Hearing the phrase “Burmese ruby” is an immediate cause for excitement. Visions of the most vibrantly red and exquisitely cut jewels come to mind. Are you curious to know what makes a Burmese ruby so special and how they came to hold such acclaim? What about Kashmir sapphires? Colombian emeralds? Join us as we journey into the history of Burmese rubies, and explore other exceptional gemstone mine locations from around the world!
The first question on your mind might be, “what is a Burmese ruby?” Just as the name implies, a Burmese ruby hails from the legendary mines of Burma, a country in southeastern Asia, now modern-day Myanmar. Rubies from this region showcase a strong red hue and fluorescence, allowing them to glow under ultraviolet light. Burmese rubies’ rich saturation of color has drawn both royalty and connoisseurs to seek out these gems.
To understand why Burmese rubies are so coveted by collectors and command prices far higher thanruby jewelry from other sources, one must examine the history of the Burmese mines. For hundreds of years, this region has been home to the fabled Mogôk Valley mines. These mines have been a source of gemstones for over 800 years, producing rubies displaying the brightest and most desirable shades of red.
The history of the Burmese ruby mines is complex and tumultuous due to regional conflicts and ever-changing leadership over the country. Legend has it that one ancient ruler of the region would not allow any of the rubies mined to leave the kingdom for fear that it would diminish his power. An embargo was only recently lifted in 2016, sanctioning the export and sale of these gemstones, but continued political unrest has consistently challenged this. As a result, many of the Burmese rubies circulating the market today were originally mined and purchased decades ago. The desirability of these gemstones and the depletion of the existing mines have made acquiring them increasingly difficult and have contributed to their ascending prices.
Perhaps the most desirable shade of rubies is the famed “pigeon blood” hue — a distinction given to only a select few gemstones. This “pigeon blood” color features a rich red with slight purple tones and a glowing red fluorescence. The term was coined in Burma when locals chose ko-twe (“pigeon blood” in Burmese) to signify their finest quality rubies. The most expensive colored gemstone ever sold was the Sunrise Ruby, a 25.59 carat untreated Burmese ruby with this “pigeon blood” color. The ring achieved over $30 million at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva, indicating the strong desire for these gemstones.
Although formed from the same mineral, rubies and sapphires have vastly different appearances, especially in the case of Kashmir sapphires. Kashmir sapphires hail from the Himalayan Mountains deep in the Zanskar mountain range and are best known for their velvety, rich blue color and extreme rarity. First discovered in the 1870s when a landside revealed their presence in a remote and dangerous pass in the mountains, the deeply hued crystals piqued the interest of a few brave miners. The majority of Kashmir sapphires were mined in the following five years, and most were claimed by the Maharajas of that region. The remote location of these mines was made even more hazardous by the earthquakes and landslides, deterring many from seeking out these beautiful stones. After the 1900s, the rough to be discovered diminished significantly, and the mines gained legendary status. Their vibrant blue color and slight haziness place Kashmir sapphires among the top gemstones in the world, with incredible name recognition and unparalleled rarity in the realm of sapphires.
Much like the legendary status of the Burmese and Kashmir mines, the Muzo and Chivor emerald mines of Colombia have gained international acclaim for the gemstones they produce. The finest natural, untreated emeralds found today can be traced back to the Colombian mines. Active as early as 500 AD, the indigenous people knew of the beautiful stones that grew in the mountainous regions and sought them out for their mystical properties. When the Spanish Conquistadors infiltrated Colombia, they saw the glowing gemstones and plundered the mines. The explosion of emeralds that entered Europe after the 1500s sent royals, nobility and clergy into a frenzy to acquire these exceptional gems.
The pure green color of Colombian emeralds is what separates these gemstones from those mined elsewhere, which often have a bluish tint. Further, Colombian emeralds are known for their relative lack of inclusions and clarity, whereas impurities are a common trait of emeralds mined elsewhere. Often called “jardin” (the French word for garden) because they resemble foliage, the inclusions are a hallmark of their growth and journey through the mines. To find a clean, untreated emerald is exceptionally rare and can bring tens of thousands of dollars per carat on the wholesale market.
In Australia, the famed Lightning Ridge mine produces the majority of black opals in the world, including the marvelous gemstone at the center of this ring. Black is the most valuable opal variety, but don’t let the name fool you — these stones produce a rainbow of hues. Their vibrant play of color is accentuated by their darker background, lending to the stones’ dynamic appearance. The Australian outback’s extremely dry sediment is the unlikely home to these phenomenal gemstones. Over thousands of years, infrequent rain causes water to run through the cracks in the earth, carrying various minerals through the veins and depositing them into the mines. It takes thousands of years of accumulation to form the opals, which grow into the rock. The stone’s fragile nature makes their mining a challenging process, but the final product is remarkable when polished and set into jewelry.
We are always searching for the most extraordinary stones from the world’s best mines here at M.S. Rau. You can stay up to date on our latest findings through our newsletter, which you can register for here.To see more of our rare vintage jewelry, browse our collection of estate jewelry ranging from antique necklaces to rare antique Tiffany & Co. pieces that you can’t find anywhere else.