The Jewelry and Gem Industry in Vietnam

Vietnam is a country rich in gemstones. Vietnam is a source of amethyst, aquamarine, corundum, jade, peridot, ruby, spinel, sapphires, and topaz. The aquamarines are found in the North at Yen Bai and Nghe An Province. Topaz, blue and green sapphires and rubies are also found in the North. The rubies and Sapphires are mined at Luc Yen, Yen Bai, and Nghe An (Central VN). Spinel is also found at Yen Bai in good quality and rich colors.  Yellow sapphires are found at Phan Thiet, Dac Lac, and Lam Dong provinces in the Central Highlands of the south of VN. . In the Central Highlands of the south at Daclac and Lamdong province also are mines for blue sapphires, which are actually “greenish” in color. There also are yellow sapphire stones and semi precious stones such as peridot, amethyst and topaz.  Topaz is found at Xuan Le in Thanh Hoa where there is estimated to be reserves of 10 tons.  Topaz is also found at Loc Tan in Lam Dong province.  The size of topaz crystals in both locations is about 10 mm to 50 mm.  The stones have high clarity and white and color treated stones are all available.  There is a mine of dark blue sapphire at Phan Thiet which unfortunately is not as high of quality as Sri Lanka or Burma stones.  Jade dioxide is found at Co Phuong, Song Ma, Son La Province where the reserves are estimated at 80 tons.  Vietnamese Jade is typically used for handicraft iterms as the Jade is not of gem quantity.  In addition to the above known developed reserves, Vietnam also has Amethyst, Tourmalin, Peridot, Opal, Tectit, Aquamarine and Citrine, much of which is not currently commercially exploited. 

Just as with diamonds, the value of a gemstone depends on the "4 Cs" -- color, clarity, cut and carat (weight). The first question a professional buyer will ask when they buy a stone is usually “where does this stone come from? " This is true because each location has its own character and their own value and by getting this information, the buyer will already have a very good idea on the desirability of the stone. Vietnam gems, especially Vietnamese rubies are not as rich in color or clarity as Sri Lanka or Burmese rubies but quality is acceptable and price is competitive. For Vietnamese semi-precious stones, the ruby is probably the best in terms of competing with the production of other nations. Blue sapphires mined in the country are acceptable but not necessarily of the highest quality. Vietnamese amethyst is lighter than amethyst in Brazil. Peridot is not as bright in color as peridot of Arizona in the U.S. Vietnamese Topaz comes in both white and smoky color.

As Vietnam is still in a process of evolving from a Socialist to a mixed economy, the State still plays a leading role in the Vietnam Gem market. For Vietnam, there are two different general state-run corporations in Vietnam. They are:

1- The Vietnam National Gold-Silver and Gemstones Corporation (Tong Cong Ty Vang Bac Da Qui Vietnam) is actually a subsidiary of the National Bank and specializes in the gold and jewelry market. 2- The Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation ( VIGEGO)( Tong Cong Ty Da Qui va Vang Vietnam) is a part of the Industry Ministry. It specializes in the purchase and sale of gemstones and mineral gems including minerals that the government requires be “controlled " by the state. In actual fact, this regulation is not as effective as it was intended however because people in the mine dig the stones and sell them to the market despite government attempts to control this. The government has realized that despite its efforts, the government has no way to control the miners. Because of this fact, VIGEGO and other related state-owned companies have on paper a leading role in the gem business in Vietnam. In actual fact, however, they have the names but less merchandise than might be expected. The reason is that some miners are diverting stones to private dealers. These private dealers often have some of the best stones so more market research is necessary than would at first appear to be required. Where the state-owned company does have stones to show, these are oftentimes product that was mined in the past and hasn’t sold or stones of lesser quality or stones that for various reasons are very hard to sell. Examples are the 1960 gram star ruby found at Yen Bai and a 2160 gram ruby mined at the Tan Cuong Yen Bai mine on April 1997 which were displayed at the 990th Anniversary of Hanoi just two months ago.  These two stones which are of very good quality have been declared State treasure and only can be displayed not sold. As can be seen from the above, despite the law in Vietnam and past history that would seem to indicate that the gem business was solidly state controlled, most of the stone business is in reality done by private firms. Typically these firms are in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City and some of them claim to have their own mine and that they have the ability to supply stones depending on the requirement of buyer.

For stone buyers interested in purchasing Vietnamese semi-precious stones, the best way is to visit Vietnam. This, however, should only be done after having made arrangements with a local agent who knows the Vietnamese gemstone industry and will both help you with language and by explaining the Vietnamese situation. The agent will also vouch for you with sellers of better gemstones which is critical if you want to see the quality stones. Gemstones can be purchased through exchange of pictures over the Internet or through the mail but this is not recommended unless the buyer knows and has done business with the seller previously and established a strong personal relationship. Runckel & Associates and and have knowledgeable staff that can assist foreign buyers to buy Vietnamese gems. Please contact us for assistance.

If a buyer visits without the above preparation, they are likely not to have as successful a trip as can be arranged with proper preparation. As stones should be viewed and examined closely before the price is negotiated, a visit without prior preparation will probably mean that the buyer misses seeing the best stones. This is true because these stones are only displayed to known buyers and generally in the presence of security guards or others who can protect the stones. The local agent who arranges your trip vouches for you as a knowledgeable buyer and will help arrange this showing.

Beyond the gem industry, Vietnam is just beginning to develop a jewelry industry. In general, the Vietnamese government has attempted to support development of a local jewelry industry by passage of favorable laws and regulations. The goal here is to create employment opportunities for Vietnamese in the jewelry industry and to that end Vietnam has set a 0% export tax for cut stones and waived the export tax on local jewelry. Uncut (rough) stones, however, have an export tax of five percent.

Due to the above changes and promotion by the Vietnamese government of the jewelry industry, there has been some recent first steps in creating a modern jewelry industry. Recently Vietnam has started joint ventures in making jewelry with foreign jewelry firms. For example, a Thai Company has started a joint venture named Pranda Joint Venture. Additionally the French jewelry firm Design International has started a similar joint venture and there is a Japanese joint venture named VIJAGEM. All of these joint ventures produce jewelry for export. By the terms of their license, they can not sell jewelry in Vietnam. Even if their license allowed it, however, sales would be limited because of the high price of the jewelry produced. In terms of the local jewelry market, the most successful firm in the South now is PNJ Co. and the second most successful is SJC. In the North, Kim Quy is most well known. Despite the notoriety of Kim Quy in the North, many Vietnamese distrust the percentage of pure gold in their product. Additionally, because their equipment to make jewelry is generally old and poor, it can not meet international quality standards.

In addition to the steps noted above, a local group in Ho Chi Minh City has recently opened a Jewelry school, which utilizes modern equipment. This school trains Vietnamese young people interested in the jewelry industry. Recently as part of the schools efforts, the school secured a contract to make findings for W. R. COBB in the United States. However, to meet the quality standards necessary in the international market, WR Cobb was required to supply all materials necessary for the jewelry from the U.S. for this including the technical expertise and equipment. The presence of the school and their involvement with major international companies such as W R Cobb bodes well for the continued development of the jewelry industry in Vietnam but it also shows the challenges that must still be faced and surmounted. 


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