Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been a key producer of outstanding rubies for centuries. Burmese rubies are associated with quality because of their intense color, perfect quantities of silk, and strong fluorescence . Some dealers refer to top quality rubies as “Burmese” regardless of where they were mined, although this practice is frowned upon.
The rubies from Myanmar come from two major sources: the legendary Mogôk Valley–located some 400 miles north of Myanmar’s capital Yangon, and Möng Hsu–located in Myanmar’s Shan State, bordering China, Laos, and Thailand.
Although the discovery of rubies in the Mogôk Valley is shrouded in myth, experts believe that the area has been mined for at least a millennium. After the British annexed Burma in 1886, Mogôk’s mines were operated by a foreign enterprise known as The Burma Ruby Mines Company. In 1925, however, the corporation was liquidated, and control of the mines reverted to the Burmese. In the 1960s, a military coup destabilized Burma, and the country’s borders were closed. Mogôk ruby production and trade all but ceased for a time, although large quantities of stones were smuggled out of the country and sold in Thailand.
In the 1990s, the Möng Hsu ruby deposit was developed and became one of the world’s greatest suppliers of commercial-quality rubies. Rubies from Möng Hsu differ in several key respects from Mogôk stones. Among other characteristics, they are usually color zoned . Many ruby crystals have dark bluish interiors which turn red when heat treatments are applied.
The rubies of Myanmar are found in metamorphic rocks. Historically, gems have been extracted from alluvial fields, limestone caves, open trenches in hillsides, and tunnels in host rock. However, large-scale alluvial mining is now a thing of the past. Small-scale mining continues, but it is slow and expensive, and ruby production throughout the country has gradually declined.
In 2008 Congress passed the Tom Lantos JADE act, banning the importation of Burmese rubies and other precious gems into the US in reaction to the military regime’s numerous human rights violations. Prices for Burmese rubies skyrocketed as the number of stones for sale was limited to items imported before the act.
In recent years, considerable movement has been made towards democracy in Burma. In May 2012, after the parliamentary election of Aung San Suu Kyi, the United States lifted numerous economic sanctions against Burma. However, recent movements by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya ethnic group of Muslims to expel them from the country has turned violent. Many nations have imposed strict sanctions on the country since then, and any reversal of the Jade Act seems highly unlikely.
Continuing our regional exploration, we now cross borders to explore Ruby Mines in Thailand.