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Gem of the Orient

“I think something's wrong with my eyes,” I told Mark as I tried to focus inside a tiny shop on Buckingham Street.  “Mine too,” he said.  We were blinded by sparkling gems, thousands of them - sapphires, emeralds, rubies, opals, tanzanites, peridots, diamonds, and more, that left us dazzled and mystified.
Similar to many of the businesses in George Town, "Nafil Gems" has been around in the historic Malay enclave for three generations. The owner has a much revered name - Sultan, which means 'strength', 'authority', or 'ruler’. What a fitting name to run a gem business!

Sultan has been learning the trade since he was young.  However, he says, “The gems industry is so complex that even after a lifetime in the trade, you will only understand 50% of the business.” He explains that the business is constantly changing, so he must travel around the world to learn from others. 

“How many different gems do you have in the store?” I asked, already knowing the answer as I admired the endless colours. “Well, too many that I lost count,” he laughed. 

Sultan now focuses on wholesale business by supplying his gemstones to jewellery factories all over the world.  He also takes part in international trade shows.  “Many people go to Dubai to buy their jewellery.  Little did they know that most of the jewellery is actually made in Penang.” 
This blue sapphire and tanzanite are some of the rare stones that will cost you an arm and a leg...and your house.

We chatted about Penang and Sultan told us that Buckingham Street used to be buzzing with activity. “There were many Chinese merchants selling their porcelain wares just outside my store.  But most of them have moved out,” he said in a sentimental tone, while gazing out to the quiet, empty street.

With the UNESCO World Heritage listing bringing more and more businesses and visitors into George Town every day, I am confident that Sultan will see his street come alive again. 


Parama_sivam14 said...

Very bad rat urine smell at ground floor.