Up till the sixties, the primary source of rubies was Burma (Myanmar). Geologically estimated to be 45-50 million years old, rubies from Burma feature prominently in most museum collections and have a rich history related to royalty and celebrities. Hundreds of years of mining, however, caused the deposit to dwindle and from the sixties till the nineties, the primary fuel for the gem industry were rubies from Thailand. By the 1990s though, sources of rubies had dried up in Thailand, and the supply from Mong Hsu in Burma (Myanmar) was limited to material that required treatment. Rubies from Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi, Tajikistan, Vietnam trickled in and fed the market, but the supply was sporadic.
After a few years of whispers of a new ruby deposit, in 2008 the industry had its first confirmation with rubies found in the Niassa national reserve in Mozambique. The material was mainly cabochon-grade and required treatment. Within a year, facet-grade rubies were found in Montepuez attracting the attention of around 40,000 to 50,000 artisanal miners. They swarmed the deposit located on land owned by a company called Mwriti. Till then, the concession had been operating as a stone quarry supplying the growing construction sector in Mozambique. The owners acquired a legal gem mining license and after some years of trial and error, in 2011, established a partnership with Gemfields. The Montepuez Ruby Mine (MRM) is now the world’s largest, and in 10-15 years Mozambique rubies have grown to dominate the global gem market, representing approximately 80% of the supply.
Interestingly, while the 50 million-year-old Burma rubies are considered older (discovered first), geologically speaking, rubies from Mozambique are significantly older formed approximately 500 million years ago. Sharing his views on why Mozambique rubies have grown in popularity, Joe Belmont, co-founder KV Gems, explains, “Many factors have led to the dominance of rubies from Mozambique. The depleting supply from traditional sources for one. Plus, the rich-red colour and clarity of Mozambique material, which delivers some of the most beautiful top-grade rubies. The fact that one can currently acquire, untreated top-grade material, from Mozambique, in larger sizes. Additionally, large-scale mining, professional grading and distribution by Gemfields, support of our community of ruby processing lapidaries in Thailand, which is supplemented by gem merchants globally. The final element being consumer-centric marketing by international jewellery brands, and Gemfields.”
It is only natural to compare any new ruby deposit with the established gold standard, which in this case are Burmese Rubies. Gem and jewellery writer and journalist, Richa Goyal Sikri shares her views on Burma versus Mozambique debate, “The best way to understand the difference is to image both sources as two artists. The Burma ruby, more a grandmaster (like Van Gogh), who passed away a long time ago. The Mozambique ruby is akin to a young artist who is still alive and producing outstanding works of art. Now, if you want a Van Gogh of exceptional quality, your only source is the second-hand market, and the price will be quite high. It is, however, possible to buy a work of art from a new artist (Mozambique Ruby) of the same exceptional quality as Burma Ruby (Van Gogh). In another 25+ years, the Mozambique deposit may also run dry and then the only option to acquire one will be old stock at a higher price.”