Mogok: The Scarlet Fever

Burma is known for its blood red rubies. Its hills are reputed to have beds of the world’s expensive gem per carat. No where in this world can match the distinctive ‘pigeon blood-red’ signifying the highest quality ruby.

The hills of Mogok, Burma have been mined of these precious gems for decades. Rubies big as fists are said to be within its precarious slopes. The Mogok valley is 200 kilometres in the northeast district of Mandalay.  The road to Mandalay is at the very least, exhausting. The seven-hour land trip will have you go through jungles, farmlands and villages. The roads may not be as friendly but the people definitely are.

Mogok people are composed of Gurkhas, Lisu, where most of their ancestors have travelled and migrated from Nepal. These local tribes are of a proud race and carry themselves with dignity and grace. The red gems have been systematically mined for centuries.  The mines are sporadically scattered around the hills. Different mining techniques would be apparent, from open pits, deep shaft tunnels to blasted tunnels on its hillside.

Recently, a fine specimen of this striking red ember was dug up from the earth.  It was named “Peace Ruby” and was sold in Paris. The red stone was originally forty three carats but after the usual process of finishing, it was reduced to twenty four carats. It was an instant sensation for the ruby lovers.

Word of caution, do not buy this precious stone unless it is from a reputable gem store that can provide you with papers to bring the gem out of the country or else you would be courting for trouble. Strict Burmese regulations will not allow you to leave with the precious gem without a certificate. Also, no matter how tempting, do not buy a ruby from street vendors unless you are a gemologist or absolutely sure you know you are getting the real thing.

For educational purposes, here are some of the things you need to watch out for when buying rubies.

Lighting – The blood-red stones are best viewed in midday light. Do not view it using fluorescent lighting as this will cause the gem to be grayish.

Colour –  Quality rubies would have the same colour as that of the red in the traffic light. This is one of the primary factors in verifying the authentication and value of the ruby. The precious stone should display an intense crimson without being too dark or too light. If the colour appears to be too dark or too light, the stone has less of a market value.

Cut – There are a variety of shapes in the market with different cutting styles. Ovals, emerald and heart shape are common. Round cut rubies fetch a better price in the market. Marquise shapes and pear shapes slightly discounted. You should also avoid stones that are overly shallow or too deep.

One of the more recent ruby sold that has captured media attention was when a London jeweller set a record of paying $425,000 per carat for a ruby that is set on a Bulgari ring.

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