Samui Wining & Dining

There are many jewellery shops on Samui – but few that can match the

sheer quality and style at Classic Gems.


One of the fun parts of any holiday is stocking up with presents and surprises to take back home. And Thailand is the perfect place for this. There are bargains galore. But such reminders of what Thailand has to offer fall into two camps. There are the ethnic local crafts, ideal for souvenirs and inexpensive gifts. Then there’s the really good stuff. The quality jewellery, inset with precious or semi-precious stones and made from silver or gold.

        There are a couple of very good reasons for deciding to shop at the top end of the market. Firstly, it can represent a solid investment. But the other is far more personal. Perhaps an anniversary or birthday present. Or a unique gift for a close friend or relative? Or the very popular idea of matched wedding rings – if you’re getting married in Thailand, and on Samui in particular, what better way of symbolising the occasion with custom-made rings?

        The only snag is that there’s quite a lot of choice. Unless you’re something of an expert, it’s not easy to tell the difference between items that have been made from lesser-grade materials and those that are really top quality – just going by the price alone is not enough. Fortunately, as in

most countries, there are governing bodies that ensure the standards of their members remain consistently high. With jewellery, it’s the Thai Gems and Jewellery Traders Association (TGJTA). It’s a wise move to limit your jewellery shopping to one of its accredited members. And Classic Gems is just one such a place.

         Classic Gems is situated on the southern part of Chaweng Beach Road, almost directly opposite the entrance to the 5-star Centara Grand Beach Resort and on the corner of the side road known as ‘Soi Colibri’.

          There’s an elegant frontage, on both sides of the corner, which houses three rooms and a workshop within. But here’s the interesting thing. At the time when Samui’s airport was just getting under way, long before any 7-11s appeared on the island, back when Chaweng had never seen a taxi and was just a tiny scattering of buildings with a potholed dirt-road through the middle, way back in 1990 – that was when Classic Gems first set up shop on Samui.

          I deliberately said ‘on Samui’, as the origins of the shop and the family-owners go back well over 30 years, and are one of Bangkok’s biggest commercial jewellery manufacturers, distributing their quality products all over Thailand and also exporting them to international clients. Back in 1990, one member of this family business, Khun Chayapa Pongchababnapa, opened their first retail outlet, and it was here on Samui. Since then, the shop has twice relocated, only to end up, in 1995, not so far from where it first began. And, as one of the few-and-far-between accredited members of the TGJTA, this is one jewellery shop where you can be certain of seeing only the finest examples of the Thai jewellers’ craft, and in a classical style that has remained virtually unchanged throughout the years.

          But that’s not to say it’s old-fashioned in any way, as I’ll reveal in just a moment. But, certainly, when you walk in to look around, your first impression will be that there is such a vast array of rings, necklaces and earrings to pick from that it quite takes your breath away. There seems to be such an endless variety on display that it might help to know how they’re grouped. We can summarise this by saying that the majority of items have been designed with women in mind, although there’s a good selection of men’s items and quite a few things that are more hip and unisex.

          You can divide the jewellery into items made from white and yellow gold (14 and 18 carat) and those crafted from silver. The stones vary from precious (diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires) through to a variety of semi-precious gemstones – amethyst, topaz, garnet, citrine, peridot etc. Again, the quality is assured – this time by the ‘International Gemmological Institute’, which grades each stone on colour, quality and clarity, and with a certified minimum of 0.20 carats for each diamond used.

          There are actually three rooms at Classic Gems: walk through into the ‘Pearl Room’ for something of a surprise. If you thought pearls were white or creamcoloured, here there must be a dozen hues, ranging from snow white, through brown to almost black! This is where styles that are more contemporary begin to appear with some of the necklaces, particularly with the free forms of the ‘wild’ or ‘baroque’ pearls: several of the creations here are nothing short of stunning.

          And then wander through into the ‘Silver Room’. Now you’ll get to see something that’s chunkier – this is where the boys can play while their partners are engrossed in the room next door! (Some of the bracelets here are most definitely for men!) And there are quite a few items that are funkily unisex, too. If the gold and diamond section carries prices that you might expect, here there are also some absolute delights, which come in at two-to-three thousand baht – such as the exquisite silver and mother-of-pearl chokers and pendants. And there’s a small workshop in this area, too, so that repairs or adjustments can be made on the spot.

          Because Classic Gems is family-linked to one of the nation’s biggest and most reputable manufacturers, they are easily able to create matched ‘sets’ for you too – or even to custom-make any item to your own designs. Go to them with a Victorian heirloom ring that belonged to your great-grandmother (for instance) and they will create a necklace or earrings (or both) to match this precisely.

          I asked Khun Chayapa if styles had changed at all over the long run of the family business and the shop. Her reply, “. . . no, not really – traditional is classic is timeless.” I tend to agree. Except that I’d also add that here, at Classic Gems, there’s a whole new fringe of items that are modern – but the quality is all so tiptop that even the contemporary stuff is ‘classic’, too!


 Rob De Wet


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