Samui Wining & Dining
HIDDEN GEMS
A real treasure trove of quality jewellery is to be discovered at Samui Lapidary..


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Perhaps that should have read ‘hidden away gems’. Because this is one shop you’re not going to notice on the street. Everyone who’s ever come to Samui has gone away with souvenirs of their stay. But in the last few years, it’s not just been coral beads and hand painted sarongs. Along with all the presents for the family and the cheap and cheerful mementos, more and more people are becoming aware that there are also many quality items on offer. And of these, jewellery comes top of the list. Chaweng hosts several excellent shops where you’ll find gold and silver inset with precious and semi-precious stones. But one of the best of such establishments is off the beaten track. It’s over in Maenam. And its name is Samui Lapidary.

        It’s a large, modern two-story building, that’s set back a little way from the road. And if you also add the name into the equation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was probably some kind wholesale supplier of stones or machines and equipment. On the contrary, it’s a showroom, classically laid out in the traditional Thai style with parallel rows of glass-topped display counters, elegant and functional, and with no concessions made at all to the western frippery of window dressing or trendy interior décor. It’s not a place

you’ll come across by accident, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re interested in looking around, they’ll provide you with a free pickup from your resort.

        The owner and mastermind of the project is long-time Samui resident, Khun Lek. She realised the growing potential of Samui as soon as it began building an airport, and so moved here at around the same time. Her family had connections in the Thai gold and jewellery trade and soon she opened her first shop in Chaweng. Over the years, she established four similar outlets, before consolidating them all into the premises you see today. But Samui wasn’t the only place that drew her attention, and in the late 90’s she had similar intuitions about Bali. The result is that she now spends her time between the two islands, and each of her shops sells quality craftwork from the other location. The upper floor at Samui Lapidary is dedicated to Thai and Balinese ceramics, woodcarvings, textiles and other such objets d’art.

         Initial impressions on walking into the shop are two-fold. The first is that this is big! And the half-a-dozen staff on hand emphasise this. The second impression is that everything looks much the same. And if there’s an observation to be made here, this is probably due to the traditional layout, because nothing could be further from the truth. One aspect that tends to compound this feeling is the huge amount of stock that’s on display – it’s probably the biggest selection on the island. Whereas other similar establishments will display one style of ring, for example, and then let you know that any of nine other gemstones can be used with this setting, here they’ll put all ten of them side by side for you to compare.

          Rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, in yellow gold, white gold or silver settings: all are available as separates and many come as matching combination sets. Indeed, there are onsite workshops where their experienced gold and silversmiths can add to a combination, alter it for you, or even repair your own items or make matching accessories to your instructions. There are items in the traditional and somewhat formal Thai style, and many more that display a more adventurous approach. And the same holds true for the range and variety of stones and how they are deployed.

          Thai gemstones are strictly controlled, authenticated and regulated, and with a consistency and precision that other countries can mostly only envy. White and yellow gold comes in 14 and 18 carat grades but doesn’t carry a Hallmark in the same way as the West, although with reputable outlets such as Samui Lapidary you’ll have no worries. Gemstones, particularly the diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, are carefully rated according to weight, clarity and rarity, with a minimum standard of 0.2 carats being the smallest stone permitted. Semi-precious stones such as topaz, garnet, amethyst, citrine and so on are similarly graded to assure consistency and quality.

          Here you’ll come across some rare treats, such as the orange sapphires that are specially imported from South Africa, together with other hues that are hard to come across. Black diamonds are always a conversation piece but you’ll be startled at the different presentations and settings here, particularly the matching sets of necklace, earrings and rings, in both classic and modern styles.

          Probably the best contrast, when it comes to the classical and the contemporary, is in the case of pearls. In addition to the purity and elegance of the formal dress sets, you’ll be impressed with what can be done with the free-flowing forms of ‘wild pearls’ and the even more dramatic black ones. Indeed, ask to see the combination of pearls and diamonds together. Here, indeed, is a range of quality souvenirs to arouse the admiration and envy of your friends when you return!

          Khun Lek is canny. Although her lifelong background has been in the sphere of jewellery and gemstones, she also owns a restaurant. The reason? This coast was sorely lacking in good ones! And this one is excellent, named ‘The Farmer’, and it’s right across the road from Samui Lapidary. It’s one of the most tranquil and impressive settings anywhere, with a real rice paddy in the foreground (supplying the restaurant) and with a gourmet menu to die for. Plus there’s also a dining discount available, depending on how much you’ve spent at the gem shop. And don’t forget that complimentary pick-up, too. Samui Lapidary might be a ‘hidden gem’ but it’s really easy to get to!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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