Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shine on Pailin gems seen fading

Shine on Pailin gems seen fading

Shine on Pailin gems seen fading

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Workers shape and polish precious stones at a shop in Pailin province earlier this month. Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Pailin province
THE precious stone industry in Pailin province is facing bankruptcy as supplies dwindle and locals turn to agriculture as their main source of revenue, provincial authorities told the Post.

Pailin, long known for its rubies, sapphires and other precious stones, now depends on foreign imports to keep its jewelry shops stocked.

Still, many of those shops continue to close in the face of waning interest as the local population chooses instead to plant cassava and other crops.

“Gem crafts in Pailin are suffering because there just aren’t any gems for processing anymore. There are only small precious stones, so most businesses import their gems,” Lim Sam Ath, deputy director of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy’s Pailin office, said.

Those imports are coming from Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka because Cambodia’s gem supplies are on the decline, he said.

Gem dealers in Pailin confirmed the industry’s downward trend.

Chhun Karim said that in addition to the move to farming from gem mining and processing, locals had left the business also because mining has since been banned by provincial authorities because of the limited supplies. The quantity of precious stones has fallen 50 per cent since 2000, he claimed.

Another dealer, Chim Rattanak, said her gems come from Thailand and Africa now that Cambodia’s precious stones have dropped in size, quality and quantity.

Chhum Samnang, a guide operating in Pailin for about 10 years, said he previously brought between 17 and 20 foreign buyers a day to the province’s shops, but now he averages only two.

Most buyers come from Europe and Japan, he said.

“Originally, there were plenty of gems, and they were cheap. But now the province has lost its precious stones, and they are more expensive than before.”

Gem processing, where stones are cut and shaped for sale, has also felt the pinch.

Meas Sarum said his business in Pailin province’s Pailin town now has few gems to polish. As a result, his staff of three to four employees has shrunk to just one.

“I do not know how long my business will be able to stay open if things continue like this,” he said.

MIME’s Lim Sam Ath echoed those sentiments, saying he was concerned about the future of Pailin’s gem industry.

“I doubt people will return to the gem business considering how much trouble it’s in,” he said.

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