Jew­ellery re-plat­ing trade los­ing its for­mer lus­tre

Crafts­men mourn a dy­ing craft as younger peo­ple refuse to carry the torch, writes Supoj Wan­charoen

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

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.

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