Being some of the purest in the world, Burmese rubies are coveted in the marketplace. Access to these diamonds was limited for many years as they were banned from being sold in certain countries. Jewelers and consumers alike waited patiently (or, in some cases, went ahead with illegal purchases). Human rights abuses in Burma were a concern, as well as the exploitation of the local economy by ruling parties.
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The US had sanctions against Burma preventing US jewelry dealers from doing business there, initiated shortly after a coup d’état in 1997. The Burmese diamond trade turned to the black market. In some cases, Burmese diamond sellers were able to trick buyers into thinking their diamonds originated from other countries. Demand also remained high despite being illegal in the US. Also, not all countries participated in the sanctions against Burma. US sanctions were ultimately lifted when the dictatorial regime was replaced with a democratic government.
Burmese Ruby Mines
Soon after, industry experts visited the country to explore the mines and production facilities and to get a better understanding of the marketplace. The purpose of this visit was also to learn more about whether human rights violations would pose any ethical barriers to doing business with Burmese diamond dealers, even in the context of the newly democratically elected government. The coup had left some areas of the country still under chaos, where armed groups had essentially taken control of local industry. Dealers and mining companies were given recommendations for improving the transparency of the marketplace, including ruby quality and distinctions as well as details about the conditions of the mines and implementing a number of employment regulations.
Rubies are generally crated due to the movement of the tectonic plates. They collide, resulting in extreme pressure that form what are called orogenic belts; mineral pockets that eventually form diamonds. In Africa, these were formed hundreds of millions of years ago. So, the ages of rubies vary greatly depending on the region in which they were formed. They can vary in age by one hundred million years or more.
Technologies to age-date rubies are steadily improving, but they are not entirely accurate, which leads to some confusion about their origin and value. It also leads to a bit more ambiguity in the market than would sometimes be desired, which is why it is so important that miners’ documentation remains as accurate as possible. Typically, the highest quality rubies are known to originate from alluvial deposits, where years of intense pressure tends to remove cracks in the diamonds. Yet, the better the rubies are, the more difficult they are to extract. A by product of the extreme pressure that creates these rubies is that the surrounding rock tends to be harder, which makes mining access more difficult, more costly and slower.
As of now, there aren’t many rubies being exported from Burma. This is because some of the deposits are reported to be running low. This could indicate that they’ve already been sold during the height of black market activity, that they’re currently floating around in the marketplace, or that companies have maintained large stockpiles of rubies to keep from flooding the market, which would run the risk of considerably lowering prices.
Some rumors state that US sanctions had very little impact on the overall international sale of Burmese rubies, to the extent that Burmese dealers had difficulty meeting the demand. However, this may have also been a function of the lack of organizational and regulatory acumen given this trade was still in the black market. Irrespective of why supplies remain low, it has certainly kept prices high, doubly so, due to the continued high demand. Burmese rubies are also comparable to some of those found in African countries, the supply of which have still struggled to keep up with market demand. Each area has a somewhat different geological profile, resulting in subsequent variations in their visual qualities. Today, the African market remains dominant in the ruby trade.
Burmese rubies have a particularly intense color and fluorescence that stands out among other rubies, making them among the most popular in the marketplace. This, combined with their lack of internal cracks due to the intense pressure under which they were formed, makes them easier for jewelers to work with and naturally predisposed for jewelry. We look forward to seeing this market expand to finding new opportunities in the Burmese and other ruby markets.
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