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Burmese Rubies: Mogok & Pigeon's Blood Ruby

Burmese Mong Hsu or Mogok Ruby & Sapphire

Historically, some of the world's finest sapphires, rubies and spinels have been found in a remote geologic zone known as the "Mogok Stone Tract" which is situated in the high-altitude (4,000 feet) Mogok Valley, in northern Burma (now Myanmar). The name "Mogok" was derived from the Burmese words bamar moegokesetwaing, or "horizon," and the mere mention of the word evokes a mystique that is both unmatched, and misused/misunderstood.

In the 4,800-square-kilometer area that comprises the Mogok Valley there are over 1,000 ruby and sapphire mines, many of which are small-scale operations. Burmese Ruby is prized for its famous red "pigeon's blood" color which has become synonymous with the region. The Burmese mining region that plays second fiddle to Mogok is the "Mong Hsu Stone Tract," also a historic producer of top-quality gems, and also situated in northern Myanmar.

Map of Myanmar Burma

   Map of the Shan State

Due to Burma's political instability over the last two decades, and its over-exploitation of its mineral resources, ruby production and distribution in this region has declined precipitously. In the early 1990s, the Thai border towns of Mae Sai, Mae Hong Son, and Mae Sot were the main entry points for smuggled Mogok and Mong Hsu sapphires and rubies coming from Burma's Shan State [2]. In 1995, the Myanmar government cracked down on smuggling operations by shutting down the ruby markets and street-sellers in the towns of Taunggyi and Tachilek. Burma's former capital city of Yangon (Rangoon) is now the only government-sanctioned gem-trading zone within Myanmar.

Ruby Rough from Burma

Burmese ruby rough in rock matrix

   Ruby Rough from Mogok

Burmese ruby rough from Mogok

In reaction to the arrest of dissident/activist, and Nobel Peace-Prize-Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the government's forced dislocation of the indigenous Wa people from the Shan State, President George W. Bush signed into law the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003 (H.R. 2330), which banned the importation of certain Myanmar products into the United States [4]. The bill did not specifically address the importation of gemstones, including gemstones that have been "altered," but does ban all goods that are "produced, mined, manufactured, grown, or assembled" in Burma.

Mogok rubies possess a strong red fluorescence, and the hue runs toward the magenta end of the color spectrum. Rubies from Mong Hsu tend to have more of a blueish hue [5]. Although Thai rubies tend to have a purer purple-red body color, their lack of red fluorescence makes them appear dull when compared to Burmese (Mogok) rubies.

Burmese Sapphire Pebbles

Burmese sapphire alluvium

   Burmese Pigeon's Blood Ruby

Burmese 'pigeon's blood' ruby (photo: public domain)

Mong Hsu ruby is often heat-treated to remove the blue component [5]. Much of the Mong Hsu material is treated in neighboring Thailand.

Pigeon's Blood Rubies

The Burmese word for ruby is padamya meaning "plenty of mercury" [6]. According to the Burmese, there is no finer ruby than the ko twe or "pigeon's blood ruby" which is named for its distinct deep red-magenta hue (above, right) that is similar to freshly-drawn arterial pigeon blood. This color is also compared to the hue of pomegranate seeds.

Sapphire & Ruby Mines in Mogok

Mining operations are conducted by state-owned mining enterprises such as Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE) and Myanmar Economic Holdings (MEH). MGE mines rubies and sapphires at the Ho mine (below, left), Linyaung Chi mine, Shwe Pyi Aye mine (below, right) near Mogok and Yebu, and the Yadanar Kadei Kadar mine, near Kyaukpyattha Village. Ruby and Mawsitsit jade mining also take place within the Mong Hsu Stone Tract in Eastern Myanmar.

The vast majority of rubies on the world market today come from Thailand, Sri Lanka (Ceylon ruby), and Madagascar due to the decreased production and restricted supply orchestrated by the centralized government in Myanmar.

Ho Mine

Ho mine (www.avatravel.com)

   Shwe Pyi Aye Mine

Shwe Pyi Aye mine (www.avatravel.com)

Mogok's Ho mine has produced some of the world's highest quality rubies. The Mong Hsu region, 100 km southeast of Mogok, also produces high-quality rubies, with the augmentation of some type of heat treatment. Most of the ruby, sapphire and spinel mining in the Mogok region is open-pit (Pein Pyit mine) or hard-rock (Bawpadan mine) as much of the secondary alluvial deposits have already been depleated. In the Mong Hsu region, sluicing is used to extract the gems from the ruby-bearing alluvial gravels and sand known locally as "byon."

In the northeastern part of Burma's Shan State, there have been recent discoveries of ruby-bearing ore in the Loi Hpaleng, or "Red Cliff Mountain" area, a couple of hundred miles northeast of Taunggyi. Unfortunately, the area is plagued with violence between the Shan State's militia and the Burmese military who are fighting over control of any newly-discovered mining resources.

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Bibliography & Reference on Burmese Ruby from Mogok

1. Renee Newman, Gemstone Buying Guide . International Jewelry Publications; 2nd edition

2. Ted Themelis, Mogok: Valley of Rubies & Sapphires A & T Publishing, Los Angeles

3. Richard W. Hughes, Ruby and Sapphire . RWH Publishing / www.ruby-sapphire.com

4. Gemstone Forecaster, Robert Genis, Burma Gemstones: Banned . www.preciousgemstones.com

5. Richard W. Hughes, The Fracture Healing of Ruby www.ruby-sapphire.com

6. Emporia State, Ruby and Sapphire - Varieties of Corundum . Emporia State University

7. Judith Osmer, Ruby and Sapphire . RWH Publishing

8. Judith Crowe, The Jeweler's Directory of Gemstones . DK Publishing.

9. AVA Travel Travel Through Mogok's Mining Region . www.avatravel.com

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