Bangkok: City of Gemology Schools
Comparing Thailand’s Top Four
If you’ve been to Bangkok then you probably know that it’s the hub that the world’s colored gemstone industry revolves around. What you may not know is that Bangkok is also the home to some of the best gemology schools in the world. Within a 2 kilometer radius we have (from Thailand’s oldest to newest) AIGS, GIA, FGA (in GIT), and IGT.
The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) was the first gemology laboratory and school in Asia. Started by the Ho family in 1978, AIGS first opened its doors to just a handful of Thai and International students. In the last 40 years, the school has built a strong reputation for being a leader in Colored Stones education. Their 6 month Accredited Gemologist (AG) program consists of four modules (Gem Identification, Synthetic & Treated Gem Identification, Colored Stone Grading and Pricing, and Diamond Grading and Pricing). Current prices found here.
The Gemology Institute of America (GIA) started in 1931 in Los Angeles, California. The school and the lab have become world famous for their research and their work with diamonds. Having created the Diamond Grading System used by the world over, the GIA education has an especially strong Diamonds program, reputed to be the best in the world. They opened up their Bangkok branch in 1993 and have been providing gemological education to Asia ever since. Their 6 month Graduate Gemologist (GG) program consists of two sections (Colored Stones and Diamonds). Current prices found here.
The Gemmological Institution of Great Britain (Gem-A) is the world’s oldest gemology school, having started in London in 1908. They are the newest of the four gemology schools to offer their educational program in Bangkok. have started in 2000. Their Gemmology Diploma program (FGA) is offered in the Gems and Jewelry Institute Building (GIT). Please note that the Gemmology Diploma doesn’t cover diamonds. Gem-A also offers a Diamonds Diploma but not currently in Bangkok. GIT also offers a Diamond Grading Course (CDG) that was created in collaboration with the HRD Institute of Gemmology in Antwerp, though there doesn’t seem to be any classes currently scheduled. Current prices found here.
A new offering to Bangkok’s gemology education scene is the Institute of Gem Trading. IGT’s educational program is meant to compliment a gemology diploma with hands-on applied gemology skills such as rough stone grading and evaluation, cutting and recutting gemstones with lots of theory and practice, and business courses for the gem trade. These courses offer knowledge that is not widely available outside of long term apprenticeships. The Institute started in 2017 but their classes are a welcome addition to the traditional knowledge offered from the more well known schools. Prices are available here.
We have three very well known and very reputable schools and the new kid on the block. AIGS is known for colored stones, synthetics, treatments, and market pricing. GIA is known for diamonds, sales, and preparation for entry into the jewelry sales industry. GEM-A is known to be the most technical and theoretical program which is great for those that want to go deeper into the mechanisms behind how gems exist and function on a physical level. IGT is the school that takes you to the next level of training. All four are great options depending on your needs. But what about Bangkok? Why travel all the way across the world when you can find great Gemology schools in the US, Canada, Europe, and China?
BANGKOK IS THE CENTER OF THE COLORED STONE TRADE
All four schools are located in the Bang Rak district, which is the gemstone trading neighborhood of Bangkok. The epicenter of this district is the Jewelry Trade Center (JTC) building located on Silom Road near the intersection with Mahesak Road. Aside from the 50+ floors of gem dealers in the JTC, there are dozens if not hundreds of shops and offices around Silom and Mahesak. For the potential student, this is a gold mine of learning experiences. You can meet buyers, sellers, cutters, factory owners, and other people in the gem trade from all over the world.
Another great resource that Bangkok offers gemological students are the gem libraries. There is a very nice public gem library and museum in the GIT building that boasts 10,000 gem-related books, magazines, and videos and costs less than $1 to use. Inside of AIGS there is a school library of about 2,500 books including several complete collections of journals such as GIA’s Gems and Gemology (going back to the 1940’s) and Gem-A’s Journal of Gemmology. GIA’s main headquarters in California contains over 57,000 gem-related books but the Bangkok campus only has a small collection of around 100 books for it’s students to use.
The next highlight of Bangkok is its location. Thailand has been producing Rubies and Sapphires for hundreds of years and the Thai gem community in Chanthaburi has been pioneering the heat treatment industry for over 40 years. This means that in Bangkok or in the gem trading town of Chanthaburi, the interested student can visit gem mines, heat treatment facilities, gem trading markets, jewelry manufacturers, gem cutting factories, gem museums, and of course jewelry shops.
Aside from courses in Gemology, there are a number of other gem-related subjects to learn about during a stay in Bangkok. If you are interested in gemstone heat treatments, Ted Themelis offers a Ruby and Sapphire Treatment Class.
If you are interested in cutting gemstones in the traditional Thai style, there is a very good school in the Prawet neighborhood, which has historically been a cutting district in Bangkok. The school is called Venice of the East or Baan Ploy for Thai speakers and is run by a husband and wife team of Thai cutters who have been cutting in Bangkok for over 30 years. The prices are very reasonable and they have a translator for English students. Venice of the East also offers gemology classes in Thai.
Besides education, Bangkok offers many opportunities for the student or fresh graduate to meet people in the industry and find mentorship or potentially a job. Every few months, GIA offers a Gem Gathering which is a free talk from an industry professional and is attended by many people in the gem trade. It’s a great opportunity to meet and talk to a huge cross section of the industry. GIT offers a near-yearly conference that provides another great opportunity to increase your gemology knowledge and meet notable industry professionals. Finally, there is the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair which is a free show that happens twice a year. This is a great place to see stones but possibly more importantly, this is a great place to meet companies, collect business cards, and look for potential job opportunities.
BANGKOK IS MORE AFFORDABLE THAN STAYING HOME
Bangkok is a buffet when it comes to gemstone education. You can find almost anything you need in this gemcentric city. That’s not the only reason you should considering coming to Bangkok for your education. The cost of living is very reasonable. For those that are coming for six months or a year, you can rent an apartment for as little as $300 a month within a walking or motorbike commute to your school of choice.
If you think you will be too busy to cook while you’re in school, the food in the stalls and restaurants can be very affordable, too. If you can budget $15 per day for food, you will never be hungry and always satisfied by the wide range of culinary delights that Bangkok offers. The gem district of Bangkok is full of Thai and Indian food but you can find almost style of cooking here such as French, Italian, Malaysian, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, and Mexican. Not everything is cheap but there are definitely options for every budget.
Consider this: If you want to attend gemology school but you don’t think you can afford the tuition, you could do the classes at home and travel to a campus to take the lab classes. You would need to pay your rent at home which could be anywhere from $400–$1000 per month if you live in the US or Europe. You might spend around $20,000 total if you consider tuition, food, and rent. That’s $20,000 and 6 months of you sitting in your home, doing coursework all day. This requires dedication and the ability to not become distracted. This also assumes that you are a good learner and don’t need a teacher for any explanations.
Now consider this: If you come to Bangkok you would spend more on tuition but less on everything else. A rough estimate might be $15,602 for on-campus tuition, rent, and food plus around $1,000 for a round trip flight from somewhere in the US or Europe. That’s a grand total of $17,000 and you would be learning in the classroom with experienced teachers and you would be able to do weekend trips to mining locations for first-hand experiences and you would also have daily access to the gem markets of Bangkok which provides a real-world experience and lots of industry networking, which is priceless. If you also consider that you might save money in other ways such as the low cost of a Thai sim card ($12/mo for 3GB of data and calls), the minimal cost of commuting through Bangkok ($2 for a 3km taxi), plus the possibility of subletting/airbnb’ing your house/apartment at home, you have the potential to have a world-class adventure for a lot less than the cost of staying home or studying in the West.
Aside from being an affordable place to stay during your studies, Bangkok is a great jumping off point for a deeper, real-world education. A gemology degree is important for anyone wanting to enter the gem industry, but it’s only the first step down the long road of learning. Anyone who is seriously interested in entering the industry should try and get as much experience as possible. There are several important gem cities that are close to Bangkok by plane. From Bangkok, you can quickly and easily fly to Burma ($70: BKK-MDL) to visit Mogok, fly to Vietnam ($95: BKK-HAN) to visit Luc Yen, and you can easily take a cheap bus to Cambodia via Chanthaburi to visit Pailin ($20: Bus+Taxi). Many other important destinations are also within easy reach such as Ratnapura, Sri Lanka ($265: BKK-CMB), Jaipur, India ($242: BKK-JAI), and Hong Kong ($183: BKK-HKG). It would be reasonable for anyone coming to Bangkok for 6 months for school to budget for an additional 6 months to travel to these important locations to visit mines, dealers, and markets so they can honestly say that they understand where the stones come from and have personal contacts in each of these place.
Finally, Bangkok provides a great opportunity for mentorship. Contacts are an important key to the gem trade and there many important and accessible people in the Bangkok gem scene. Many established gemologists like Richard Hughes or Vincent Pardieu call Bangkok home and are only an email away. Maybe after you finish school and spend a bit of time visiting the historic gem locations of Asia, you might want to come back to Bangkok and have lunch with one of these industry heavyweights or visit one of the companies that you met at the Bangkok Gem and Jewelry Fair. The gem industry is a very personal business so the more people you can meet and befriend, the more success you are likely to have.
If you love gems, if you love adventure, if you love saving money, and you love Thai food, I would highly recommend considering Bangkok as your destination for gemology training. It’s the center of the colored stone universe and has more schools, labs, and dealers in one concentrated area than any other city. Bangkok also offers more opportunities to learn outside of the classroom than anywhere else in the world. Spend a year in Asia and you might find that your life has changed dramatically in a good way. Good luck!
About the Author
Justin K Prim is an American lapidary and gemologist living and working in Bangkok, Thailand. He has studied gemcutting traditions all over the world as well as attending gemology programs at GIA and AIGS. He is currently working on a book about the worldwide history of gemstone faceting. He works as a Lapidary Instructor for the Institute of Gem Trading as well as writing articles, producing videos, and giving talks about gem cutting history.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my other gemstone, travel, and finance related articles. The views expressed here are the author’s opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.
Originally Published on the Institute of Gem Trading website, May 2018medium.com
Faceting, the art of cutting and polishing angled faces on a gemstone to create sparkle and fire, has been practiced…medium.com