Gem Focus – July 2019

Posted on July 9, 2019 by The Gemworld Staff

Ruby, the birthstone of July, is the king of gemstones.

Ruby, the king of gemstones, has traditionally been much rarer than sapphire in nature, although both are varieties of the same mineral. This vibrant slightly purplish red colored gem has adorned many royal treasury pieces for millennia.

The classic Burmese stones have set the quality standard for rubies for centuries. Relative to other gems, Burmese ruby has always been scarce. In recent decades several events contributed to its decline in availability in the west. Similarly, Thailand and Cambodia are historically prolific sources but now in decline. In the late 20th century, we witnessed the discovery and high production of ruby from East African countries, especially Madagascar, Tanzania and most significantly today, Mozambique. Although first known for lower grade material, today increasingly large numbers of fine quality ruby come from Mozambique. Gemfields has been successfully producing large quantities of material from the area. The market is seeing a sustained production of Mozambique ruby. All qualities are produced and marketed from this source.

In contrast, there is very little new Burmese material available. Recently a number of reports from dealers and laboratory gemologists that traveled to Burma indicate that there is not much production from any of the key Burmese sources at this point. The decline and eventual demise of ruby production in Burma has been predicted by experts for years now. Some experts believe that mining in Mogok actually accelerated during the last decade and is now slowing as demand in the Chinese marketed slowed. Some now believe the active life of the deposit is between 10 and 20 years.

Officially, October 7, 2016 marked the end of eight years of U.S. sanctions on Burmese ruby and jade. The actual impact of the ban is not clear. It happened to take place as the Chinese market was on the rise. Chinese buyers were more than happy to have full access to Burmese ruby sources and pay very high asking prices, hence the astronomical ruby prices we see today. Traditionally, Burmese ruby has always been priced higher than ruby from other sources. Today, this is even more evident as Burmese rubies of the finer grades many times higher than finer quality Mozambique rubies. The high prices of Burmese ruby have helped strengthen demand for Mozambique rubies, which have also seen a multifold increase in their price structure during the past decade. The U.S. market has now become a major market for Mozambique ruby, which currently dominates production.

The size of production was the single most significant factor in the growth of the Mozambique ruby market. Producers have been able to offer a fairly stable supply of product for more than a decade now. However, nomenclature also helped gain broad market acceptance as fine quality gems. It has become common practice by some dealers and gem testing laboratories to apply the term “Pigeon’s Blood” to describe the color of certain Mozambique stones, although the term has traditionally been exclusive to the Burmese ruby trade. This, of course, helped the dealers to sell more of the Mozambique stones in the far eastern market. Today the supply of Mozambique ruby is sufficient to keep prices stabilized and may even push prices lower in the near term. Fine quality Burmese rubies however, are affordable only to wealthiest of gem buyers. 

Another source worth noting is Greenland. Rubies from this source are now available to the trade. Although the source has been known for decades, releasing the material to the global market has taken a very long time. Greenlandic ruby with the responsible sourcing concept attached to it is enjoying a warm welcome from different levels of the industry. Although much of the initial production seen in the market was commercial quality and opaque, there is now a sizeable quantity of better qualities, transparent and with good color. While major designers find the material interesting to incorporate into jewelry, the affordable price structure of the material, supported by authenticity reports, should appeal to mid-market jewelry manufacturers too.

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