Lars Krog Rasmussen is standing by one of his many lockers. He is trying to help out a couple. The husband wants to to buy his wife a new bracelet. The couple is Danish, but that is not unusual here in Chok-Dee-Handmade in Ao Nang which is renown for its service in gems, gold, silver, and diamonds.
“I think this is the right one,” the wife says.
Lars invites the two Danes to come and have a better look and a real try at the cash register. If the size does not fit, it is no problem. Lars will just make it fit. He knows his business.
“We can do everything with gold,” he says.
It is early evening in Ao Nang and the entire area is busy with people are on their way to the local restaurants and bars, but who might just have time for a short look at some of the jewellery in Lars’ store.
He is married to a Thai woman, and his niece is helping out in the store right now.
“I speak Southern Thai quite fluently,” Lars says.
“But if I speak like that when I am in Bangkok – they won’t understand a word,” he laughs.
A Danish street salesman
Lars came to Thailand as a 23-year-old, and this year he can celebrate his 20th anniversary in Thailand. When he came in the first place, he sold jewellery at beaches, where he folded out a blanket presented his goods as a street salesman. 20 years later, he has two shops and a warehouse.
“I am good with gold. And diamonds. My diamonds are the best. You can’t even go to the finest stores in Denmark and get the same quality of diamonds,” he claims.
He points to a table on the wall besides him. Lars’ diamonds are of a quality known as “Top Wesselton (F-G) – VVS1”, “River (D-E)”, and “IF”. That might leave all normal, unaware people in a confused state of mind. But for the diamond lover, these are some of the finest diamonds in the market.
“You can even go to Georg Jensen – one of the finest diamond dealers in Scandinavia – but you won’t find as good quality diamonds,” Lars says.
The ultimate guarantee
All the fine diamonds have an enclosed GIA Certificate with a tiny laser inscription on the edge.
“This is the ultimate guarantee you can get on a diamond, and you get all the specifications about the stone,” he says. These specifications are the diamond’s weight, colour, quality of polishing, symmetry, shape, style of polishing – all the details to live a life on the safe side.
Lars stops talking and gets up from his chair behind the counter. He wants to show off his current finest diamond. A tiny, but incredibly valuable stone. In Danish kroner it is valued around 75,000 – more than 400,000 baht.
In the different lockers, Lars displays his GIA Certificates and some valuations from Danish jewellers.
“This one,” he says pointing to one of the papers of valuation, “was a diamond I sold for the equivalent of 11,000 Danish kroner – 60,000 baht – and when the buyer got a valuation of it back home in Denmark, it was valued at 27,000 Danish kroner – or 145,000 baht,” Lars says.
Buying jewellery in Thailand
Thailand has been known as a place where it is incredibly easy to be cheated when buying jewellery. And so you might think the same about Lars.
So, what is the trick?
Well, according to Lars, there is no trick. He imports the diamonds from a diamond distributor in South Africa. All the gems he gets directly from the stone polisher, and at the same time, Chock-Dee-Handmade make their own pieces of jewellery.
“We are the first link in terms of the stones and the production which means that we can sell the jewellery at a distributor prize – and still earn money on them,” Lars explains.
He also explains the importance about not being drawn down by expenses like large taxes, VAT, and customs duties.
“It’s a part of what makes this job fun. We can make expensive and good quality jewellery, but we can sell it at a very good price,” he points out.
Once again, a customer enters the shop. Lars has to provide his expertise on the jewellery. He also has another shop in Ao Nang, only about half a kilometre from this one. And then he has a workshop where the jewellery is made. He usually spends around 50 percent of his time in the workshop – the other 50 percent in the shop.
Economics and golden rings
“Jewellery is a luxury item. Of course we felt the global meltdown of the economy. People thought twice before buying jewellery. But now there is once again an economic upswing, and we’re doing okay,” Lars says.
He states that the low season can be tough, but at this time he and his employees spend a lot of time getting jewellery ready for the high season, where the shop is usually visited by thousands of Scandinavians.
Back in 2004, Ao Nang was not destroyed by the tsunami, but with so many shops and buildings right next to the beach, some places were affected by the catastrophe. Lars’ shop was looted too, but it wasn’t more than what could be handled quite easily.
“People don’t seem to fear a new tsunami anymore, so that doesn’t effect our business, although we could of course feel the effect right after it happened,” Lars recalls.
Doing business as ‘farang’
Doing business in Thailand is not always easy. Lars recalls when he was about to open his shp and thenh suddenly was arrested. There you go. A Danish jewellery salesman who ends up in jail.
“It was not that dramatic, though,” Lars laughs.
“At that time, this was a very small community, so we all knew each other. I had to find some painters to paint my new shop, but no one had the time, so I just bought some paint and did it myself. Two of my Italian friends came over and helped me getting the job done.”
“Suddenly, the immigration police showed up, and we were arrested for working as painters in Thailand. We ended up sitting in the jail in Krabi for half a day. Luckily, my wife knew some quite well-known people here in this area, so they bailed us out.”
As a Dane, Lars still feels it was a bit odd to be arrested in that way.
“Arrested for painting my own shop? Well, maybe some of the Thai’s down here wanted to see if they could give me a hard time getting started. But it all ended pretty good, and since then I haven’t really experienced big troubles about coming here as ‘farang’ and trying to do business,” he says.
“It’s a great business, because I feel that I’m contributing somewhat to people’s lives. My small things can make people feel great, and I like that thought,” Lars says.
And although Lars seems like a person who loves living his business, he reveals that there is also another side to his personality.
“In the low season I like to arrange wild survivor’s trips into the jungle. If anyone is ever interested in joining me, they are more than welcome.”
Well, that will be next time, maybe.