it FIP. In India there is also a standard. 22K must be above 19 K to be called 22 k. Studies have found when a agency tested the purity of gold trinkets in 40 major cities of India , it was determined that none of the 22k pieces went higher than 19 K and some were as low as 16.9. Its a published fact. Are there gold police who walk the cities of thailand to check the purity of ornamental gold sold in thai gold shops. Last close on gold is 922 dollars per troy ounce. In the past that would have caused a stir. The cost being so high. Not even an article on the price of gold now. Peterg had an excellent post on gold many months ago. His thought. buyer beware. I wonder what the parameters are for thai gold. 96.5? Oh really? Ornamental gold made by Jewlers is stamped. Not secretly. Stamp can be seen.

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    Re: All that glitters IS gold!

    Quote Originally Posted by lenss View Post
    Marketing ploy. Current exchange rate value of gold at the 99.999 level is ....fools gold. Color of gold is not an indication of quality. Just a flavor. Don't buy gold at this time. Ornamental gold is and has also been valuless after it is bought. It is time to express what is and has always been fools gold, asian gold is fools gold. Diluted. Ya just don't know what your getting for your money.
    Are you by any chance into jewelry or mining business? Just like to ask how you come to conclude that "asian gold is fools gold".

    I am no expert on the subject, but I love doing researches and I love jewelries. Pure gold appears to be BRIGHT YELLOW COLOR (like the color of Thai, Chinese Gold) traditionally considered attractive. Pure gold (24K) is very soft that is why its is usually mixed with base metals thus altering the hardness and ductility, melting point, color and other properties (so you see not only asian gold are diluted, all kinds of gold. Its just a matter of concentration).

    Thai and Chinese gold, are soft because of their purity, lowest carat is 14k and highest is 22k. International standard on the other hand is a bit dull colored, the lowest is 10K and highest is 18k. Italian gold has no value whatsoever. Italian gold is a series of plated gold (this is the fools gold). Middle Eastern and Philippine gold is a little less bright colored than Chinese and Thai gold. In the US, 10k is the defined karat limit and legally considered as real gold.

    Gold bar is valuable only if you have a jewelry making shop or you have your own jewelry maker to do your jewelries for you. Ornaments are really valueless unless you can melt the gold and convert it to make jewelries. Jewelries are valuable coz you can sell and pawn it plus value rises making it a good investment as well.

    The next best thing is to have your purchases estimated. What we usually do is go to a pawnshop (have 2 to 3 opinions, different locations) have it estimated. You will know immediately if you have been scammed or you brought home a treasure. You will know how much gram (running rate of gold per gram is about 750baht, here its 800 to 850php) and how many carats the gold really contains.

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