At an event with more than twice as many stalls as last year, many dealers hoped to expand trade from other Southeast Asian countries
A crowd of well-heeled men and precipitously-heeled women packed into a showroom at Nagaworld Entertainment Complex in Phnom Penh on Thursday and Friday to glimpse or maybe even purchase some of the glittering goods on display at the second annual Cambodia Gems and Jewelry Fair.
Hungry eyes surveyed jeweled bangles offered by companies from Hong Kong, China, Israel, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore as well as stones, including blue zircon and sapphire, offered by domestic dealers.
According to the Chief of the Commerce Ministry’s Trade Exhibition Bureau Kep Vutha, this year’s show featured 54 booths—29 more than last year—and dealers from six new countries. For the opportunity to showcase their wares to wealthy Cambodians, Mr Vutha said, international companies paid as much as $2,700 dollars while domestic dealers paid as little as $500.
“We wanted to see if there really is [a] market here,” said Idan Hadad, a salesman for the Hong Kong-based Vision diamond company, who admitted that his company had brought stones with less clarity and color in an effort to cater to more modestly spending consumers in Cambodia.
Mr Hadad said the fair was roughly a hundredth of the size of similar fairs he had recently attended in Singapore and Vietnam.
“The organizer told us that we should take a chance,” said Prakash Italia, director of the Thai-based Manee Diam diamond manufacturers. “We want to expand from Bangkok because the Red Shirts have made business very slow, but I don’t think I can rely on this small market.”
Mr Italia had yet to sell any of his diamonds by late Thursday.
Dealers more familiar with the Cambodian market were less discouraged.
Linda Ung of Hong Kong Jewelry said her company was enthusiastic to return to Cambodia after a successful show last year.
“We sell mostly to the government workers and occasionally to the business people,” said Ms Ung, holding a $17,869 dollar diamond encrusted chain—one of the more understated necklaces in her company’s display case.
On Thursday, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh’s wife Tep Bopha—herself laden with diamonds—opened the fair with a speech trumpeting the importance of an “initiative to create a trade strategy to promote the production of jewelry to meet the domestic demands, as well for export to the regional and the world markets.”
Commerce Ministry Secretary of State Mao Thora, who attended the fair on Thursday, said that Cambodians eagerness to purchase fancy jewelry was confounding to him.
“It is not important for me to have these things,” he said. “I would choose money rather than gems and gold.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)