Pearls are a favorite souvenir of visitors to the beautiful island of Phu Quoc in the far south of Vietnam. However, many are counterfeit, reports Tuoi Tre daily.
Pearl products are for sale everywhere on Phu Quoc island. Sellers all assure prospective customers that these are local wares. Itinerant vendors on the beaches, shops at the airport, stalls at the Dinh Cau night market or the ferry boat wharf – all selling “Phu Quoc pearls” (and Phu Quoc’s famous nuoc mam as well).
There are pearls for any price, from items offered at several ten thousands of dong to several ten thousands of dollars. But – are they the real thing?
Reporters from Tuoi Tre relate that when they went to a pearl jewelry workshop in Duong To commune, a girl there welcomed their driver. Later, they learned that every time a driver brings customers to the workshops, the driver can get a one or two hundred thousand dong commission.
The reporters finally purchased a big pearl for 500,000 dong and a necklace for 500,000 dong. At their request, the girl provided a one-year warranty paper. Then the reporters asked the girl to write down on the receipt that the purchased products are Phu Quoc pearls. That’s not necessary, she replied. Pointing to the workshop’s red stamp at the bottom of the paper, she said “that’s your guarantee.”
The purchased products were then taken to an expert, who declared immediately that these were both counterfeit products. “Neither of these products are pearls cultivated in Phu Quoc. They are worth only thirty or forty thousand dong,” he said. “The one-year ‘warranty’ is given only to counterfeit products”.
Tuoi Tre’s reporters are not the only victims of the counterfeit pearl sellers. Hundreds of tourists, both Vietnamese and foreigners, visit the pearl workshops in Phu Quoc every day. Because the tourists go in groups, they go where the drivers take them.
“Besides tips, we drivers always get a 20 percent commission for bringing customers to the workshops,” one revealed. “Therefore, though we well know that the workshops sell counterfeit pearls or freshwater pearls from China, we still take tourists there. Some workshops even sell plastic counterfeits.”
According to Le Quoc Tuan at the Kien Giang Planning and Investment Department, there are two genuine pearl producing enterprises on Phu Quoc island. One, in An Thoi town, was once a Japanese venture. The Japanese enterprise failed during the 1997 financial crisis and was subsequently purchased by Ho Phi Thuy, a local resident. It is now in business as Ngoc Hien Enterprises. Thuy has hired a Japanese expert to supervise cultivation of the pearl oysters.
The other workshop is Australian invested. It has been operating for the many years, but not at full capacity.
Thuy said that he has invested many billion dong and hired Japanese experts, but he is still gaining experience. Most of his products are being exported to Japan, and the rest are being sold in Vietnam by his enterprise. “Don’t believe the prices you are quoted by others,” he said. “Phu Quoc pearls will never be so cheap.”