As Jewelry Fair Nears, Industry Losing Its Sparkle

As Cambodia gears up to host its sixth gem and jewelry fair Thursday in Phnom Penh, which is billed to be bigger than the last, dealers of precious stones and metals say business has been lackluster of late.

The Cambodia Gems and Jewelry Fair on Koh Pich is expected to pull in 8,500 visitors, almost 10 percent more than last year, and have 12 more companies exhibiting—taking the total to 90.

A gold vendor shows necklaces to a customer Wednesday at Heng Chhay Tith Jewelry Enterprise in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A gold vendor shows necklaces to a customer Wednesday at Heng Chhay Tith Jewelry Enterprise in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said in a promotional booklet published by his ministry that the fair has grown each year and has become an important global and regional event.

But in Phnom Penh, jewelry sellers were less ebullient over the state of the trade.

Heng Chhay Tith, owner of the eponymous gold and jewelry shop near Central Market, said his business has struggled since July’s disputed national election, with the number of buyers dropping by about 40 percent compared to the same period last year.

“Amid the unrest and political uncertainty people have been more cautious with their spending in general and less people have been buying gold,” he said.

Mr. Chhay Tith said people have responded to the unrest by selling their gold as a fast source of cash to buy more essential assets.

Heng Phirum, owner of Samnang Laor Jewelry shop, said the industry is once again on the decline after a prolonged recovery following the global financial crisis.

“I have noticed unrest in our country has pushed the domestic demand for jewelry down,” he said, noting that many of his customers worked in the embattled garment industry.

However, Yim Sokunthea, owner of Mittapheap Diamond and Gold Shop, said the demand for gold as a store of wealth began to decline in 2012 along with world prices, with buyers now looking to purchase cheaper metals.

In October 2012, gold was being traded at $1,784 per troy ounce, a figure that has since steadily depreciated in value to $1,253 as of Sunday, according to the U.K.-based World Gold Council.

“I think the buyers changed their behavior from buying gold jewelry to non-gold items such as platinum,” Ms. Sokunthea said.

But gem and jewelry dealer Run Marina also blamed a recent drop in sales to a fall in clientele coming from the garment sector.

“Previously, the factory owners and workers in Cambodia often came to our shop to buy jewelry, but now they are quiet,” she said.

“We don’t see them coming in here like before.”

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