[an error occurred while processing this directive] Santiago is one of South America's best-kept shopping secrets. With prices in their own countries skyrocketing because of inflation, well-heeled Argentines and Brazilians are flocking to the Chilean capital for their luxury purchases. Among the best buys besides leather and wine are gems like amethyst, malachite and lapis lazuli.
Amethyst is locally prized for its supposed healing properties (it's common to find chunks of it lying in homes to counter bad luck). Malachite is used in popular fashion accessories, worn by Chilean women in bracelets and anklets as they sashay down the Parque Arauco Mall. But lapis, the most well-known Chilean stone, is the visitors' favorite. Expect to pay $100 for a choker necklace and earrings, $200 for a longer chain, and $600 for a pair of candlesticks.
A word of caution: Chilean lapis may contain veins of chalk, which lower the quality. Some shopkeepers artfully cover up these imperfections with blue paint, so carry around a bottle of thinner and ask if you can test the gems to see if the colors run shopkeepers will quickly stop trying to sell you fakes. Alternatively, confine your gem hunting to widely known establishments like these:
FABA: This old, family-owned concern, tel: (56-2) 208 9526, offers a variety of whimsical jewelry and handicrafts from centrally located outlets. Visit lapislazulifaba.com for store locations.
H. STERN: South America's big-name jeweler, tel: (56-2) 223 7579, sells good-quality gems at its Santiago branch. One advantage of buying here is that any defects can be fixed, or items returned or exchanged, in any of H. Stern's outlets across South America and the U.S. Read more at www.hstern.net.
MORITA GIL: A fine place for unusual, creative designs. Don't have time to visit their city boutique, tel: (56-2) 232 6853? Then you can also find them at the airport.