Jewellery re-plating trade losing its former lustre
Craftsmen mourn a dying craft as younger people refuse to carry the torch, writes Supoj Wancharoen
Decades ago, metal re-plating shops were abundant but this time-honoured job has been fading in popularity and only long-time customers seem to know where you can find one these days.
At a corner stall near Soi Lang Bot Phram on Din So Road in Bangkok, the sight of a man cleaning and polishing metal rings, belt buckles, earrings and alms bowls for Buddhist monks in the middle of a circle of buckets is something passers-by have come to expect as a routine occurrence over the last two decades.
Some buckets contain clean water while others are filled with chemical solutions and have some wires dipped in at one end. The other end of the same cables are connected to a portable battery.
Most, if not all, people in this area know he is a metal re-plating craftsman whose shop is not far from the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat.
“I’ve been familiar with brass, copper and silver since I was young because
I and my elder brother landed a job at a metal re-plating shop in Bangkok after leaving home in Suphan Buri together, fresh out of primary school,” said Seksan Inseewong, 49, the owner of Ti’s Brass Re-plating Shop. His nickname is “Ti”.
The shop was founded after the brothers worked at a jewellery re-plating shop for nearly four years. Then the economy took a nosedive and they were all laid off.
They decided to open a store of their own near the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine after increasing their knowledge via trade books and friendly local craftsmen.
The brothers relocated the store to its current location after a crackdown on street vendors and stalls led to the closure of their first business. That was 22 years ago. Now Mr Seksan is the sole operator of the shop.
“Customers keep coming to me because they want to bring some sparkle back to their [dull looking] metal jewellery — be it a ring, necklace, brooch, belt buckle or the insignia of a civil servant uniform,” said Mr Seksan.
People want their tired-looking jewellery cleaned and re-plated so they can use them for certain occasions where buying new, expensive jewellery cannot be justified or is beyond their financial reach.
“Say you wanted to buy a new gold ring worth 20,000 baht. Well, if you brought an older ring to us and had it re-plated with 100% gold, that would set you back less than 100 baht,” Mr Seksan said.
His shop is open from 7am to 4pm, except on Sundays. It sees 20 to 30 customers per day, most of whom earn a middleincome salary. Civil servants frequently drop by.
Mr Seksan said he has a number of longtime patrons who have since become wellto-do business owners. Even though they could afford more expensive stores, he said, they still honour him with their patron.
One now lives in the southern province of Chumphon but still has his brass jewellery sent to the shop by post for re-plating, he added.
Some critics say the drastic drop in the number of brass-re-plating craftsmen is related to the economic downturn, which has made them more reluctant to invest in gold.
Moreover, Mr Seksan said, few of their children aspire to follow in their footsteps as it is not an especially lucrative career.
“The number of metal jewellery re-plating customers has also declined as jewellery made of other materials has risen in popularity,” he said.
However, he said he earns enough to support his two children, who are both studying at university, and take care of his wife.
More important is the pride he feels in being able to restore the beauty of his customers’ cherished jewellery for a reasonable price, he said.
Phaithoon Khongmi, 56, is one of Mr Seksan’s regular customers. He recalls stories of Chinese artisans who migrated to Thailand before he was born, bringing with them intricate skills.
Like other family businesses that have been abandoned by later generations, metal re-plating shops are looking like an endangered species, Mr Phaitoon said.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “The younger generations no longer see this industry as appealing,” added Mr Phaitoon, who makes leather bags by hand and is also seeing his business suffer.
ABOVE Seksan Inseewong, owner of Ti’s Brass Re-plating Shop on Din So Road, flashes his craftsmanship.
ABOVE LEFT Burnished decorations for government officials’ uniforms.
LEFT Having the right solution and knowing how much electricity to use are key factors in gold plating, experts say.