Next month marks a year since President Obama handed down a 12-month extension to the ban on gemstones exported from Burma. Why is that important to a jeweler in Indiana?
Well, Burma (Myanmar) is historically the source of the finest rubies and jadeite in the world. The jewelry market has been starving for legitimate access to these goods since the bans were first put in place in 2003 and strengthened in 2008. The human rights violations brought to light by Burma’s ruling junta were ample reason to limit the fluidity of income provided by these remarkable gems.
The government has been civilian-led since 2011, and in May of 2014, the Obama administration began lifting some of the sanctions, specifically those levied against travel visas. Whether or not the bans on gems are tightened, loosened, or dropped entirely is a major talking point in the industry.
Since the outright ban was put in place in 2008, the US market has been scrambling to find a new source of fine ruby. While some locations stepped up to the task for large, fine material, like Tanzania and, more recently, Mozambique, the most in-demand combinations of size and color in quality stones are still tough to come by because Burma provided so much of the supply.
Beautiful individual rubies are still available, though, because almost every mine has a percentage of top-quality material in its production. As I mentioned above, the Winza Mine in Tanzania produces rubies of quality comparable to Burmese material. Winza is known for producing quality rubies that need to heat-treatment. However, the Winza mine has begun to dwindle of late.
In 2009, rubies from the Montepuez region in Mozambique started getting attention. Rubies from Mozambique offer an exceptionally broad range of material, but the finest rubies from Mozambique stack up well against Burmese rubies and in sizes over 2-carats can literally be half the price for comparable quality. The price difference is absolutely astounding.
There are other regions that trickle a supplemental supply, such as Madagascar, Kenya, and Vietnam, but the ruby deposits in Mozambique have been literally game-changing. While the quality of Mozambique’s rubies is certainly on par with those of Burma, Mozambique has not shown the sheer volume Burma has historically produced. But Mozambique is still producing far more rubies than anywhere else.
However, I believe people will always want the material from the site that created the measure of fine ruby. The emerald mines in Zambia haven’t overshadowed Colombian emeralds in the nearly 40 years since Zambian material hit the market. They may be more productive, but Colombian emerald is still the standard. The sapphire mines of Kashmir have been effectively tapped out for over 125 years, but Kashmir sapphires still command the highest prices at auction. The opal mines of Ethiopia produce beautiful opals with intense play-of-color and high translucence, but Lightning Ridge remains the name associated with the finest opals. Burmese ruby will always be in demand just because it is Burmese ruby.