Continued from Part 2
While there is general agreement among experienced wholesale buyers about what constitutes the best quality, tastes for commercial goods can vary dramatically from country to country, often related to the purchasing power of their customers. It is impossible to generalize about individual buyers, but is possible to generalize about the tastes of certain consumer markets. In some places, color is paramount; thus buyers are willing to sacrifice on cut and clarity to obtain stones with good color. For other markets, the preference is for high clarity, and so on. Table 10.1 gives some guidelines on these tastes for the major consuming markets.
Table 10.1: Major ruby & sapphire market tastesa
Information in this table is based upon the author's own trade
experience and research, along with published reports from Ho (1981)
and Sersen (1988b).
Buying ruby & sapphire
In every business, there are tricks of the trade, little things that often add up to the difference between profit and loss. Collectively they might be termed experience, for that is how they are acquired. Unfortunately these lessons are rarely found in books. Instead, they reside in a small box at the back of every dealer's safe or in some dusty drawer, and are acquired by doing business with someone whose box is bigger still. The lessons in this box consist of mistakes – all the stones and jewelry that can't be sold – things that should never have been purchased in the first place. A description of some of the lessons from the author's box is found in the box on page 226.
The purchase of lots is more difficult than single pieces, largely because people fail to take the time to properly analyze the parcel. In large lots, although it is impossible to evaluate each piece, one can perform a sample analysis. What one does is to cut a random sampling from the lot and evaluate it, dividing the sample into logical quality grades. The sample size must be large enough to accurately reflect overall lot quality, but too large a sample simply wastes time. Such a procedure works as shown in Table 10.2.
Table 10.2: Analysis of 1 kg mine-run lot of Australian sapphire
The trick to the above is accurately estimating the cutting yield and selling price after cutting. How is this done? Experience, pure and simple. Novices should begin by buying only cheap lots, where a mistake in judgment is less costly. By grading the lot, having it cut, checking one's estimates against reality, and repeating the process over and over, one eventually reaches the enlightened, sapient state of eternal profit and bliss. Ideally before the bankroll is finished.
The same method would also be used for parcels of cut stones (minus the cutting charges).
Drawing color. When buying parcels, make sure that stones are examined individually, rather than as a whole. Large parcels will always appear to be of a deeper color than individual stones. This is termed drawing color, and results from increased absorption as light travels through several stones, rather than a single piece. Thus to get a true idea of color, stones should be removed from the lot for examination.
Color memory: 'Washing the eyes'
In a word, the color memory of humans is poor. While we can distinguish between millions of colors in side-by-side comparisons, this ability is dramatically reduced if no comparison sample is available. To take advantage of this poor color memory, a typical seller's stratagem is to begin the buying session by showing only low quality goods. As time goes on, the qualities get better and better, until, finally, the pièce de résistance is brought forth. Since everything seen up to that time has been of lower quality, it makes the final piece appear even better. This sales technique is termed 'washing the eyes' and is most effective (Halford-Watkins, 1934; W.K. Ho, pers. comm., ca. 1981).
To avoid falling prey to such a ruse, some standard means of comparison is needed. This could be a printed color atlas, a colorimeter (such as GIA's ColorMaster), a set of master stones, or some other medium (like AGL's ColorScan or GIA's GemSet). Many dealers simply carry around two or three comparison stones. Any of the above methods will prove useful.
The record-keepers of record-breakers,
W.R. Rodgers, 1941, End of a World
Next to colored diamonds, rubies are the most precious of gems. Throughout the 1970s, it's highest per-carat price rose steadily. April, 1976 saw a ring containing a ruby of approximately 7.25 ct sell for $230,000 and in October, 1975, a suite of nine rubies from the estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge sold for $690,000 at Sotheby's. On November 24, 1979, in Geneva, a 4.12-ct Mogok ruby sold for $412,000, a fantastic $100,639/ct. During this auction, three separate records were set: the above mentioned ruby; a Colombian emerald ring of 12.46 ct ($48,240/ct), and a Kashmir sapphire of 11.81 ct ($25,815/ct), then a world record per-carat price for blue sapphire.
Not until 1988 were these prices topped. At Sotheby's New York's October 18, 1988 sale, Alan Caplan's 15.97 ct Burmese ruby sold for $3,630,000, a whopping $227,301/ct. As of 1995, this record still stands. The record for blue sapphire was set at the Feb. 18–20, 1988 sale at Sotheby's St. Moritz, where a 62.02-ct rectangular Mogok sapphire sold for $2,828,546 ($45,607/ct). (Hughes & Sersen, 1988b; Matthews, 1993)
Rubies and sapphires of note
Despite the fact that the corundum gems are the most important, next to diamond, relatively few titled specimens exist. In the case of sapphires, certainly, this is not for want of magnificent specimens of large size. Rubies of large size and fine quality, however, are singularly lacking. While perfect diamonds of many carats abound in history, perfect rubies of even five carats are almost unknown. The simple fact is that when the Gods were dispensing rubies, they did just as we mortals would have – they kept the best for themselves.
A complete listing of famous rubies and sapphires is tabulated at the end of this chapter. What follows here is a smattering of descriptions and accounts of notable examples.
Rubies described by Tavernier
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the famous seventeenth century gem trader and traveler mentions a number of large rubies in his Travels (Ball, 1925). Of course Tavernier was writing at a time when almost any red stone was considered as a ruby, so it is likely that the larger stones were actually red spinels ('balas' rubies).
A handful of historic rubies
Burma has been, and continues to be, the source of rubies par excellence. Unfortunately, during the many centuries in which the Mogok mines were ruled by the Burmese kings, all stones of large value  were considered crown property. This resulted in large stones being broken up into smaller pieces.
Maung Lin Ruby
Among the great Burmese rubies was a stone found by a man or men working on the road to Momeit, during Mindon Min's rule (1853–78). The gem weighed 400 ct in the rough and was secretly disposed of to a trader named Maung Lin for Rs3000 (about £200). It was cut into three pieces: a stone of 70 ct (sold to England); a stone of 45 ct (sold in Mandalay); and a third portion of unknown weight, sold in Calcutta for Rs70,000 (~£4666). (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934)
J.N. Forster Rubies
According to Tagore (1879, 1881) and Streeter (1892), the two most important rubies ever known in Europe were brought into England in 1875. One, a rich red cushion shape, weighed 37 ct; the other was a blunt, drop-shaped piece of 47 ct. Both stones were later recut by James N. Forster of London, resulting in pieces of 32-5/16 and 39-9/16 ct (38-9/16 ct according to Streeter) respectively. The smaller stone eventually fetched £10,000 and the larger £20,000. Streeter, undoubtedly one of the most competent European judges of rubies of his day, apparently did not examine the stones himself; however he states that experts pronounced them to be unrivaled for rubies of such large size. Perhaps even more authoritative proof of their quality was the fact that their sale in Burma created intense excitement and a military guard escorted the persons taking the stones to the ship. The Burmese King (Mindon Min) was only persuaded to let the stones go because he desperately needed cash. No matter what the king's financial position, however, we can be quite sure that he would not part with the best of his collection, for, as with many monarchs, such a collection has value far beyond money. The royal regalia and associated stones form a vital part of their rule, the foundation of kingly status. Without these trappings a monarch would truly be left without clothes.
Other Burmese rubies
Soon after Thebaw (1878–1885) ascended the throne, a fine stone weighing 100 ct in the rough was found on Pingtoung Hill (Pingu Taung) near Mogok, an area where several "royal rubies" have originated. The stone was presented to Thebaw by Oo-dwa-gee, at the time Woon (governor) of the ruby mining district (Streeter, 1892).
King Thebaw, the last Burmese monarch, was reported to have a collection of Burmese rubies unsurpassed in all the world. Of this, there can be no doubt, due to the aforementioned policy that all large stones were the property of the state. John Crawfurd (1829), an Englishman sent on a diplomatic mission to Ava (the then capital of Burma) in 1827, had this to say:
The King lays claim to every ruby or sapphire which exceeds the value of one hundred ticals; and there is, from all accounts, a large collection of both in the royal treasury; but as they are never sold, and not often disposed of in any way, they can hardly be said to form an effectual portion of the revenue.
What happened to this magnificent collection after the British annexed Upper Burma? The treasury from the Royal Palace at Mandalay now rests at the Indian Museum, South Kensington, in London, but to look at it, the Burmese king seems to have been a mere pauper. Although there are a number of rubies in the British Regalia, they are of small size or imperfect quality. On 29 Nov., 1885, the British took Mandalay. Guards were posted with orders not to permit anyone to enter or leave the palace. But that night the chivalrous British permitted female servants to come and go freely (see page 316). Throughout the night that is exactly what they did, smuggling the treasure out right under the British soldiers' noses (Stewart, 1972). No doubt, the stones eventually found their way onto the open market in Lower Burma and India, and then into the private collections of the world's wealthy. Thus was lost forever an unrivaled opportunity – public display of the most fabulous jewels of the Burmese monarchs, a collection put together over centuries of rule.
In 1899, the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. uncovered a giant ruby of 77 ct (rough) which was valued at £26,666 (Brown, 1933). Another stone weighing 36 ct was sold by King Mindon Min, the father of Thebaw, for £30,000 (Brown, 1933). Numerous additional examples of large rubies such as the above exist in the literature, but because we do not know where the stones are today it is difficult to assess their quality, nor know definitely if they were, in fact, rubies. From what we do know today about rubies it can be guessed that most or even all of the large stones (100 ct or more) reported in the possession of the pre-twentieth century monarchs were either flawed or were actually red spinels.
The following are some famous rubies of Burmese origin.
Nga Boh ('Dragon Lord') Ruby
The name given to a ruby found at Bawbadan, weighing 44 ct in the rough, and, when cut, 20 ct. It was said to be the finest of its size ever reported and was given by the finder to King Tharawadi (1837–1846). The stone was among the booty missing from King Thebaw's palace during the British conquest of Mandalay (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934).
Nga Mauk (Gna Monk) & Kallahpyan Rubies
During the reign of Mindon Min (1853–1878), a man found a rough ruby weighing 7 ticals (560 ct). This was one of the finest Mogok rubies ever found (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934; Keely, 1982; Clark, 1991). But there is a discrepancy in the accounts. According to Streeter and Halford-Watkins, the man's wife traded the stone for a rupee's worth of fish condiments to a man named Nga Mauk, but Keely does not mention such a trade.  In any case, the owner of the stone broke it in two, giving one half to the king and secretly sending the other for sale in Calcutta. Discovering the fraud and after learning where the other half had been sent, Mindon Min ordered its return. In the meantime, he ordered the village and its inhabitants burned alive as a lesson to others (this was apparently a traditional punishment under the Burmese monarchy). Eventually, the second half was purchased in Calcutta for an enormous sum and returned to Burma, where it formed a perfect fit with the first. The two stones were cut in Mandalay, one forming a grand stone weighing 98 ct, and named Nga Mauk; the other weighed 74 ct and became known as Kallahpyan, signifying that it had returned from India. These two pieces disappeared when Upper Burma was annexed by the British in 1885. 
Few rubies ever generated the excitement that this 42-ct piece of rough produced upon its discovery. Accounts on this stone differ.  The author has chosen to use that of Halford-Watkins (1934), who had first-hand experience with the gem. He said:
This magnificent stone, by far the finest ruby the world has ever seen, was mined in the Mogok Valley on the 30th June, 1919 (the day that Peace was signed). In shape it had the form of an irregular hexagonal prism with a flattened apex, the weight being exactly 42 old carats. The colour was a perfect pigeons-blood, and when in the writer's possession he likened it to a piece of red currant jelly, and used to exhibit it on a small plain white china plate to heighten the illusion. With the exception of a tiny crack near the base, which was removed in the cutting, the stone was entirely without a blemish of any kind. It was purchased in the rough by Chhotalal Nanalal, an Indian gem merchant of Mogok, for £27,500, or £654/15/- per carat, which [was] the highest price per carat ever realised for a rough ruby of any size. It was cut in Bombay into a round brilliant weighing 25 carats, of perfect colour, and absolutely flawless. This brought the actual cost of the material in the finished stone up to £1,100 a carat. The cut stone was disposed of in Paris, and afterwards went to America, the prices realised at the resales being very considerable, but the actual figures are not available for publication.
J.F. Halford-Watkins, 1934, The Book of Ruby and Sapphire
The present location of this stone is unknown.
Among rubies, that with the oldest legendary history is the Chhatrapati Manik.  Legends date back some 2000 years, to the time of Sri Raja Bir Vikramaditya, King of Ujjain (located in present-day Madhya Pradesh, India). Upon his ascension, he proclaimed himself Chhatrapati ('Supreme King') and commissioned a new crown befitting his position. Scholars advised him that the crown should consist of nine principal gems (representing the nine planets). However, ruby, gem of the sun, should have the foremost place, for the sun lords over all other planets. A search of the treasury brought forth the finest gems of each type, but a suitable ruby could not be found. Eventually, a ruby without peer was located in a banker's collection and purchased. As the Maharaja had declared himself Chhatrapati, so he called the ruby.
Clarke (1933) gives a further detailed history of this stone, which passed from Vikramaditya's descendants through a variety of merchant's and ruler's hands. These included Sultan Abdul Hossein Qutub Shah, King of Golconda (1672–1687), also known as Tana Shah. He seized the crown and, after unmounting the gems, destroyed it. Tana Shah loved the ruby so much he had his name engraved upon it, and commissioned a book of poetry to extol its virtues. Later, the Great Mughal, Aurangzeb, defeated Tana Shah in battle, taking him prisoner. Leading the troops was Aurangzeb's son, who brought the ruby and book of verses to his father. Aurangzeb ordered Tana Shah's name removed, and his own put in its place.
At Murshidabad, in Bengal, lived a family of bankers, said to be the richest in the world. They often bestowed lavish gifts upon the Mughal. Upon receiving one of these presents, Aurangzeb returned the favor by presenting them with the Chhatrapati Manik, along with the book of verses. Later, one Lala Kalkadas of Lucknow traded a number of gems for the ruby and book. Aurangzeb's seal was ground off the gem at this point. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857–8, the book was lost, but Lala Budreedas, son of Lala Kalkadas, managed to keep the ruby. He later moved to Calcutta, where he had it mounted into a new tiara, befitting the ruby that had once graced the head of Vikramaditya, Chhatrapati of India.
The stone is said to be a Burmese oval cabochon of good deep color. Its weight is listed variously as about 24 rati (~20.68 ct), (Clarke, 1933), or about 40 ct (Clarke, 1934). In 1934, the stone was reported to be in London and was mounted on the front of a diamond tiara.
DeLong Star Ruby
This 100.32-ct star ruby is displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Discovered in Burma during the early part of the twentieth century, it was sold by Martin Ehrmann to Edith Haggin DeLong, who donated it to the museum (Smith, 1994).
Rosser Reeves Star Ruby
At 138.7 ct, this is probably the finest large star ruby in existence. Now at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, it was named in honor of the donor, Mr. Rosser Reeves. Not only is the stone clearer and more translucent than the DeLong star, but it also possesses a magnificent, sharp six-rayed star. The Rosser Reeves Star is also unusual in that it does not originate from Mogok, as with most fine rubies, but from the gem gravels of Sri Lanka.
Rough rubies of note
Famous rough ruby specimens exist in several museums around the world. Extremely large but impure examples have been found in a number of localities. The British Museum possesses a rough hexagonal prism of 10 x 7 inches (25.4 x 17.8 cm) which weighs 34 lb (15.42 kg) and comes from North Carolina. Fine specimens, however, come mainly from Burma. In 1933, the British Museum acquired a remarkable Mogok ruby specimen measuring 12 x 9 x 4 cm and weighing 1.5 lb (3450 ct). Although consisting of a single crystal, it shows the terraced appearance (due to oscillation between the rhombohedron and basal pinacoid) typical of Burmese ruby crystals (Spencer, 1933). Also displayed at the British Museum is the 167-ct Edwardes Ruby crystal, which was donated in 1887 by John Ruskin (Keller, 1983).
Another fine Mogok ruby crystal is on display in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (Keller, 1983). Weighing 196.1 ct, it too displays the typical etched and terraced appearance, and is known as the Hixon Ruby.
The largest ruby ever found in Thailand was unearthed in 1985. This giant piece of rough weighed approximately 150 ct and was put on public display during a gem fair held in Chanthaburi in 1986.
Famous rubies are summarized in Table 10.3.
Chapter 10 continues with…
9. Above approx. Rs2000 (Halford-Watkins, 1934). [ return to text ]
10. It seems unlikely that anyone living in the Mogok area could fail to recognize such a fine rough ruby, so, in this regard, Streeter may be wrong. [ return to text ]
12. See Times of London (Aug. 25, 1919); Brown (1927); Keely (1982). [ return to text ]
13. The primary meaning of Chhatra is umbrella, but secondary meanings include lord, supreme, shelter, and helper. Pati means master, husband or king. Manik means ruby, or red precious stone. Thus Chhatrapati Manik means 'Supreme Lord of Rubies' (Clarke, 1933). [ return to text ]
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