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Burma ruby, Burma rubies, Burmese rubies, Myanmar rubies, sapphires, ruby mining, Mogok

Fire-Hearted Pebbles from Burma by C.M. Enriquez

Reprinted from Asia magazine, October, 1930, Vol. 30, No. 10, pp. 722–725, 733

Old as the hills are the blood-red rubies that sparkle on the fingers of beautiful women and in the turbans of Indian maharajas. Old as the hills – and, as I look out upon the tortured granite peaks of Mogok, I endeavor to appreciate the stupendousness of that antiquity. The earth was young when these molten rocks were thrust in amongst the limestone that once covered all Burma and the Indo-Chinese peninsula.
    To reach the Mogok ruby mines you must travel for a day from Mandalay up the Irrawaddy by steamer and thence for sixty miles by motor along a road that leads through gorgeous forests toward the heart of the mountains. The scenery is exquisite. Indeed, there is none finer in Burma, and Mogok is on the tourist route – or should be. At last, at four thousand feet, you come to the “Winding Valley” – for such is the meaning of the Shan name, Mong Kut, of which Mogok is the Burmese corruption.

Burma ruby mining, Mogok, Burmese rubies, Mogok Stone Tract

    Picture in the bottom of the valley two lakes – both of them abandoned and flooded ruby mines – around which clusters the little town of eight thousand inhabitants. In the market place are found all sorts of strange folk – Kachins, Lisus and Shans from the adjacent mountains and Chinese, Shan-Tayoks and Maingthas from across the Chinese border. Every fifth day they crowd into Mogok to buy and to sell; for markets are still held here as in the days of Marco Polo. It is a gay scene, where women battle furiously for mushrooms or orchids or rice, a whole array of mysterious and repellent-looking jungle produce reputed, in spite of its appearance, to be good to eat, cook or chew.
    Picture in the bottom of the valley two lakes – both of them abandoned and flooded ruby mines – around which clusters the little town of eight thousand inhabitants. In the market place are found all sorts of strange folk – Kachins, Lisus and Shans from the adjacent mountains and Chinese, Shan-Tayoks and Maingthas from across the Chinese border. Every fifth day they crowd into Mogok to buy and to sell; for markets are still held here as in the days of Marco Polo. It is a gay scene, where women battle furiously for mushrooms or orchids or rice, a whole array of mysterious and repellent-looking jungle produce reputed, in spite of its appearance, to be good to eat, cook or chew.

“Old as the hills are the blood-red rubies that sparkle on the fingers of beautiful women and in the turbans of Indian maharajas.”

    Altogether more decorous are the crowds that collect on other occasions to buy and sell stones. These are mostly composed of men skilled in the art of valuing gems or in showing them to the best advantage. There are some jewels which may be viewed only in the sunset. Others are bid for mysteriously, sellers and buyers seating themselves at a table with the stones between them and holding hands under the table. By squeezing finger joints – which denote tens, hundreds or thousands of rupees they arrive at a price secretly; for a beautiful ruby, like a beautiful woman, depreciates in value (here at least) by being publicly discussed.
    Round about rise the marvelous mountains, placid in the sunshine, veiled with mist in the rains, painted with azaleas and bauhinias in the spring and with cherry-blossoms at Christmas, when the petals rain down upon the ground like a gracious carpet. In winter there is cold, scintillating sunshine, with blue-black shadows in the forest. The monsoons bring a rainfall of nine feet – but there are frequent breaks. Because of its elevation Mogok is always cool, and the climate is pleasant and healthful. It is as if the gods had favored the Winding Valley with their beautiful jewels – red ruby and blue sapphire – and their loveliest blossoms – from temperate peach to tropical orchid – and as if man, for once in his life, had decided to leave Nature alone. Tucked away far from the outer world, isolated amidst its sheltered mountains, Mogok possesses that now rare quality of being absolutely unspoiled.

Burma ruby mining, Mogok, Burmese rubies, Mogok Stone Tract, gem mining Burma is the home of the rubies and sapphires. The mines of Ceylon, Siam and Indo-China produce stones equal in color but not, as a rule, equal in size to those of Burma. The Burmese gem mines are shallow pits worked with little or no machinery by all sorts of strange folk. From gravel beneath the clay surface, clear red and blue crystals of corundum – named rubies and sapphires – eventually find their way to Paris or into rajas’ treasuries. Anybody is free to wash the rubbish discarded by the licensed miners for small stones, suitable for watch jewels. The upper left-hand picture shows a Chinese ruby mine, in which the earth is raised by bamboo lifts; each hole is one mine.
Burma ruby mining, gem, Mogok, Burmese rubies, gem mining, Mogok Stone Tract, spinel, Burma spinel, Burmese spinel
Burma ruby, sapphire, Mogok, Burma ruby mining, Mogok, Burmese rubies, spinel, gem mining

    Upon it frown the surrounding peaks. The granite pinnacles add just the correct touch of savagery to the placid and lovely landscape. Of the limestone little is left. The rains of uncounted ages have washed it away; subterranean fires have changed it till no vestige remains of its former structure. There is hardly a fossil left whereby to date these ancient rocks. The only ones ever found are certain Brachiopoda – terebratulae washed out of their original site and rolled down into the valleys along with masses of gravel, sand and rubbish, among which occur the rubies and sapphires. Rubies are found high up on the mountains, too, but they are mostly worked in the new alluvial beds of the valley bottoms where they have drifted into the chinks and crevices of the ancient rock.
    The Burma Ruby Mines Company has worked these deposits for the past forty years, but now its lease is drawing to an end. There are, besides, innumerable native mines – some licensed and independent, others working under the company. But in all cases the method of work is much the same. The surface of reddish lateritic clay is removed to lay bare the lower gravels, which are the ruby-bearing strata. The appearance of a mine is usually that of a shallow pit, either small or large. Here and there shafts and tunnels are dug in special circumstances, but as a rule the mines are open. In all these gem-bearing localities there has been the same violent intrusion of granite, the same metamorphosis of what is presumed to have been limestone. In all are found these fire-hearted pebbles for which women yearn and for which men fight and toil.

“In all these gem-bearing localities there has been the same violent intrusion of granite, the same metamorphosis of what is presumed to have been limestone. In all are found these fire-hearted pebbles for which women yearn and for which men fight and toil.”

    Burma is essentially the home of rubies. The mines of Ceylon, Siam and French Indo-China are worthy rivals, producing stones equal in color but not as a rule equal in size to those of Burma. Rubies! How they tempt, charm, fascinate; their red flame suggests earth's primeval conflagration. Shrouded in their coat of rust, they ask the momentous question: “Am I rendered valueless by flaws or reduced by ‘satin’ stains to the rank of a star ruby, which only Americans seem to appreciate, or am I a flawless, blood-red gem worth a king's ransom?” The sapphires ask the same exasperating question. And since early times men have thought it worth while to risk searching for the answer.
    These mines of Mogok in Burma were probably discovered by the Chinese, who first located the lead and silver of Bawdwin and the tin deposits of Perak and Kinta. Certain bronze spearheads of marked uniformity found in the Mogok gravel among prehistoric stone implements suggest that possibly troops or police may once have guarded the mines. In Burmese times the mines were worked, as now, by Burmese and cognate races – Shans, Shan-Burmese and Maingthas – and were the monopoly of the Burmese kings of Ava, Amarapura and Mandalay. The king claimed all stones over a certain weight and quality, but, human nature being then what it still is, many fine rubies were cut up to defraud him of his dues. To this day several local village names record what the kings thought when they discovered their losses and what retribution they inflicted.

Burma ruby mining, Mogok, Burmese rubies, ruby, sapphire, spinel, Burma spinel, Burmese spinel, Mogok Stone Tract
At Mogok, in Upper Burma, center of the ruby-mine district, practically every one owns shares in some sort of mine. The richest gravels are collected for scrutiny on tables in the sorting sheds, where guards keep close watch over the workers to prevent them from smuggling any gems out of the area. Spontaneous enmities among the workers are also an insurance against theft.

    The finest ruby known to have been found at Mogok in medieval times was the Ngamauk, which was in the possession of Mindon Min, the last king of Burma but one. He was excessively proud of it and showed it to some of the foreign ambassadors who from time to time visited his court. He valued the gem as being worth half his kingdom. The Ngamauk Ruby descended to Mindon’s ill-fated son, Thibaw, with whom it remained until that day when the British army took him prisoner in the summer-house of his palace at Mandalay. From that day to this the famous jewel has never been seen again. At one time or another nearly everybody connected with the events at Mandalay was accused of stealing the Ngamauk, and there are a thousand ways in which it may have disappeared. Perhaps the palace folk took it when they deserted with cartloads of treasure. Perhaps some lucky soldier or sepoy got it – though that is highly improbable.
    Perhaps it was given to some minister to keep or the King himself may have retrieved this so portable “half of the kingdom.” Certainly he denied possession of it and later threatened to prosecute the British government.

“The Ngamauk Ruby descended to Mindon’s ill-fated son, Thibaw, with whom it remained until that day when the British army took him prisoner in the summer-house of his palace at Mandalay. From that day to this the famous jewel has never been seen again.”

    The finest stone dug up in recent times is the forty-three-carat “Peace Ruby” – reduced as cut to twenty-four carats – discovered on Armistice Day and later for sale in Paris for thirty thousand pounds, I believe. Stones so huge are difficult to dispose of in these days when crowns and regalia are a drug on the market. Paris consumes most of the Burma rubies. It would surprise most persons to see the apparently poor Burmese with agents of their own in the rue de la Paix and the wretched cottages here in Mogok in which priceless jewels are kept in a cigarette tin.

Burma ruby mining, Burmese ruby, ruby, sapphire, Mogok, Burmese rubies, spinel
Men skilled in valuing gems assemble at Mogok. Certain jewels are bid for mysteriously, sellers and buyers seating themselves with the stones between them and holding hands under the table. By a code-squeezing of fingers, they arrive at a price secretly; for it is thought that a beautiful ruby, like a beautiful woman, depreciates in value by being publicly discussed.
    Life in Mogok is a lottery in which the poorest has a chance, and, if he happens to have nimble fingers and toes and a disarming smile, he has a good chance. Any one may find or steal a fortune any day. A small mine, which can be worked for about one hundred and fifty rupees a month, is usually financed by a little group. At the end of the month some drop out and others take their places. Practically every one in Mogok owns shares of this kind and lives on in hope – mostly in hope – of a windfall to come. You have to trust your partners, and this trust is a far greater strain than might be imagined. The only practical way of running a business on these lines is to give the actual workmen a handsome share in the profits and then to pick those who are deadly enemies, so that each will watch the others like a cat. The recruiting of deadly enemies should not be difficult in any Shan community, but the worst of it is that they fall out of hate as easily as they fall out of love.
    Even when loot combines them in an unholy friendship, however, they usually fall out over the spoils – but for which happy fact no one in Burma would ever get any rubies at all.
Burma ruby mining, Mogok, Burmese rubies, spinel, Burmese spinel, Mogok Stone Tract
Some stone-cutters of the Burma gem mines carry on their delicate work with equipment consisting of an old sewing machine or part of a dismantled bicycle.

 

Palagems.com Ruby Buying Guide
By Richard W. Hughes

Introduction. The term ruby is reserved for corundums of a red color, with other colors called sapphire. In Asia, pink corundums are also considered rubies. Outside of Asia, such gems are generally termed pink sapphires.

Color. For ruby, the intensity of the red color is the primary factor in determining value. The ideal stone displays an intense, rich crimson without being too light or too dark. Stones which are too dark and garnety in appearance, or too light in color, are less highly valued. The finest rubies display a color similar to that of a red traffic light.

Lighting. Rubies generally look best viewed with incandescent light or daylight (particularly around midday). Avoid fluorescent tubes, which have virtually no output in the red end of the spectrum, and so cause ruby to appear grayish.

Clarity. In terms of clarity, ruby tends to be less clean than sapphire. Buyers should look for stones which are eye-clean, i.e., with no inclusions visible to the unaided eye. In the case of some rubies, extremely fine silk throughout the stone can actually enhance the value. Many rubies also display a strong red fluorescence to daylight, and this adds measurably to the beauty of this gem.
While a certain amount of silk is necessary to create the star effect in star ruby, too much silk desaturates the color, making it appear grayish. This is not desirable.

Cut. In the market, rubies are found in a variety of shapes and cutting styles. Ovals are cushions are the most common, but rounds are also seen, as are other shapes, such as the heart or emerald cut. Slight premiums are paid for round stones, while slight discounts apply for pears and marquises. Stones that are overly deep or shallow should generally be avoided.
Cabochon-cut rubies are also common. This cut is used for star stones, or those not clean enough to facet. The best cabochons are reasonably transparent, with nice smooth domes and good symmetry. Avoid stones with too much excess weight below the girdle, unless they are priced accordingly.

Prices. With the exception of imperial jadeite and certain rare colors of diamond, ruby is the world‘s most expensive gem. But like all gem materials, low-quality (i.e., non-gem quality) pieces may be available for a few dollars per carat. Such stones are generally not clean enough to facet. The highest price per carat ever paid for a ruby was set on February 15, 2006, when Laurence Graff, a London jeweler, paid a record $425,000 per carat ($3.6 million) for an 8.62-ct. ruby, set in a Bulgari ring, at a Christie’s auction in St. Moritz.
Less than a year before, on April 12, 2005, an 8.01-ct. faceted stone sold for $274,656 per carat ($2.2 million) at Christie’s New York. Previously the record for per-carat price was held by Alan Caplan’s Ruby (‘Mogok Ruby’), a 15.97-ct. faceted stone that sold (also to Graff) at Sotheby’s New York, Oct., 1988 for $3,630,000 ($227,301/ct).

Stone Sizes. Large rubies of quality are far more rare than large sapphires of equal quality. Indeed, any untreated ruby of quality above two carats is a rare stone; untreated rubies of fine quality above five carats are world-class pieces.

Phenomena. Ruby may display asterism, the star effect. Fine star rubies display sharp six-rayed stars well-centered in the middle of the cabochon. All legs of the star should be intact and smooth. Just having a good star does not make a stone valuable. The best pieces have sharp stars against an intense crimson body color. Lesser stones may have sharp stars, but the body color is too light or grayish. On occasion, 12-rayed star sapphires are found. Inexpensive star rubies come mainly from India.

Star ruby
This 4.86-ct. star ruby from Pala International is one of the finest examples to come out of Mogok in years.
(Photo: John McLean; Gem: Pala International)


Name. The name “ruby” is believed to be derived from the Latin ruber, a word for red. According to Oriental beliefs, ruby is the gem of the sun. It is also the birthstone of July.

Sources. The original locality for ruby was most likely Sri Lanka (Ceylon), but the classic source is the Mogok Stone Tract in upper Burma. Fine stones have also been found in Vietnam, along the Thai/Cambodian border, in Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yunnan (China) and most recently, Madagascar. Low-quality rubies also come from India and North Carolina (USA).

Enhancements. Today, the vast majority of rubies are heat-treated to improve their appearance. The resulting stones are completely stable in color. Many rubies are also heated in the presence of a flux to heal their fractures, particularly those from Möng Hsu, Burma. In lower qualities and smaller sizes, heat treated stones sell for roughly the same as untreated stones of the same quality. However, for finer qualities, untreated stones fetch a premium that is sometimes 50% or more when compared with treated stones of similar quality. Other treatments, such as oiling, dying and surface diffusion are seen on occasion. As with all precious stones, it is a good practice to have major purchases tested by a reputable gem lab, such as the GIA or AGTA, to determine if a gem is enhanced.

Imitations. Synthetic rubies have been produced by the Verneuil process since the 1890’s and cost just pennies per carat. Ruby has also been produced by the flux, hydrothermal, floating zone and Czochralski processes. Doublets consisting of natural sapphire crowns and synthetic ruby pavilions are fairly common, particularly in mining areas. Synthetics are also common at the mines, in both rough and cut forms.

Rough and cut rubies
Fine ruby specimens. The crystals are from, from left to right, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Tanzania, while the two faceted gems are from Mogok, Burma.
(Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt; Gems: Pala International).

Properties of Ruby

  Ruby (a variety of corundum)
Composition Al2O3
Hardness (Mohs) 9
Specific Gravity 4.00
Refractive Index 1.762–1.770 (0.008) Uniaxial negative
Crystal System Hexagonal (trigonal)
Colors

Various shades of red.
Ruby is colored by the same Cr+3 ion that gives alexandrite and emerald their rich hues.

Pleochroism Strongly dichroic: purplish red/orangy red
Phenomena 6 or 12-rayed star
Handling No special care needed
Enhancements Frequently heated; frequently flux-healed; occasionally oiling, dying, surface diffusion
Synthetic available?  Yes

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