Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality & Prices • Part 1 - Buying ruby & sapphire; famous rubies

1 January 1997
By Richard Hughes
Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality & Prices • Part 1

Article Index

Market tastes for ruby & sapphire

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

Market Preferencesb
Australia The Australian ruby taste resembles that of the UK, with preference for darker colors of good cut and clarity. In sapphire, dark Australia-type blues find a ready market, so long as they are clean and well cut. Other sapphire types are also salable.
Far East (China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan) These newly-emerging markets have become an important force of late. Typical of many young markets, one finds a range of qualities salable. Cash-rich Taiwan and South Korea are increasingly important for high-end goods. Hong Kong services much of the Far East market.
France In France, color is paramount. For rubies, it should be a rich, intense red, characteristic of the best Burma-type stones. With sapphire, the preference is a rich blue, similar to Ceylon and Burma-type material. French buyers are often willing to sacrifice clarity and cut for good color. Thus shallow and/or slightly included stones may find a ready market – so long as the color is there.
Germany Typically, German buyers place great emphasis on perfection in make (cut) and clarity. Color is less important than brilliance, clarity and finish. The preference is generally for lighter, brighter stones, In ruby, this means slightly pinkish red stones, as opposed to dark, garnet reds, while for sapphire it is for bright, Ceylon-type blues.
Italy Italian taste is similar to the French, with the emphasis on color, as opposed to clarity and cut. Shallow stones ('big face') often find a ready market.
Japan The rise of Japanese economic power in the 1970s and '80s brought with it a similar rise in demand for luxury goods. This peaked about the time of the Gulf War, and has since flattened somewhat, with the Tokyo stock market failure, Gulf War, and Kobé earthquake. Japanese taste bears a strong resemblance to Germany, with preference for lighter, brighter colors and stones of high clarity and excellent cut. In rubies, this means bright, pinkish reds, while for sapphire it is for bright, Ceylon-type blues. Overly-dark stones find little interest in Japan.
Middle East While the traditional center of the Middle East gem business is Beirut, the war virtually shut it down. Still, throughout the Middle East the gem trade is largely in the hands of Lebanese traders. Market preferences tend to be schizophrenic, with quantities of both high and low-grade jewels being purchased. The emphasis is often on flash, i.e. big stones and gaudy jewelry. That said, the purchasing power of this region is huge, almost on a par with the US or Japan. Middle-eastern retail buyers are a major presence in the world's retail capitals, such as Geneva, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Beverly Hills.
Switzerland Switzerland itself is not so much a final consuming market as a supermarket for the world's rich. Most purchases are made by foreigners, with the gems later exported. Buyers come from around the world, but have one thing in common – lots of money. Thus Swiss buyers tend to buy the very best, which means high-saturation Burma-type rubies and Kashmir or Burma-type sapphires. The market is centered in Geneva.
United Kingdom While certain London jewelers and buyers handle material on a par with the best in the world, the UK market's taste is generally more in line with the country's overall economic decline since the fall of the British empire after World War II. Thus cheaper, darker goods are the norm. This is consistent with dark, garnet-red Thai/Cambodian rubies and dark, Australia-type sapphires.
United States The US is the world's largest consuming market for all gems, including ruby & sapphire. Because of its melting-pot ethnic and economic composition, virtually all qualities are salable in some segment of the market. That said, preferences are generally for stones with balanced quality – i.e., proportions and clarity are of equal importance to color. In the Northwest (OR, WA, ID, MT), Yogo sapphires are a hot item, and may fetch prices far above those elsewhere. Major urban areas, such as New York and Los Angeles, may cater to many foreign customers.

a. 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).
b. Note: In each of the world's major luxury retail centers, such as Geneva, Paris, London, New York, Beverly Hills, Hong Kong and Tokyo, buyers from around the world come to buy. Thus the tastes of these centers often may diverge dramatically from the country as a whole.

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.

Buying parcels

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

Analyis Quality grade of each sample portion (sample = 10% of lot) Sample Total Lot
(sample x 10)
1 2 3 4
Weight of grade (500 ct total) 75 ct (15%) 125 ct (25%) 175 ct (35%) 125 ct (25%) 500 ct 5000 ct
Estimated weight after cutting
(20% average yield from rough to cut)
15 ct (3%) 25 ct (5%) 35 ct (7%) Uncuttable
- -
Estimated selling price after cutting $50/ct $25/ct $10/ct - - -
Gross income $750 $625 $350 - $1,725 $17,250
Cutting charges (@$2/finished ct) $30 $50 $70 - $150 $1,500
Net income $720 $575 $270 - $1,575 $15,750
Profit (net income – lot price) Sample price = $1000 total; Lot price = $10,000 total $575 $5,750

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).

Business tactics

War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull. Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Every gem trader has his or her own preferred bargaining tactics. Skillful application of such stratagems often translates into business success.

Studied indifference is one common ploy, but difficult to maintain when one's eyes are afire with the sight of a great jewel. In such cases, it helps to use an intermediary. Because intermediaries do not have emotional attachment to the purchase (or sale), they typically achieve better results, which is why brokers are a common feature of the gem business.

Try to camouflage your intentions. When selecting from lots, an effective tactic is the "bait-and-switch." Rather than drooling over the object of your desire, disguise your true objective by asking the prices of other items first. Put the gem you want in with a group of others, ask the price of the group, remove a couple pieces you don't want, again inquire about the price, remove others, add additional pieces, and finally "settle" for the piece you wanted all along.

One of the keys to any negotiation is to get the other party to make the first offer. This is particularly important when haggling over something for which you are unsure of the true market price (there is nothing more deflating than making an offer and hearing a lightning-quick 'yes' issue from the seller's lips). Similarly, if you are selling and the buyer makes an offer you will accept, ponder it a bit before replying.

Among the most unusual bits of advice I've ever been offered was that provided by an old Japanese dealer (Mr. Fujita, r.i.p.) who had spent most of his life buying gems in Asia. After negotiating several flasks of saké in Bangkok's Soi Ginza, he leaned over to me and slurred in heavily-accented English: "Deeek, ze secrets of ze beeziness eez to buy a leettle high, and sell a leettle low." Only the next morning, after my mind had cleared, did I grasp the logic of this statement. By purchasing a little higher than the competition, sellers will approach you first. Thus you obtain the all-important first look. By selling a little lower than the competition, customers will also come to you first.

There is a common tendency when bargaining over a stone to denigrate it, thinking that telling the seller you don't like it will produce a lower price. While it does no harm to gently point out a gem's defects, this should be done in a graceful and subtle manner. Telling someone that their stone resembles "the slime on a lizard's back" not only anger's the seller, making any price reduction less likely, but it begs the question of why you want to buy something that bad.

In the end, as Bangkok dealer Gerry Rogers has repeatedly lectured me, buying is like selling. When selling, the last thing you want is to upset your customer. And so it is with buying. Complimenting the seller on his good taste in gems is far more likely to produce the desired price than the reverse. If you have to complain about something to the seller, complain that, while you recognize the high quality of the seller's gems, your customers lack the ability to understand subtle differences in quality. Thus you have to be careful how you spend your money.

 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.

Auction records

The record-keepers of record-breakers,
The lackers and onlookers of greatness,
Eunuch students of love and peeping Toms.
'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 [9] 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)

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, star ruby, Kashmir sapphire, Mogok sapphire, padparadscha, corundumFigure 10.14  And the judges' verdict? 10, 10, 10, 10, 10… It is impossible to say what is the finest ruby in the world. But this stone is certainly one of the finest, and until 12 April 2005 held the record for the highest per-carat price ever realized for a ruby at auction. Known variously as Alan Caplan's Ruby or the Mogok Ruby, this 15.97-ct untreated Burma stone was sold by Sotheby's in 1986 for $3,630,000, a whopping $227,301 per carat. It was purchased by Graff of London, who reportedly sold it to the Sultan of Brunei. (Photo: © Tino Hammid)
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.

From carob seed to carat

THE value of gemstones is generally determined by reference to weight vs. quality, with the best qualities always more rare in larger sizes than small. While there is no uniform system for quality analysis, gem dealers have long had a standard weight reference – sort of. Since April 1, 1914, the metric carat has equaled 200 milligrams. Prior to that, things were not so simple. The international carat of 1877 equalled 205.0 milligrams. Like religion, however, not everyone believed. Before the establishment of the standard metric carat, the carat varied anywhere from 188.6 milligrams (in Bologna) to as much as 213.5 milligrams (in Turin). And this is between two cities in the same country. Such variations (as much as 13%) make it extremely difficult to estimate the precise weight of gems described before 1914.

The English word carat comes to us from the Greek keration ('little horn') and refers to the shape of the seed pods of Ceratonia silique, the carob tree (St. John's Bread). Such seeds were used to weigh precious substances because of their relatively consistent weight. Our carat comes through the Arabic qîrât, which became in Old Portuguese quirate, appearing in modern Portuguese and Spanish as quilate (Kunz, 1914).

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. [10] 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. [11]

Iran's Crown Jewels

NO jewelry collection in the world can compare with Iran's Crown Jewels, located in Teheran's Bank Markazi Iran (Central Bank of Iran). Some of the jewels date from the 16th century, when the Spanish began selling new-world emeralds to Asia's great potentates, but the bulk came into Persian hands in 1739, when Nadir Shah sacked Delhi and returned home with sacks and chests of treasure. Included amongst the booty was the most unbelievable jewel ever seen – the fabled Peacock Throne. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal that built the Taj Mahal, the cost of the Peacock Throne was actually twice that of the Taj (Swamy & Ravi, 1993). Unfortunately the original throne was later broken up, but many of its gems are today found in the collection. This collection has been magnificently described by Meen & Tushingham (1968).

After the 1978–9 revolution that toppled Iran's monarchy, the collection was put away, and some of Ayatollah Khomeini's most zealous followers even proposed selling it off. Thankfully this did not happen, and in February of 1992, the collection was quietly reopened to public viewing (Sciolino, 1992).


Rubies of great size and quality are quite rare, and Iran's collection is probably the world's finest. Mogok rubies of ten carats or more are extremely scarce in fine qualities, but the Persian collection possesses a number of fine examples. Of particular note is the plaque of 13 magnificent stones described by Meen & Tushingham (1968, p. 118), and matched by another plaque nearby. Each is set in a simple gold ring and all are cabochons, ranging in size from 8 to 16 ct. All are believed to be of Burmese origin. [a]

Red spinels

The world's greatest collection of large red spinels is that of the Crown Jewels of Iran. One piece, a blood-red lump of some 500 ct, is probably the largest fine red spinel extant. A companion piece weighing 270 ct is the more important of the two from an historical perspective, in that the Indian Mughal Jahangir's name is engraved upon it.

The larger of the two spinels in Iran is pierced, but the openings are now plugged. According to one legend, this is the Samarian Spinel, which adorned the neck of the Golden Calf. Both stones are believed to originate from the famous balas ruby mines of Badakshan. Numerous other red spinels exist in the Crown Jewels of Iran, many of which exceed 100, and some, even 200 ct in weight.

a. Although they are stated to be of Burmese origin, no evidence is given to back up this belief. It is possible some may come from other sources.

Peace Ruby

Few rubies ever generated the excitement that this 42-ct piece of rough produced upon its discovery. Accounts on this stone differ. [12] 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.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, star ruby, Kashmir sapphire, Mogok sapphire, padparadscha, corundumFigure 10.15  A representation of the gem alleged to be the Chhatrapati Manik Ruby, as seen in London in 1934. At left is a close-up view of the gem mounted in a diamond tiara. (Based on Clarke, 1934).

Chhatrapati Manik Ruby

Among rubies, that with the oldest legendary history is the Chhatrapati Manik. [13] 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.

Star rubies of note
Among star rubies of renown, two immediately come to mind – the DeLong Star, an oval stone of over 100 ct, and the Rosser Reeves Star, an oval of 138.7 ct. Both are on public display in the United States.

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).

The slippery SLORC ruby

I guess the government that robs its own people earns the future it is preparing for itself.
Mark Twain, 1912, 'Mark Twain: A Biography'

THE Rangoon gem auction had a big star in 1991, a 496-ct golf-ball sized piece of rough. It was dubbed the SLORC Ruby by SLORC (Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Committee, the ruling military junta). That's a real pretty name. Kinda catchy, too. SLORC said it was the world's largest ruby, bigger than even the Star of India. Although the Star of India is a sapphire, and weighs 563 ct, who am I to argue?

SLORC (the ruby) had an interesting birth. Seems she was dug up in February of 1990, at Dattaw, in the Mogok area. Just that year SLORC started allowing ordinary citizens to do legal mining at Mogok. These were joint ventures of the government/private-party type, with the privates doing all the work and giving up a serious piece of the action, on the condition that the government give their blessing to the party. Everything above a certain quality had to be sold at the annual auction in Rangoon. Problem was that some of those private operators didn't like to tell SLORC when they found a nice piece. My daddy always accuses me of the same thing – bad attitude.

Four jailed for life for ruby smuggling
A Burmese martial law court sentenced four people to life in prison for smuggling the world's largest ruby into a neighboring country, state-run radio Rangoon reported….The 496.5-carat ruby was seized by military intelligence from an unspecified "neighboring country" on August 18, the radio said….[It] was originally discovered in February by local gem miners near Moegoat township in Burma's northern Mandalay division.

AFP, 1991, Bangkok Post

Apparently the miners that found the SLORC thought it better to ship it east to Thailand, instead of south to SLORC. So SLORC slipped a team of stealthy SLORCs into Thailand and seized the slippery SLORC, whereupon it was named the "SLORC" and declared a national treasure. SLORC then proceeded to lecture the masses on the fact that all SLORCs belong to SLORC. Thus those with a SLORC to ship had best not try to slip by SLORC.

SLORC Chairman Senior General Saw Maung inspects world's largest sapphire
YANGON, 4 FEB. – State Law and Order Restoration Council Chairman Defence Services Commander-in-Chief Senior General Saw Maung this morning inspected the raw sapphire, weighing 4,230 ct, mined from Mogok Kyatpyin, west of Pyangbya village. It is the largest sapphire which has commercial value in the world…

Gem poachers mined the raw sapphire in September 1990 and the Defense Services Intelligence personnel seized it on 1 February, 1991 from them while they were making arrangements to sell it off. Six gem poachers and one person involved in the case have been arrested and further investigation is being carried out. Action will be taken against them in accordance with law…

Working People's Daily, 5 Feb., 1991, Rangoon, Burma

Law and justice. My, my, what would the world do without them.

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.


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 ]

11. For a slightly different version of this story, see page 316.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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