Gathering gold heritage
Jewellery and ornaments are not for investment
Gold has been treasured for centuries by Thais who use it in various facets of their daily life.
Gold is included in several formulas for Thai traditional medicine, such as ya hom, which is a common household remedy for dizziness and nausea. Gold is also a decorative ingredient for luxury desserts such as thong ek and ja mongkut.
As a revered substance, with prestige and economic value, holding gold in Thailand is a traditional method of maintaining savings.
Gold even holds a place in Thai culture.
Yet for serious investors, gold jewellery or ornaments are not a wise choice because the more intricate and complicated patterns and designs, such as for Sukhothai traditional gold ornaments, require a higher percentage of gold content lost, ensuring higher labour fees will be charged.
Suphatchana Khaohoen, the owner of Nantana Sukhothai Gold shop, says typically traditional gold jewellery is made from gold with 99.99% purity, but the use of borax in making intricate and complicated patterns generally results in gold content falling to less than 90%.
She says in practice, gold shops will also waive paying the manufacturing fee for the gold jewellery if customers re-sell their traditional ornamental gold back to shops.
The shops also cut their repurchase price by about 500 baht if customers sell their traditional gold ornaments to different shops from where they were purchased, says Ms Suphatchana.
The manufacturing fee for traditional Sukhothai gold ornaments is quoted at about 3,000 baht per one-baht weight (15.16 grammes).
Ms Suphatchana says traditional gold jewellery is normally bought by those with an appreciation for artisans’ craftsmanship and traditional arts, not for investment purposes.
Most buyers are well-heeled and live in Bangkok.
“Thai traditional gold ornaments like Sukhothai designs need to be preserved,” says Duangkamol Jiambutr, director of the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT).
Glittering examples of Sukhothai gold jewellery.
“Traditional gold ornaments contain unique characteristics that stand out for their ancient craftsmanship and are intertwined with folklore that presents the beauty of nature and local beliefs. There are many patterns that artisans have created, from simple to complicated ones, based on local wisdom. Highly specific production techniques for antique gold jewellery have been accumulated and passed down from generation to generation.”
Ms Duangkamol says production techniques and patterns of traditional gold ornaments are normally passed down within families. Regrettably, the younger generation no longer have the passion to continue in their ancestors’ footsteps as skilled craftsmen.
“The number of craftsmen making antique jewellery has dropped significantly, while information on antique gold jewellery is not collected systematically,” she says. “We’re afraid the identity and know-how of traditional jewellery may be lost in the future.”
The institute under the Commerce Ministry has tried its best to preserve traditional gold jewellery as a part of Thai heritage for future generations. It is setting up standards for antique Thai gold ornaments and collecting Sukhothai gold pattern data to add value to ornaments and guarantee quality for consumers.
The gold preserves ancient Thai arts and craftsmanship, says Ms Duangkamol.
She says GIT started the first phase of the project by collecting and registering Sukhothai gold accessories to be used as references for Thai heritage and local artisans.
During June 21-27, GIT surveyed and collected data in Sri Satchanalai district in Sukhothai on unique patterns of Sukhothai gold and silver, the history of artisans and their masterpieces to be used for future reference.
The references will help ensure consumer confidence in terms of quality standards, improving Thai gold heritage and adding value in the future.
Once data collection on Sukhothai gold is finished, GIT will pursue data collection from gold artisans in Phetchaburi, where the province’s gold patterns were influenced by royal goldsmiths from the Ayutthaya era and Chinese arts. The institute plans to later collect ancient gold patterns in Phuket, which bear innovation and influence from the Peranakan style.
“Thai hand-made gold jewellery fetches relatively lower prices than pieces made in foreign countries,” says Ms Duangkamol. “Our goal is to raise its prices and value.”