Why do gemstones from Myanmar command a premium? Is it the history? The exotic allure of a land shrouded in mystery and intrigue? Or the unique geological recipe that has delivered some of the most beautiful gemstones in the world since antiquity? In a nutshell, it is all of the above and more.
The story of Myanmar’s gem deposits started 180 million years ago when a piece of land (now known as India) split from the super-continent Gondwana and started moving towards the land-mass of Asia. Geologists estimate, after India’s collision with Asia (50 million years ago), the land-mass continued its movement inland for another 2,000 kilometres creating the Himalayan mountain range and uplifting the Tibetan plateau. These events caused the creation of three major geological blocks throughout Myanmar.
As beautifully explained by Dr Emmanuel Frtisch in the book Mogok: The Valley of Precious Stones, three categories of rocks are found in Mogok valley. Sedimentary rocks resulting from layered sediment deposits, Eruptive rocks (like Granites) created through the solidification of magma, Metamorphic stones, referring to rocks transformed by heat and pressure. The presence of all three rock types in one valley reflects the rich and diverse mineral wealth of the region.
Centuries of exploration combined with government regulation have rendered the deposit practically exhausted. Most untreated, top-grade rubies and sapphires offered now are from old collections, commanding premium pricing. Sharing their experience with gems from Burma, Mrs Belmont, co-founder KV Gems elucidates, “With Corundum the trace element Iron plays a vital role. With rubies and red spinels from Burma, the lack of Iron contributes to their fluorescence and visual beauty, making them a delightful acquisition for connoisseurs globally. In blue sapphires from Burma, the reduced Iron creates a rich, velvety effect, making Burmese sapphires second only to the elusive sapphires from the vale of Kashmir.”
To find a ruby from Burma above five carats was a rare occurance even in the 1800s. An account from 1891 in the book ‘Leisure Among Gems’ by Augustus C Hamlin highlights the rarity of rubies from Burma. In the book the author explains, “In Burmah we find the finest hue of the red variety of sapphire. Of all the fine red sapphires known however, there are few above five karats. The largest one of which we have any definite knowledge is the beautiful gem set in the Toison d’Or of the French Regalia, weighing 83/16 karats.” He goes on to share further historical insights, “The Ruby is so highly prized in Burmah that when a fine gem is discovered a procession is formed of grandees, elephants, and soldiers, and sent out to meet it and escort it to the royal treasury.”
Second generation partner, Maria Belmont shares her insights on both gems, “Besides sapphires and rubies, Burma is renowned for beautiful peridots and fine spinels. The most sought-after colours in spinels are red and pink, especially from the Namya area. Namya spinels are also popularly called ‘Jedi Spinels’ owing to their exceptional flurescence. Other colours we source from Burma include softer blue hues, and loupe-clean darker grey spinels, which look very chic when cut by our experienced gem artists. Our Peridot collection is mainly from old material acquired over decades. With peridots we tend to mainly offer larger sizes, which are important for the material to hold it’s deep-green colour in the day and in the evening light.“
To summarize, the value of a gem first and foremost lies in its inherent beauty, the fundamental principles of colour, clarity, cut and carat weight. While historical storytelling plays a role, the critical element pushing the price of Burmese gems is the extremely low probability of finding a top-grade treasure from the land. The beauty of gemstones will always be paramount for customers, but the rarity is what will continue to influence the perception of value and demand for a historic origin.