Ruby & Sapphire (1997) • Burma (Myanmar) Ruby & Sapphire

1 January 1997
By Richard Hughes
Ruby & Sapphire (1997) • Burma (Myanmar) Ruby & Sapphire

The chapter on ruby and sapphire from Burma (Myanmar) from Richard Hughes' 1997 book, Ruby & Sapphire.

Note: The following is only one of forty-five studies of world sources found in Chapter 12 of Richard Hughes' 1997 book, Ruby & Sapphire. If you like what you see, order a copy of the revised 2017 edition direct from the publisher.

The quest for precious stones does not rank high on humankind's list of worthy or redeeming activities. You'll find no mention of it in the Boy Scout handbook. And you'll not see it prescribed by priests as a path towards forgiveness, for in the struggle to possess the earth's booty, far too many a sinner is born and even more falsehoods are fabricated. We cannot look to gemstone mining for useful homilies. There is no lesson via process, no consolation in the journey. The only reward is the reward itself – to possess, to claim as one's own. Gem mining's attraction is thus: grasp the purest of the pure, tap God's current, the power of all creation. Hold the earth's bounty in one's own hand… and damn anyone who shall stand in your way.


Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 1. Dust jacket from the 1960 English edition of Joseph Kessel's Mogok: The Valley of Rubies.

Burma (Myanmar) • from Ruby & Sapphire (1997)

Corundum has been found in a number of different areas of Burma. These include Sagyin (near Mandalay), Thabeitkyin, Naniazeik (near Myitkyina), Mogok and, most recently, Möng Hsu (central Shan state). Most famous is the Mogok Stone Tract, which has remained the world's premier source of ruby for more than 800 years.

Far away in a remote corner of the earth is a town of mushroom growth, called Mogok… It has but one industry, the recovery of rubies from mud and sand. You may be ever so hungry or thirsty, the first things offered or mentioned to you are rubies. No matter what business may have brought you to Mogok, the natives all assume you are there for rubies – rubies, nothing but rubies… It is said that a king would be ruling at Mandalay today if it had not been for rubies…

Anonymous, 1905, A city built on rubies



Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology

Figure 2. Kipling called it a "beautiful winking wonder." It is Rangoon's Shwedagon Pagoda, symbol of Burma, the Golden Land. Ralph Fitch, the great English traveler of the 16th century, described it thus:

"…it is called Dogonne, and is of a wonderfull bignesse, and all gilded from the foot to the toppe… It is the fairest place, as I suppose, that is in the world."

In addition to the numerous solid gold plates, the upper reaches are embedded with literally thousands of diamonds and other precious stones. Atop it all rests a 76-ct diamond orb. (Photo by the author, 1980)

When one speaks of ruby, the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma immediately springs to mind. Lying approximately 644 km (400 miles) north of Rangoon, Mogok has for the past 800 years been the premier source of fine rubies. It is an area steeped in legend and its story embraces not only gems, but also the early exploration and expansion of the European colonial empires into Asia.

The town of Mogok (1500 m) is located in the Katha district of Upper Burma. Consisting of heavily-jungled hills rising to a height of 2347 m (7700 ft) above sea level, the ruby mines district covers about 400 sq miles, although only a portion (70 sq miles) is gem bearing. Considered one of the most scenic areas in Burma, it is home to a number of colorful ethnic groups, as well as a variety of wildlife, including elephants, tiger, bear and leopard.

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology
Figure 3. Pigeon's Blood
Left: The 196-ct Hixon Ruby of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History is one of the finest Burmese ruby crystals on public display. Unfortunately, such crystals are all too rare – most are immediately cut, since the market for cut stones is far larger than that for mineral specimens.
Right: These extraordinary rubies, at 5.56 and 5.25 ct., represent a lifetime's toil. They are mounted in the traditional Burmese manner, with the gold setting improving the stones' color, as well as acting as a mirror to increase the gems' brilliance.

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 4. Map of Southeast Asia, showing the important gem localities, particularly those of Burma.

Timeline of ruby and sapphire in Burma

Middle Pleistocene

Ruby is probably discovered in the Mogok region by stone-age humans inhabiting the area.

6th Century AD

One of the seven sons of Kun-Lung, founder of the Shan dynasty, is said to rule a state, probably Momeit,a near which ruby mines existed. His tribute to the central government was two vissb yearly (G.S. Streeter, 1889a).


Talaing chronicles speak of a kingdom of Kanpalan [Kyatpyin?] (Mason, 1850; Halford-Watkins, 1934).


Nicolò di Conti visits Ava (Penzer, 1929).


Hieronimo di Santo Stefano, a Genoese merchant, visits Pegu. Ava is described as a land lying fifteen days' journey from Pegu. Rubies and many other precious stones are said to "grow" there (Major, 1857).


Duarte Barbosa does not visit, but describes Ava and Capelam [Kyatpyin?] and the ruby trade (Dames, 1918).


Ludovico di Varthema visits Pegu and describes the source of rubies as Capellan. In return for a present of coral, di Varthema received from the king of Pegu about 200 rubies in return: "Take these for the liberality you have exercised towards me" (Temple, 1928).


Cæsar Fredericke visits Pegu, describes the ruby trade, and buys rubies for later sale in Ceylon (Hakluyt, 1903–05).


Ralph Fitch, the first Englishman to reach Burma, visits Pegu and describes the ruby trade. He mentions Caplan as the source (Hakluyt, 1903–05).


Burmese king, Nuha-Thura Maha Dhama-Yaza forces the Momeik sawbwa (prince) to trade Mogok and Kyatpyin for Tagaungmyo (George, 1915).


The British East India Company makes its first contact with Burma, when Henry Forrest and John Staveley are sent to recover the goods of a company servant who had died at Syriam (Stewart, 1972).


Fray Sebastien Manrique visits Arakan, where he said the market was well-stocked in such things as rubies, sapphires and even "gray" amber (Luard, 1926–27).


Jean-Baptiste Tavernier makes six separate voyages to Asia. Although he does not visit Burma, his memoirs mention that ruby comes from Capelan (Ball, 1925).


King Bodawpaya sends thousands of captives from the Manipur war to Mogok, to work the mines. Thereafter the mines become a quasi-penal colony (Halford-Watkins, 1932).


King Bodawpaya extends the tract boundaries to encompass Mogok, Kyatpyin and Kathé (Brown, 1927).


Michael Symes visits Ava, and mentions ruby mines at a mountain called Woobolootaun opposite to Keoum-meoum (Symes, 1800).


The first Anglo-Burmese war is won by Britain. The treaty of Yandabo cedes Arakan, Assam and Tenasserim to the East India Company (Stewart, 1972).


A runaway English sailor in the employ of King Phagyidoa is sent to blast a rock at a royal ruby mine at Tapambin. He either died at the mines or slipped quietly away, for nothing was heard of him again (G.S. Streeter, 1889).


Père Giuseppe d'Amato, an Italian Jesuit, visits Chia-ppièn [Kyatpyin] and describes the ruby mines. His account (published posthumously in 1833) is the first documented eyewitness description of the ruby mines (d'Amato, 1833).


Britain annexes Pegu, which is taken with few losses in the second Anglo-Burmese war (Stewart, 1972).


Henry Yule's mission to Ava. He describes, but does not visit, the ruby mines (Yule, 1858).


The reign of King Mindon Min. In 1863, payments in silver are offered Mindon Min for the sole rights to purchase gems at Mogok. This forced increasing persecution of miners, resulting in large-scale depopulation of the area by the time of the British annexation (George, 1915; Halford-Watkins, 1932).


A German mining engineer named Bredemeyer is put in charge of the ruby mines at Sagyin, near Mandalay (E.W. Streeter, 1892).


King Thebaw takes the throne upon the death of Mindon Min (Stewart, 1972).


Rival members of the royal family are murdered in Mandalay. Britain withdraws its resident (Stewart, 1972).


A party of Frenchmen under an engineer in Thebaw's employ visit Mogok (G.S. Streeter, 1889).


April: Burmese mission to Simla, in British India, declares to the French Consul from Calcutta that a Frenchman just obtained from King Thebaw the concession for the Burma ruby mines. This was probably just a proposal (Preschez, 1967; trans. by Olivier Galibert, June, 1994).


French and Italian speculators negotiate with Thebaw for mining concessions at Mogok. In Feb., 1884, a French engineer, Alexandre Izambert, goes to Mandalay to solicit concession for the ruby mines of "Monieh and Rapyen." He offers Rs300,000 for the concession, which would cover 750 m on both sides of the road between Mandalay and the mines that his company proposes to build. The deal falls apart, due to a secret agreement between a Burmese minister and an Italian consular agent (Preschez, 1967; trans. by O. Galibert, June, 1994). Further massacres in Mandalay (Stewart, 1972; Keeton, 1974).


Britain uses the pretext of Mandalay palace massacres and a timber dispute between the Burmese government and the Bombay-Burma Trading Corp. to invade Upper Burma. The real reason was fear of French influence in an area thought vital to British interests. Mandalay is taken on Nov. 29. In December, Edwin W. Streeter becomes interested in obtaining the concession for the mines (Stewart, 1972; E.W. Streeter, 1892).

1886: Jan. 1

Britain formally annexes Upper Burma. Shortly thereafter, E.W. Streeter forms a syndicate with Charles Bill and Reginald Beech. They approach the India Office to obtain the concession for the Mogok mines. Lord Dufferin puts the lease out to tender, which the Streeter syndicate wins with a bid of Rs400,000 (E.W. Streeter, 1892).

1886: Dec. 26

British military force reaches Mogok area. On Jan. 27, 1887 they enter the town of Mogok. Accompanying the expedition were G.S. Streeter (E.W. Streeter's son), Col. Charles Bill, Reginald Beech and engineer Robert Gordon (G.S. Streeter, 1887a). The period between annexation and the first arrival of British troops is the golden age of local mining. For the first time in centuries, mining is free and stones can be sold without restrictions (George, 1915).


C. Barrington Brown is sent to Mogok by the Secretary of State for India to determine the value and conditions of the mines. His report represents the first systematic description of the deposits (Brown and Judd, 1896).


The Streeter syndicate joins with the Rothschilds to form the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd, which is floated on Feb. 26. Pandemonium reigns as the offer is oversubscribed fourteen times and ordinary shares rise to a 400% premium. The £1 founders' shares trade at £350 (P. Streeter, 1993).


Warth examines ruby mines at Naniazeik, some 80 km west of Myitkyina (Kachin State) (Penzer, 1922).


Period of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd first lease, with a profit shown only during 1895–1896 (Brown, 1927).


Period of the second lease, generally profitable (except 1897–98 and 1903) (Brown, 1927).


Period of the third lease, generally profitable (except 1909). A.H. Morgan's drainage tunnel is finished in 1908, allowing mining of once-flooded alluvials (Brown, 1927).


Period of the supplementary agreement. Losses mount as rich areas are exhausted and the market slumps due to World War I. Profit is shown only in 1913, 1918 and 1920. Morgan's drainage tunnel is damaged in 1925 and never reopened. The company goes into voluntary liquidation on Nov. 20, 1925 (Brown, 1927).


No buyers take the lease. The company continues small-scale mining until June 30, 1931, when the lease is surrendered (Halford-Watkins, 1932a).


Mining is performed largely by native methods. European-style mining is limited to a few leased mines.


U Khin Maung Gyi (1938) reports on the Thabeitkyin stone tract west of Mogok. Sporadic mining had apparently been done for at least 50–60 years previously.

1942: 7 May

Japanese occupy Mogok. Organized mining stops until the British reoccupation (March 15, 1945), but small-scale digging continues (Ehrmann, 1957b).

1948: Jan. 5

Burma achieves independence from British.


General Ne Win stages a military coup, plunging Burma into isolation. Thus begins one of the 20th century's cruelest and longest-running dictatorships, where Ne Win rules in a manner akin to the 19th-century Burmese kings.

1969: March 12

Burmese Ministry of Mines bans exploration and mining of gems, effectively nationalizing the country's gem mines. Ruby and jade mining licenses previously issued to prospectors are revoked (Mining Journal, Annual Review, June, 1970).


Smuggling increases, with only a fraction of the total output ending up in government coffers. More Burmese gems are on offer in Bangkok than Rangoon.


Anti-government riots wrack the country. The government crushes the opposition, with thousands gunned down in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities.


To quell mounting discontent, the military junta begins to liberalize the economy (including mining) while still maintaining total political control. The name Burma is changed to Myanmar; Rangoon is changed to Yangon.c

1990: March 9

Private/government mining joint ventures are opened for tender at Mogok (Kane and Kammerling, 1992). However, smuggling remains widespread as the government's share of profits is 51.4%.


Rubies are found at Möng Hsu (Shan State). The Thai border town of Mae Sai becomes the main smuggling point for these gems (Hlaing, 1991). The first foreign gemologists in over 25 years visit Mogok (Ward, 1991).


The government reduces the export tax on gemstones to 15% (U Hla Win, pers. comm., May 2, 1994).


Dismayed by the continued smuggling of Möng Hsu rubies, the Burmese government closes all ruby markets at Taunggyi, moving legal trading to Rangoon (U Hla Win, pers. comm., 14 Mar., 1995).


Governement policy on gemstone trading vascillates between openness and repression, with constant policy flip-flops. 

  1. Möng Mit state is often written as Momeit or Momeik.
  2. In those days all payments were made in roughly cast discs of silver, with rupee coins not coming into general use until about 1874. One viss of silver weighed 3.6 lb (1.6 kg), and was then worth about Rs100. It was subdivided into 100 ticals (Halford-Watkins, 1934).
  3. A common Asian belief is that a change of name will help put a stop to a run of bad luck, the idea being that the bad spirits cannot find something with a new name. Thus Ne Win, a notoriously superstitious man, ordered the names of the capital and country changed after the riots. Of course if those spirits are as smart as some give them credit for, a name change shouldn't phase them a bit, but that is another matter for another day.


The exact date when rubies were first discovered in Mogok is unknown. No doubt the first humans to settle the area found rubies and spinels in the rivers and streams. Kunz (1915) mentions a Burmese legend from the ruby mines:

According to this legend, in the first century of our era three eggs were laid by a female naga, or serpent; out of the first was born Pyusawti, a king of Pagan; out of the second came an Emperor of China, and out of the third were emitted the rubies of the Ruby Mines.

Taw Sein Ko, as told to G.F. Kunz (1915)

A similar story is related by Tin and Luce (1960):

At that time spirits carried away a certain hunter. When they reached the place where the Naga had laid her egg, the hunter finding the egg bore it away joyfully. But while he was crossing a stream, swollen by a heavy shower of rain till it overflowed its banks, he dropped it from his hand. And one golden egg broke in the land of Mogok Kyappyin and became iron and ruby in that country.

P.E.M. Tin & G.H. Luce, 1960
The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma

Early humans at Mogok

Vague references (Ehrmann, 1957) exist suggesting, on the basis of stone relics unearthed, that the area was first settled by Mongolians about 3000 bc. However it is likely that humans moved into the area long before that date. Halford-Watkins (1934) stated that stone, bronze and iron-age tools fashioned from a variety of jadeite have been found in alluvial diggings throughout the Mogok area.

The karst (sink-hole) topography, with its numerous underground caves, makes the Mogok area interesting for students of ancient man and prehistoric animal life. Karst topography has yielded important finds of Peking Man and younger extinct human types in China, as well as many fossil anthropoid apes. While no important archeological finds have been found at Mogok, this probably has more to do with the xenophobic attitude of the Burmese government since 1962 (and the subsequent decline in all types of academic activity), rather than a lack of study material. Interesting animal specimens did come to light before the area was closed off to outside study and it seems likely that further work will reveal further discoveries (de Terra, 1943).

Hellmut de Terra (1943) made a detailed report on the Pleistocene in the Mogok area in 1937–38 as part of a study on early man in Burma. No Pleistocene fossils were found, mainly because intensive mining had not spared even the smallest limestone fissures. However, in one cave a lower human jaw was found, believed to be that of a female human prehistoric cave-dweller dating well before the present people settled the Mogok area. Many Neolithic stone implements were also found, from the surface of old lake terraces approximately 3.2 km (2 miles) east of the town of Mogok, or from cave entrances. Certain caves were found to be inhabited by Buddhist hermits, who had installed shrines in them. One cave was even used as a cemetery. According to De Terra, "There is no question that the first people to settle in this area took refuge in the caves, because most of them face a valley that must have offered a most favorable habitat in prehistoric times. A lake, several streams and plenty of game, in addition to fertile loamy soils covering several square miles of flat ground at the valley bottom, would have offered plenty of inducement to early settlers. Here the chase could have been combined either with food-gathering or with agricultural practices."

The dragons of Mogok

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 5. Tunnelling into the limestone in search of rubies at the Linyaungchi mine in the Mogok area. (Photo: Thomas Frieden)

In the vicinity of the Mogok Caves the inhabitants relate many tales of buried dragons and underground spirits, which at one time are supposed to have taken refuge underground. The association of these beasts with the cavities presumably traces back to some sort of worship, but today the people are chiefly after gem-bearing deposits: cave loam and sand. In the course of these mining operations the miners often find fossils, teeth of elephants and deer, or other bones belonging to animals now extinct. To the local people fossils are known as "nagá ajó" or dragon bones. They distinguish several types of dragons, although none of these seem to fall within the range of zoölogical nomenclature. A miner upon finding a fossil will present his find as a sort of religious offering to a near-by monastery or Buddhist shrine, and here it will be placed before an image. In some cases I learned that fossil teeth of large size, such as elephant molars, are worshipped as "Buddha's teeth," but the monks themselves do not approve of this practice…. Quite possibly the magic cult came from China where "dragon bones" continue to play an important role in native pharmacology and superstitious customs….

During my stay at Mogok, it was generally believed by the natives that I had come to search for a special kind of dragon bone. The result was that after a week's stay, prices for fossil bones soared, until an elephant's molar was valued as highly as a five-carat ruby! This attitude did not make it easy for us to acquire much of the cave fauna. At Leu Village, where I made an attempt to excavate one of the larger caves, the headman told me that years ago, near Pinpyit, miners had come across large bones. They had been so frightened at the sight of the huge animal remains that they gave up their work, closing the entrance with a stone wall so that the dragon might not walk out and ravage their village!

Hellmut de Terra, 1943
The Pleistocene of Burma
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

It is unlikely that any human could live in the Mogok area for long, particularly in caves, and not discover the gems which have made the area so famous. No doubt, the first gems collected would be the well-formed red spinel crystals today termed anyan-nat-thwe (`spirit polished') by locals. Such lustrous crystals need no fashioning to display their beauty and could not help but attract attention.

Modern history of Mogok

According to G.S. Streeter (1889a), one of the sons of Kun-Lung, founder of the Shan Dynasty, is said to have governed a state in the 6th century AD, near which there were ruby mines, and to have paid an annual tribute of 2 viss (about 3.3 kgs) of rubies to the central government. However, this has not been documented. Ehrmann (1957) describes a local legend stating that modern Mogok was founded in 579 AD by headhunting tribesmen from nearby Möng Mit (Momeik). After losing their way they discovered a "mountain break full of beautiful rubies" when investigating a commotion made by many birds. This story is similar to that told of many gem deposits and is believed to derive from Sinbad the Sailor's "Valley of Precious Stones" in Sri Lanka, or perhaps al-Kazwini's relation of Alexander's valley of serpents and diamonds in India (Kunz, 1913). In the Burmese version, a fever- and serpent-ridden valley was found teeming with rubies. Far too dangerous for mere mortals to enter, the stones were obtained by casting lumps of fresh meat into the abyss. This attracted large birds of prey who snatched up the meat and brought it out, along with the rubies adhering to it. They were then retrieved from the birds' nests and droppings (see box, 'The Valley of Serpents,' Chapter 11).

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 6. Spoils of the jungle A variety of wild game is found in the heavy forest surrounding the Mogok ruby and sapphire mines. Here Burmese miners return from the hunt with a slain leopard. (From O'Connor, 1905)

The first Europeans arrive

From the earliest times of European contact with East Asia, Burma has been associated with rubies. Nicolò di Conti, the first European visitor to Ava, described the king of Ava thus:

The King rideth upon a white Elephant, which hath a chayne of golde about his necke, being long unto his féete, set full of many precious stones.

Nicolò de' Conti, 1419–1444
from Frampton's Elizabethan translation (Penzer, 1929)

Ludovico di Varthema visited Pegu between 1502 and 1508:

The sole merchandise of these people is jewels, that is, rubies, which come from another city called Capellan [Ruby Mines District in Burma], which is distant from this thirty days' journey; not that I have seen it, but by what I have heard from merchants…. Do not imagine that the King of Pego enjoys as great a reputation as the King of Calicut, although he is so humane and domestic that an infant might speak to him, and he wears more rubies on him than the value a very large city, and he wears them on all his toes. And on his legs he wears certain great rings of gold, all full of the most beautiful rubies; also his arms and his fingers all full. His ears hand down half a palm, through the great weight of the many jewels he wears there, so that seeing the person of the king by a light at night, he shines so much that he appears to be a sun.

Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna (Temple, 1928)

Di Varthema and his party offered the king coral as a gift. This act of generosity so impressed the king that he gave them over 200 rubies (Temple, 1928).

Duarte Barbosa, visiting Burma about the same time, gave one of the best accounts of rubies:

And yet further inland beyond this city [Ava] and Kingdom there is another Heathen city whith its own King, who nevertheless is subject and under the lordship of Ava; which city or Kingdom they call Capelam. Around it are found many rubies which are brought in for sale to the Ava market, and are much finer than those of that place.

Of Rubies
In the first place rubies are produced in the Land of India and are found chiefly on a river called Pegu. These are the best and finest, and are called Numpuclo* by the Malabares, and when they are clean and without flaw they fetch a good price. To test their quality the Indians put them on the tongue; those which are finest and hardest are held to be the best. To test their transparency they fix them with wax on a very sharp point and looking towards the sun they can find any blemish however slight. They are also found in certain deep pits in the mountains beyond the said river.

In Pegu they know how to clean but not how to polish them, and they therefore convey them to other countries, especially to Paleacate, Narsinga, Calicut and the whole of Malabar, where there are excellent craftsmen who cut and mount them.

Dames' annotations
* Pegu Rubies. The name Numpuclo here stated to be used for the Pegu rubies in Malabar is explained by Mgr. Dalgado in his Glossario. He considers that the initial letter is wrongly given owing to a copyist's mistake, and that the word should be read chumpuclo, as in Malayalam the name of the ruby is chuvappukallu from kallu "stone" and chuvappu "ruby," literally "ruby-stone." For the places where these rubies are found see p. 107 and p. 108.

Duarte Barbosa, ca. 1500–1517 (from Dames, 1858)

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 7. A stunning 1734-ct Mogok ruby crystal sits atop the marble which nurtured it into existence. (Photo: Thomas Frieden).The first Englishman to visit Burma was Ralph Fitch, in 1586, whose journey led to the founding of the British East India Company. He said:

Caplan is the place where they finde the rubies, saphires, and spinelles: it standeth sixe dayes journey from Ava in the Kingdome of Pegu. There are many great high hilles out of which they digge them. None may go to the pits but onely those which digge them.

Ralph Fitch, 1586 (in Hakluyt, 1903–05)

Not only did Fitch comment upon the rubies, but also told of a curious local custom mentioned by many of the early European travelers to the area:

In Pegu, and in all the countreys of Ava, Langeiannes, Siam, and the Bramas, the men weare bunches or little round balles in their privy members: some of them weare two and some three. They cut the skin and so put them in, one into one side and another into the other side; which they do when they be 25 or 30 years old, and at their pleasure they take one or more of them out as they thinke good… The bunches aforesayd be of divers sorts: the least be as big as a litle walnut, and very round: the greatest are as big as a litle hennes egge: some are of brasse and some of silver: but those of silver be for the king and his noble men. They were invented because they should not abuse the male sexe for in times past all those countries were so given to that villany, that they were very scarse of people.

Ralph Fitch, 1586 (in Hakluyt, 1903–05)

Just how such balls would prevent masturbation or homosexuality is unclear. But the custom continues into the present day. During one 1980s visit to Burma, William Spengler met a man who claimed that he had pearls implanted in his genitals, to heighten sexual pleasure (very pers. comm., 20 March, 1995).

Alexander Hamilton (1744), who traveled to India and Burma in the 18th century, also had some interesting remarks about the Burmese. In reference to the sarongs worn by ladies, he said:

Under the Frock they have a Scarf or `Lungee' doubled fourfold, made fast about their Middle, which reaches almost to the Ancle, so contrived, that at every Step they make, as they walk, it opens before, and shews the right Leg and Part of the Thigh.

This Fashion of Petticoats, they say, is very ancient, and was first contrived by a certain Queen of that Country, who was grieved to see the Men so much addicted to `Sodomy,' that they neglected the pretty Ladies. She thought that by the Sight of a pretty Leg and plump Thigh, the Men might be allured from that abominable Custom, and place their Affections on proper Objects, and according to the ingeiuous Queen's Conjecture, that Dress of the `Lungee' had its desired End, and now the Name of Sodomy is hardly known in that Country.

Alexander Hamilton, 1744

Hamilton also mentioned the products of Burma:

The Product of the Country is Timber for building, Elephants, Elephants Teeth, Bees-wax, Stick-lack, Iron, Tin, Oyl of the Earth, Wood-oyl, Rubies the best in the World, Diamonds, but they are small, and are only found in the Craws of Poultry and Pheasants, and one Family has only the Indulgence to sell them, and none dare open the Ground to dig for them… About twenty Sail of Ships find their Account in Trade for the limited Commodities, but the Armenians have got the Monopoly of the rubies, which turns to a good Account in their Trade; and I have seen some blue Sapphires there, that I was told were found on some Mountains of this Country.

Alexander Hamilton, 1744

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology Figure 8. One of the earliest European maps to show the position of the ruby mines, based on information provided by a Burmese slave to Francis Hamilton in 1824. Roman numerals indicate the average number of stages (walking days) between points. Although the distances are relatively accurate, Mogok (`Mogouk') actually lies further east from Amarapura (near present-day Mandalay). (Redrawn by the author from Hamilton, 1824)

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 9. Native gem diggers at Mogok about the turn of the century. (From O'Connor, 19
Such tales certainly contributed to the European view of the Orient as a place of wonder and exotic mystery. But these were nothing compared to that related by the famous French traveler and diamond merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, about the King of Bhutan:

There is no King in the World more fear'd and more respected by his Subjects then the King of Boutan; being in a manner ador'd by them…. One thing they told me for truth, that when the King has done the deeds of nature, they diligently preserve the ordure, dry it and powder it, like sneezing-powder: and then putting it into Boxes, they go every Market-day, and present it to the chief Merchants, and rich Farmers, who recompence them for their kindness: that those people also carry it home, as a great rarity, and when they feast their Friends, strew it upon their meat. Two Boutan Merchants shew'd me their Boxes, and the Powder that was in them.

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, 1677–8

That is one banquet in which this beggar would decline to partake. Down Satan! But it is interesting that the passage was apparently so shocking to Victorian British that it was removed from the later editions edited by Valentine Ball.

Men of the cloth

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 10. Traders offer jadeite, sapphires and rubies in Rangoon's Shwebontha Street gem market. (Photo by the author, 1992)

Cæsar Fredericke of Venice, who journeyed to Asia in 1563, gave one of the earliest accounts of the fascinating Asian technique of negotiating prices in secret by covering the hands of the buyer and seller with a cloth.

There are many Marchants that stand by at the making of the bargaine, and because they shall not understand howe the Jewels be solde, the Broker and the Marchants have their hands under a cloth, and by touching of fingers and nipping the joynts they know what is done, what is bidden, and what is asked. So that the standers by knowe not what is demaunded for them, although it be for a thousand or 10. thousand duckets. For every joynt and every finger hath its signification. For if the Marchants that stande by should understand the bargaine, it would breede great controversie amongst them.

Cæsar Fredericke, 1563, (in Hakluyt, 1903–05)

Of the many accounts of the gems of Pegu, as Burma was then known, perhaps most interesting was that of Cæsar Fredericke of Venice, who journeyed to Asia in 1563. The following is his description of the gem trade in Pegu.

…it is a thing to bee noted in the buying of jewels in Pegu, that he that hath no knowledge shall have as good jewels, and as good cheap, as he that hath practized there a long time. There are in Pegu foure men of good reputation, which are called Tareghe, or brokers of Jewels… through the hands of these foure men passe all the Rubies: for they have such quantitie, that they knowe not what to doe with them, but sell them at most vile and base prices. When the Marchant hath broken his mind to one of these brokers or Tareghe, they cary him home to one of their Shops, although he hath no knowledge in Jewels: and when the Jewellers perceive that hee will employ a good round summe, they will make a bargaine, and if not, they let him alone… when any Marchant hath bought any great quantitie of Rubies, and hath agreed for them, hee carieth them home to his house, let them be of what value they will, he shall have space to looke on them and peruse them two or three dayes: and if he hath no knowledge in them, he shall alwayes have many Marchants in that Citie that have very good knowledge in Jewels; with whom he may alwayes conferre and take counsell, and may shew them unto whom he will; and if he finde that hee hath not employed his money well, hee may returne his Jewels backe to them who hee had them of, without any losse at all. Which thing is such a shame to the Tareghe to have his Jewels returne, that he had rather beare a blow on the face then that it should be thought that he solde them so deere to have them returned.

Cæsar Fredericke, 1563 (in Hakluyt, 1903–05)

Thus "spake" Cæsar Fredericke. After reading his tale, one can only wish and sigh that modern-day gem merchants would be so understanding. Perhaps businessmen haven't really changed all that much. Fredericke was no doubt just an example of a species still in flourish. Had he made his journey in the present day, Fredericke may have returned to Europe with wooden elephants – in addition to his gem purchases.

Guiseppe d'Amato's description of Mogok

From 1597 AD onwards, Mogok was part of Burma proper. The first European to actually visit the mines in the Mogok area and write about them was a Portuguese priest, Giuseppe d'Amato, sometime before 1833. D'Amato arrived in Burma sometime in 1784, and spent the rest of his life there. He resided at Moun-lha (Mon-lhá), some 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Ava, where he died in 1832 (Burney, 1832). His brief account of the ruby workings at Kyatpyin was published posthumously in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and is reproduced in its entirety below:

IV.--Short Description of the Mines of Precious Stones, in the District of Kyat-pyen, in the Kingdom of Ava.

[Translated from the original of Père Giuseppe d'Amato]

The territory of Kyat-pyen * (written Chia-ppièn by d'Amato) is situated to the east, and a little to the south of the town of Mon-lhá , distant 30 or 40 Burman leagues, each league being 1000 taa**, of seven cubits the taa |; say 70 miles [113 km]. It is surrounded by nine mountains. The soil is uneven and full of marshes, which form seventeen small lakes, each having a particular name. It is this soil which is so rich in mineral treasures. It should be noticed, however, that the ground which remains dry is that alone which is mined, or perforated with the wells whence the precious stones are extracted. The mineral district is divided into 50 or 60 parts, which, beside the general name of "mine," have each a different appellation.

The miners, who work at the spot, dig square wells, to the depth of 15 or 20 cubits, and to prevent the wells from falling in, they prop them with perpendicular piles, four or three on each side of the square, according to the dimensions of the shaft, supported by cross pieces between the opposite piles.

When the whole is secure, the miner descends, and with his hands extracts the loose soil, digging in a horizontal direction. The gravelly ore is brought to the surface in a ratan basket raised by a cord, as water from a well. From this mass all the precious stones and any other minerals possessing value are picked out, and washed in the brooks descending from the neighbouring hills.

Besides the regular duty which the miners pay to the Prince, in kind, they are obliged to give up to him gratuitously all jewels of more than a certain size or of extraordinary value. Of this sort was the tornallina (tourmaline?) presented by the Burman monarch to Colonel Symes. It was originally purchased clandestinely by the Chinese on the spot; the Burmese court, being apprized of the circumstance, instituted a strict search for the jewel, and the sellers, to hush up the affair, were obliged to buy it back at double price, and present it to the king.

You*** may ask me, to what distance the miners carry their excavations? I reply, that ordinarily they continue perforating laterally, until the workmen from different mines meet one another. I asked the man who gave

me this information, whether this did not endanger the falling in of the vaults, and consequent destruction of the workmen? but he replied, that there were very few instances of such accidents. Sometimes the miners are forced to abandon a level before working to day-light, by the oozing in of water, which floods the lower parts of the works.

The precious stones found in the mines of Kyat-pyen , generally speaking, are rubies, sapphires, topazes, and other crystals of the same family, (the precious corundum .) Emeralds are very rare, and of an inferior sort and value. They sometimes find, I am told, a species of diamond, but of bad quality****.

The Chinese and Tartar merchants come yearly to Kyat-pyen , to purchase precious stones and other minerals. They generally barter for them carpets, coloured cloths, cloves, nutmegs and other drugs. The natives of the country also pay yearly visits to the royal city of Ava, to sell the rough stones. I have avoided repeating any of the fabulous stories told by the Burmans of the origin of the jewels of Kyat-pyen .

There is another locality, a little to the north of this place, called Mookop , in which also abundant mines of the same precious gems occur.

Note .--While I am writing this brief notice, an anecdote is related to me by a person of the highest credit, regarding the discovery of two stones, or, to express myself better, of two masses ( amas ) of rubies of an extraordinary size, at Kyat-pyen . One weighed 80 biches*****, Burmese weight, equivalent to more than 80 lbs.! the second was of the same size as that given to Colonel Symes. When the people were about to convey them to the capital to present them to the king, a party of bandits attacked Kyat-pyen for the second time, and set the whole town on fire. Of the two jewels, the brigands only succeeded in carrying off the smaller one; but the larger one was injured by the flames: the centre of the stone, still in good order, was brought to the king. I learned this from a Christian soldier of my village of Mon-lhá , who was on guard at the palace when the bearer of the gem arrived there.

Prinsep's annotations

* The Kyat-pyen mountains are doubtless the Capelan mountains mentioned as the locality of the ruby, in Phillips' Mineralogy--"60 miles from Pegue, a city in Ceylon ." Though it might well have puzzled a geographer to identify them without the clue of their mineral riches.

** Estimating the cubit at 1 1 / 2 feet, the league will be 10,500 feet, or nearly two miles;--about an Indian kos . [The cubit is an ancient measure of length based on the forearm]

*** The letter seems to have been intended for some scientific friend in Italy.

**** Probably the turmali or transparent zircon, which is sold as an inferior diamond in Ceylon. [Vide vol. i. page 357.]

***** The Père d'Amato's biche is the bisse of Mendez Pinto, and the old travellers, and the biswa or vis of Natives of India. The Burmese word is Peik-tha , which is equivalent to 3 1 / 2 lbs., and to a weight on the Coast of Coromandel called vis . B.

Père Giuseppe d'Amato, 1833 (with notes from James Prinsep)

Ralph Fitch also mentioned the Tareghe, and said that if they failed to pay a merchant in a timely fashion, the merchant could "take [the Tareghe's] wife and children and his slaves, and binde them at your doore, and set them in the Sunne; for that is the law of the countrey." (Hakluyt, 1907) A noble custom, and perhaps one which could be applied today to politicians, tax collectors and sundry dictators.

In the year 1597 AD, the Burmese King Nuha-Thura Maha Dhama-Yaza ratified a royal edict exchanging small parts of Burma under his control for the Mogok Stone Tract, previously under the control of a Shan saopha (Burmese = sawbwa; or prince). Both the Burmese text of this order and an English translation are reproduced in Figure 11 (George, 1915).

According to Halford-Watkins (1934), the town of Mogok did not exist at that date, the name merely being applied to a mining area and series of paddy fields situated some five miles (8 km) from Thapanbin village. Due to the difficult nature of the country, the journey between the two places could not be completed before nightfall, which is mochok in Burmese. Thus the name Mochok (`nightfall camping ground'), which was later corrupted to Mogok. Another possible derivation of the name is that it is the place where the mountains meet the sky, in allusion to the mountain tops being hidden in the clouds during the rainy season.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology

Figure 11. The Royal edict of 1597 AD transferring the Mogok Stone Tract from a Shan saopha (sawbwa in Burmese) to the Burmese King. (From George, 1915)

Shwe-Wa-myo (Ava) was established on 12th Tawthalin Labyigyaw of 959 B.E. It is the Ratna Pura (Ratna=Gem, and Pura=City). Mogok and Kyatpyin are names for Gem. They should be included in the Shwewamyo. These two were part of Momeik Sawbwa's State but should be excluded and Tagaung Myo with its surrounding villages be included in the State instead.

It is ordered that the Momeik Sawbwa take possession of Tagaungmyo and that Mogok and Kyatpyin be given over to Shwewamyo. The Wuns concerned must take over the rubies with a list of all descriptions (big and small) and pay into the Government Treasury.

No appointments whatever are therefore to be made by the Sawbwa to Mogok and Kyatpyin which have been given to Shwewamyo in exchange for Tagaungmyo.

5th Thadingyut Labyigyaw, 959 B.E.

One might wonder why the Shan saopha would agree to such a one-sided deal, where a relatively worthless piece of land was traded for the world's greatest ruby mines. It is indeed strange what people will do with a knife at their throat.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 12. "An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot…" (Rudyard Kipling, Mandalay ) (Photo: Thomas Frieden)

Burmese monarchs worked the Stone Tract as a royal monopoly, in a thoroughly despotic manner. All rubies above the value of Rs2000 were considered Crown property and failure to surrender them was punishable by torture and death. Father Sangermano, an Italian priest who lived in Ava between 1783 and 1806, discussed this:

With regard to precious stones, a few inferior sapphires and topazes are sometimes found; but it is the rubies of the Burmese Empire which are its greatest boast, as both in brilliancy and clearness they are the best in the world. The mines that contain them are situated between the countries of Palaon and the Koè. The Emperor employs inspectors and guards to watch these mines, and appropriates to himself all the stones above a certain weight and size; the penalty of death is denounced against any one who shall conceal, or sell, or buy any of these reserved jewels.

Father Sangermano, 1893
The Burmese Empire a Hundred Years Ago

But conceal them they did. The story of the Nga Mauk Ruby provides an example. Nga Mauk, a poor miner, uncovered a large fine ruby which was later divided into two excellent pieces along an incipient flaw. One half was given to the king, but the other secretly sold. The king learned of the deception when he proudly showed his half to the dealer who had bought the other part (Keely, 1982). Enraged, he sent his minions to exact punishment. All area villagers were placed into a makeshift stable and burned alive. Even today, some 150 years later, the remains of this horrible cremation can be seen at a spot called Laung Zin, which means "fiery platform."1 Daw Nann, his wife, is said to have watched his blazing death from a hill near Kyatpyin which is today called Daw Nann Kyi Taung (`the hill from where Daw Nann looked down'). As for the famous Nga Mauk ruby, it disappeared from the palace the night the British conquered Ava in 1885 (Keely, 1982; E.W. Streeter, 1892; Clark, 1991). 2

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 13. A native miner at a twin-lon mine, near Mogok, Burma. (From O'Connor, 1905)

In wars with the neighboring kingdoms of Manipur and Assam, prisoners were taken. During the latter part of the 19th century, production from Mogok declined drastically due to the despotic rule and heavy handed policies of the Burmese monarchs' agents. In their quest to extract as much tax as possible, they effectively drove people from the area.

Empire building

On the road to Mandalay, where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!

Oh the road to Mandalay, where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Rudyard Kipling, 1892, Mandalay

The British move into Burma came slowly, but inevitably. Disputes on the border with British India led to the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1824–6. As a result, Arakan, Assam and Tenasserim were ceded to the East India Company. Pegu was annexed after the British won the second Anglo-Burmese war of 1852–3. In 1885, commercial disputes and reported corruption and massacres at the Court gave the British the needed excuse to annex all of Upper Burma, including the Mogok Stone Tract.

Mandalay was taken on Nov. 29, 1885. While the British expedition quickly took the capital, it was over one year before Mogok was occupied and five long years of skirmishes before the rest of Upper Burma was secured.

Unfortunately, the fabulous jewels of King Thebaw were never recovered. When the British took Mandalay, they sealed the palace, but Thebaw's ministers requested permission for Queen Supayalat's ladies to come and go as they wished. General Prendergast, leader of the British expedition, agreed over the objections of G.S. White. White wrote: "Colonel Sladen… sent me word that the ladies might be allowed to come and go freely. I entered a protest that everything of small size and great value would be passed out by the ladies…. [as a result] thousands of pounds of booty were, I am sure, lost to the army." (Stewart, 1972)

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 14. King Thebaw and Queen Supayalat, the last monarchs of Burma. (From the Illustrated London News, 16 Jan., 1886)

Halford-Watkins (1934) felt the magnitude of the royal treasure was highly exaggerated, pointing out that there is not a single written first-hand description of these gems:

…[the monarchs'] persons were regarded as being so very sacred that such regalia had to be viewed from a very respectful distance, so that it was quite impossible for anyone even to judge of the genuine nature of the stones, much less to estimate their value. [I have] talked with several of the old officials and habitués of the palace of the times of both King Mindoon Min and Thebaw, and has been assured that the majority of these tales are pure invention, and that most of the stones worn were of quite ordinary quality, and sometimes very poor, quality; while many of the large gems attached to the robes and other regal paraphernalia were merely coloured glass.

This rather calls to mind the stories of the valuable ruby trousers buttons worn by my friend the Sawbwa of Momeit during his visit to London, which were made so much of at the time by a certain section of the press. The Sawbwa invariably wears his native costume, in which his trousers do not possess a single button of any kind, much less ruby ones.

The fact that only a comparatively few gems of any importance were found in the possession of King Thebaw at the taking of Mandalay confirms the statements made by these old officials. And it is a known fact that when Queen Supayalat left she carried with her all her personal gems wrapped in a handkerchief which was so small that she dropped it as she was boarding the steamer, and did not miss it until it was returned by a soldier who had picked it up. Of course it was said that the majority of the treasure had been buried as the British advanced, and there has since been much excavating and searching done in and around the square mile of Fort Dufferin, in some of which [I have] taken an active part. But so far the result has been a total blank, as the old officials always said that it would be, owing to nothing having been buried, and but comparatively little stolen, for the simple reason that it was not there to be made away with.

J.F. Halford-Watkins, 1934

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 15. British camp at Mogok. (From the Illustrated London News, 19 Feb, 1887)

Shortly after the annexation of Upper Burma in December, 1885, London jeweler, Edwin Streeter, was breakfasting in Paris and happened to overhear two men discussing the Burma ruby mines. After introducing himself, he found that a French firm, Bouveillein & Co., had arranged a provisional lease of the ruby mines from King Thebaw. With the British annexation, this lease was then worthless.

Upon his return to London, Streeter contacted the India Office with the prospect of obtaining the lease. A syndicate was formed, consisting of Streeter, Charles Bill, Reginald Beech and Streeter's son, George Skelton Streeter. Captain Aubrey Patton was selected to travel to Rangoon for negotiations. He departed from London in January, 1886. On Patton's arrival in Burma, it was found that Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co. of Calcutta and Rangoon, in conjunction with an unknown London jewel broker, had already offered two lakhs 3 of rupees for the lease. The Streeter syndicate countered with an offer of three lakhs, which Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co met. The government then decided to offer the lease for public tender. In respect of the further competition, Streeter increased the offer to four lakhs (£30,000) for a five-year lease, which was provisionally accepted, pending investigation into native mining rights (E.W. Streeter, 1892; Times of London, Aug. 17, 1887). Meanwhile, as per the British Indian government's suggestion, Streeter dispatched his son, along with Bill, Beech and Rangoon engineer, Robert Gordon, to accompany the British military expedition to Mogok, which left Mandalay in November, 1886 (E.W. Streeter, 1892).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 16. Geological map of the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma. Most gems are recovered from alluvial deposits situated near the towns of Mogok and Kathé. (Modified from Iyer, 1953)

Mogok was occupied by British troops in December, 1886. In February, 1887, Mr. F. Atlay arrived at the mines to act as agent for the Streeter syndicate. He subsequently became mine manager, a position he continued to hold under the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd.

It was not until 1889 that the lease actually began. The reasons for the delay were entirely political. Edward Moylan, a disbarred barrister, managed to convince many in London that the lease holder, E.W. Streeter, had acquired it through dishonest means (such as bribery). Moylan, who was then Burma correspondent for the Times of London, succeeded in raising enough questions to cause the lease to be reexamined. In the end, his true motive was revealed; he was working for Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co, who hoped to win the lease themselves 4 (Stewart, 1972).

At this point, enter one Moritz Unger, a Paris jeweler. He claimed to represent a powerful European syndicate with the London Rothschilds at the head, and in March, 1886, applied for the lease. Unfortunately, he could produce no evidence of this syndicate's existence, and soon disappeared from the scene (London Times, Aug. 17, 1887).

In light of the controversy surrounding the lease, the British government decided to send a trained geologist to report on the mines. C. Barrington Brown reached Mogok on January 10, 1888. His was the first detailed geologic study of the Mogok area (Brown & Judd, 1896). Brown's report was eventually received by the Secretary of State and the lease was put up for renewed tender (E.W. Streeter, 1892).

By this time, the London Rothschilds were involved. N.M. Rothschild and Sons, through their Exploration Co subsidiary, had written to the Secretary for India, asking if they could bid for the mines. Eventually the Streeter syndicate joined with N.M. Rothschild and the Exploration Co., and together they floated the Burma Ruby Mines, Ltd. A fresh offer was tendered and was accepted on Nov. 27, 1888. The lease was signed on February 22, 1889, giving the company seven years, with a renewal option, at an annual rent of Rs400,000, plus one sixth of net profits (E.W. Streeter, 1892; P. Streeter, 1993). Streeter and his associates later sold the lease to the Burma Ruby Mines, Limited for £55,000 (Brown, 1927).


  1.  George (1915) has reported that the name Kyatpyin, from which the Capelan of early European travellers is derived, comes from the fact that the people slept on platforms, with fires underneath to keep them warm at night. return to chapter text ]
  2.  For a slightly different version of this story, see Chapter 10. return to chapter text ]
  3. One lakh equals 100,000 rupees. return to chapter text ]
  4. A Mr. Danson was reportedly sent to Mogok at one stage to report on the mines for Gillanders, Arbuthnot & Co. (George, 1915). return to chapter text ]

R S end dingbat


The Burma Ruby Mines, Ltd.

The Times of London published the prospectus for the company on Feb. 27, 1889. That morning, extraordinary scenes were witnessed at the company's offices, as the following extract shows:

If St. Swithin's Lane had been a ruby mine itself the scene witnessed there yesterday morning could not have been more remarkable. The crowd around New Court was so dense that Lord Rothschild and other members of the house were unable to get in by the door. So a ladder had to be got, and the spectacle was seen of a number of great financiers entering their own office in a burglarious fashion. The clerks had to be smuggled in by a back entrance behind the Mansion House. The surging crowd in front drove a telegraph boy right through the window of a baker's shop opposite, the poor fellow being rather severely hurt. The fortunate possessors of Ruby Mine application forms, which were being hawked at five shillings, had to pass between files of policemen to hand in their applications. The next time the Messrs. Rothschild make an issue, it would be well for the police to arrive on the scene before the stags.

Financial News, London, Feb. 28, 1889

Within hours, the issue sold out. General public and company directors alike were under the mistaken impression that fabulous riches were just waiting to be unearthed in Mogok. No one gave a thought to the difficulties of mining gems in such an inhospitable and remote location. Instead, they could see but one thing--rubies--pigeon's blood rubies:

London Mine Gambling
London has periodical investment or gambling crazes. At one time it is railway "securities," so called, at another the bonds of some bankrupt State, at still another some South Sea bubble in the shape of Indian or African gold mines. At present the fever is African and Burmese….

The latest London craze was finely exhibited at the recent allotment of shares in the Burmese ruby mines, concerning which our well-informed London correspondent wrote us February 15th: "The mines may be immensely valuable, or perhaps not; no one can tell as to this until a year's work has been done upon them." All London rushed to get the prospectus, and the crowd began to collect in front of the Rothschild's offices long before they were open in the morning. The £1 shares went immediately to £4, and the total amount of stock offered was applied for many times over.

These shares are "a pure gamble," even more than is usual in mining, though they have this advantage over most of the London mining stocks, that there is a possibility that they will pay, and pay largely, while the average London mining stock is absolutely certain never to pay anything.

Editorial, Engineering and Mining Journal
New York, March 16, 1889

The Company started its career with a paid up capital of £150,000 and a highly exaggerated view of potential production. All kinds of unforeseen difficulties were encountered during the first years, with an unusual amount of time spent in preliminary operations. The annual rental fee to be paid to the Government of India was originally fixed at the high sum of £30,000 per year plus 30% of any profits made, in return for the sole rights to mine with machinery. Native mining was also allowed by native methods in areas not utilized by the Company, for which a tax of 30% on all finds was collected. This tax soon proved unworkable and so a fee per workman was charged instead. Revenue from native workings later became an important source of funds, but in the beginning little was collected.

Mogok--A city built on rubies

Mogok has always been known as the city of rubies. Just how true this is was brought home when geologists and engineers first began to study the gem deposits of the area. They found that some of the richest alluvials lay right beneath the town itself and so in 1902, and again in 1908 and 1909, parts of the town were purchased and the people resettled elsewhere (Brown, 1933).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 18. High street in Mogok about 1905 (From O'Connor, 1905)

Tremendous difficulties were encountered from the outset. First, a road had to be constructed from Thabeitkyin to Mogok, through nearly 100 kms of densely-jungled hills 5 (George, 1915). Machinery had to be imported; diseases took their toll of men and livestock; flooding was common in the rainy season; these were but a few of the problems. Power generation was yet another obstacle. Coal was not practical as it would have had to have been brought from Thabeitkyin (Talbot, 1920). Steam pumps were used at first, but required too much timber. Since Mogok had plenty of water, it was decided to construct a hydroelectric plant. This was completed in 1898, the first of its kind in that part of Asia (Brown, 1933).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 19. Bottom of the ramp at the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. mine at Mogok, with both British and native workers. (From Claremont, 1906)

Although water helped in electricity generation, it remained the nemesis of miners at Mogok, continually flooding the workings. The company's engineer, A.H. Morgan, proposed a tunnel through the rock some 100 ft (30 m) below the surface and more than a mile (1.6 km) in length. Construction began in 1904 and finished in 1908. The tunnel was immediately successful in dewatering the diggings. 6 Unfortunately, its completion coincided with a downturn in the gem market, in part brought about by the development of Verneuil's synthetic ruby.

Introduction of cheap Verneuil synthetic rubies hurt sales, as did the economic downturn resulting from World War I. With losses mounting, the Company renegotiated its lease with the Government several times, but it was not enough. In 1925, faced with mounting losses, the Company went into voluntary liquidation. No buyers were forthcoming and so in 1931 the lease was surrendered. Thus ended the first attempt at mechanized mining of the world's richest ruby deposits.

Company postmortem

Many have speculated about the reasons for the Company's failure (Halford-Watkins, 1932a-d), most concluding that it was just not meant to be, the difficulties being too great to surmount. But evidence uncovered by the author suggests the Company owed its failure less to the difficulty of the task and more to that old devil we know--human greed. In a confidential report written to the Government of India on the future of mining at Mogok, the head of the Geological Survey of India, J. Coggin Brown, pointed his finger straight at the De Beers diamond cartel:

At this juncture I cannot refrain from writing an opinion which I have already expressed verbally, that the influence of the De Beers diamond concern has had more to do with the present [1927] position of mining for coloured gems in Burma than appears on the surface. The reasons for this are obvious, and it is significant that there has always been a powerful representative of the Great South African concern on the Board of the Burma Ruby Mines, Limited.

J. Coggin Brown, 1927
Gem Mining in the Mogok Stone Tract… (confidential report)

Brown was referring to the competition for a share of the gem market between De Beers and the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. Apparently, he believed that the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. was sabotaged by De Beers. This idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem. De Beers was not always the huge and powerful monopoly of today. It has taken over eighty years of monopolistic practices and masterful marketing to reach such a position of dominance.

Marching on Mogok

It was anticipated that we should not reach this unknown country without meeting with some opposition, and on Nov. 15th [1886] a force of Shans was found stockaded in our front on the Kodan River. The ground they had chosen was a spot on which two years previously an army of Theebaw's had been completely routed. A successful flanking movement, however, cleared them out completely in a little over an hour, several dead and wounded men being left behind.

No more opposition being met with, Sagadoun at the foot of the hills was reached and occupied, and a halt was made for a few days. From here, 6000 feet above us, glittering in the sun, could be seen the peaks of Shwee-ov-Toun, which were promptly christened Sheba's breasts, from their supposed likeness to the hills that guarded King Solomon's mines, and lesser peaks covered with jungle forest, from which peeped out a native village or a green patch of cultivation.

On Dec. 18th the march up the hills began. The only transport that could be used along these mountain tracks was that of pack mules and ponies, and hard work these poor beasts found it, often ascending 2000 feet in a day, and many a man wondered as he tramped along if his kit and food would reach him before midnight. At each camp new and curious views would open themselves out before us; at one point the plains and hills between us and Bhamo could be seen stretching for miles and miles in the bright evening sunlight; next morning the same country would be covered with white clouds floating far below our position, appearing like some huge snow field. Again, at another camp would be discovered away to the east some mountain range of Yunnan veiled in blue mist.

As the force proceeded, the Shans and Dacoits fell back, evacuating one strong stockade after another, till at last, on the morning before Christmas Day, we reached a point at the end of a narrow valley where the hills rose high above us, and through which two narrow passes lead directly into the Ruby Mine district. It was found that these passes were strongly stockaded, and held by the enemy in force.

General Stewart determined to attack the position on our right front first, as it would otherwise command our flank. A few shells were first dropped into it, and then an attacking party moved forward; in about an hour a ringing cheer informed us that the stockade was taken, and soon its former occupants could be seen scuttling over the hills, conspicuous in their white jackets and large straw hats. It was too late, however, to give proper attention to the stockade on our left which commanded the road to Mogok; so camp was pitched, and on the order bugle sounding it was found that we were to spend a quiet Christmas Day, for the last few days' work had exhausted both men and beasts. At an elevation of about 6000 feet, the morning of Dec. 25th dawned in quite an English fashion; a heavy white frost covered the ground, and bitter were the complaints at the coldness of the night. The popular Padre of the force held divine service and the day passed quietly. Next morning the column started early, but only to discover that the series of stockades on our left had been abandoned: they had been most carefully constructed and cleverly masked, and would, properly held, have formed a very formidable obstacle to the advance….

…[Due to the head man absconding with the payroll], the opposition against us evaporated and we entered the Ruby Mine valleys of Burma without firing another shot. On the morning of January 27th the last ridge overlooking Mogok was reached and the town lay at our feet.

G. Skelton Streeter, Mogok, March 8, 1887
(From Streeter, 1887a, Murray's Magazine)

Early in the 20th century the diamond market faced the real problem of oversupply, due to discovery of vast new deposits in South Africa. It takes no great leap of faith to see that, from De Beers' perspective, the potential success of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. represented a substantial threat. Of course, one cannot sell rubies if they are not being mined and effectively marketed. According to Brown, poor decisions taken by the Board of Directors of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. greatly contributed to the venture's eventual failure. 7

In his summary, Brown discussed the future potential of ruby mining in Burma:

The operations of the Company, apart from an abortive attempt to mine gems from the limestone, and one or two half-hearted efforts to prove the hill deposits, have consisted entirely in working the valley alluvials, confining their attentions to the Mogok, Kyatpyin and Kathe Valleys. There are, however, other valleys in the stone tract and the question arises whether these have been sufficiently explored. It is exceedingly doubtful if they have, in particular the Kin and Khabine [Kabaing] deposits. It is notoriously difficult to prospect this type of mineral deposit and no two geologists of experience would agree as to the reliability of the results so obtained. But it was surely the duty of the Company to put these questions beyond doubt. This has not been done, not through any fault of the local technical command but owing to the inhanition of the Board of Control…

It has been stated to me repeatedly, and I see no reason to doubt the fact from my own view as a geologist, that there are great possibilities in the hillside deposits. They will certainly be more difficult to evaluate and occasional failures might result, but, in a speculative business like gem mining perhaps this does not matter much…. The history of the Company proves that time after time the selection of a field for a new enterprise instead of being a matter of scientific certainty, has been a pure speculation, based for the most part on reports and rumours of the success of native miners.

J. Coggin Brown, 1927
Gem mining in the Mogok Stone Tract… (confidential report)

Burma after the company

In the years after the failure of the Company, the working of the mines reverted to the age-old methods of native miners. Company machinery lay fallow and eventually became useless. The fantastic drainage tunnel designed by A.H. Morgan was damaged by heavy flooding in 1925 and never repaired, resulting in the formation of two large lakes which today dominate the landscape of Mogok.

New rules for mining took effect in 1930, which allowed homesteading upon payment of a Rs10 per miner fee (Ehrmann, 1957b). The result was a proliferation of small mines. Some machinery and the electric plant were sold to A.H. Morgan and a Mr. Nichols (or Nicols; Meen, 1962). Morgan later died, but Nichols continued to supply electricity to the area at least through 1962. By 1957, some 1200 individual mines were in operation, employing anywhere from 2–50 people each. Miners were also shareholders, splitting the profits with mine owners, which helped to eliminate theft (Ehrmann, 1957b). 8

In 1962, a military coup brought General Ne Win to power and plunged the country into isolation. Ne Win called the new direction the "Burmese road to socialism," but many thought the "Burmese road to poverty" a more apt label. With the exception of roadside food stalls, most industries were nationalized.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 20. The search for crimson infects both young and old. Inn Gaung (`Big Hole Mine'), Mogok. (Photo: Thomas Frieden)

Gem mining was fully nationalized in 1969 ( Mining Journal, June, 1970) and private trading of gems outlawed. In fact, mere possession of loose stones was a crime. 9 After nationalization, the government worked the mines in a rather desultory fashion. Mechanized mines were operated, but with little success, as the generals placed their military cronies in positions of power, rather than trained engineers and administrators. The little output that did fall into government hands was sold at the annual auction in Rangoon, operated by the state-run Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE). 10 Illegal mining also took place and accounted for the lion's share of production. These stones eventually found their way onto the world market through the porous borders of Thailand, China and India.

Smuggling became the norm, so much so that the black market was dubbed the "brown market" by Burmese, due to its ubiquity. At Mandalay's night market one could find all manner of smuggled foreign goods openly on sale, while, at the jade mining and trading town of Hpakan, the goods offered were even more exclusive. French cognac and champagne, American cigarettes, perfume from Paris, all were readily available for those willing to pay the price (Lintner, 1989).

Burma today

In 1988, anti-government riots wracked the country and were ruthlessly crushed. Realizing the degree of popular discontent, the years following the riots have seen an ever-so gradual loosening of controls on the country's economy. In 1989, MGE began to accept privately-owned gem and jewelry consignments for offer at the annual auction and at its retail shops. Private-government joint ventures in gem mining were started, as were joint ventures with foreign companies for jewelry manufacture. The holding of foreign currency was also legalized, eliminating the need for sacks of the local kyat, which is available in small denominations only. In April, 1994, the gem export tax was reduced to a near-reasonable 15% (U Hla Win, pers. comm., May 2, 1994). But in today's highly competitive business climate, only when such restrictions are entirely eliminated can smuggling be erased.

Today, the seed of a local jewelry-manufacturing industry in Burma has been planted, but it will take years to bear fruit. As of the present writing, Burmese jewelry cannot compete with that manufactured elsewhere; most foreign buyers of Burmese jewelry are strictly interested in the gems, with the settings being used for scrap once out of the country.

From the developments of the past few years, it is clear that big changes are afoot in Burma's gem and jewelry industry. The world will certainly welcome such moves if they lead to true economic and political freedom.

The current situation in Mogok

Prior to 1991, information on Mogok's mining situation was difficult to obtain. The biggest problem was the totalitarian nature of the Burmese government, which regards even mundane details about the country as state secrets. Until 1991, foreigners were not permitted to travel to Mogok. E.J. Gübelin (1963, 1965, 1966) was one of the last foreign gemologists to visit the area, in the early 1960s.

During the mid-1980s, the author had a chance to discuss the, then current, mining situation with a longtime resident of Mogok. Photographs were also obtained, revealing that little had changed in Mogok since the early 1960s. Private mining had long been banned throughout Burma, but in a town of several thousand people whose sole means of income is mining gems, the government was forced to turn a blind eye. Just as in former times, a gem market was held once a week in Mogok at the parade grounds and traders came from far and near to attend. Cheaper goods were displayed openly, while more expensive stones were sold behind closed doors in small sheds which lined the edges of the grounds.

Beginning in 1991, foreigners were again allowed to visit Mogok (Ward, 1991; Kane & Kammerling, 1992). What they found was little changed from the time of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. Today, just as in the time of the company, mechanized mines coexist with traditional workings, and smuggling continues to be a big problem.


Burma is home to one of the planet's richest sources of gem mineral wealth. Since 1962, it has also achieved notoriety of a different sort--home to one of the planet's most repressive regimes.

The country today known as Myanmar (Burma) was, before the British colonial period, a patchwork of tributary states populated by diverse ethnic groups, including Shan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Pa-O, Mon, Wa and others, loosely ruled by the Burmese monarch. Under the Burmese monarchs, such groups paid tribute, but the capital had little direct influence. British rule succeeded in uniting the country, but when it became clear that colonialism was at an end, long-simmering dreams of ethnic independence quickly boiled over. In order to prevent fragmentation of the country, a constitution was drawn up allowing any of the member states to secede from the Union of Burma if they felt it necessary. It was only by adding this clause that the non-Burmese ethnic states agreed to join the Union.

Independence came in 1948, but problems arose almost immediately, with the ethnic states feeling neglected in terms of development money and support. The Karens were the first to resort to armed struggle, shortly after independence. In 1958, the Shans followed, and, in 1961, the Kachins. This was the beginning of the still-ongoing civil war (Lintner, 1990). Many rebel groups use smuggling to raise revenue. Whether by foot, road, river, rail, elephant or mule, manufactured goods from Thailand and elsewhere travel into Burma, while gems, narcotics, gold, silver and other raw materials move outward in a never-ending stream.

Smuggling routes from Burma's gem mines to the outside world are varied and constantly changing. From Mogok, gems may pass by road east through Kengtung, to reach Mae Sai in northern Thailand. This route has, of late, become particularly popular for the new ruby from Möng Hsu. Another popular route, which has been eclipsed to some degree, takes one by rail or road to Moulmein, south of Rangoon. From here, it is but a short 1–2 day walk to Mae Sot in Thailand's Tak province. Still another route leads westward into India or Bangladesh.

With the opening up of China's economy, much jade now proceeds directly from the mines in Kachin State, to Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province. And reports have it that rubies and sapphires are also finding their way along this route (Robert Frey, stolid comm., May 3, 1994).

Current government policy is to make peace with the ethnic guerilla groups. As of May, 1994, a number of them had laid down their arms (Lintner, 1994a-b).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 21. The Moei river separating Thailand from Burma, at Wang Kha, near Mae Sot in Thailand. On the opposite bank, the bamboo blind hid a bustling market with close to 1000 people from all over Asia. Wang Kha was one of several smuggling camps operated by Karen rebels along the Thai-Burma frontier.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 22. Porters leave Wang Kha, bound for Moulmein with Thai manufactured goods. This camp was once a major transit point for Burmese gems smuggled into Thailand, but several years after this photo was taken the Burmese military attacked the site and burned it to the ground. All that remains today are a few charred timbers amidst the ever-encroaching jungle.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 23. Elephants arrive at Wang Kha. After this photo was taken, the two mahouts climbed down off their rides and undid their longyis (sarongs), revealing special cotton belts with slots containing silver bars. (Photos by the author, 1979–81).

Mining areas

It is somewhat fruitless to describe precise mining areas because the situation is constantly in flux. As with most mining areas, mines continually close and new ones open, as deposits are exhausted and new ones discovered. Illegal mining (and cutting) generally takes place in more inaccessible regions and is sometimes supported by armed rebel groups. As of 1992, the Burmese government was operating eight mechanized mines in the Mogok area, seven for ruby/sapphire and one for peridot. Both open cast and tunneling are being used. MGE operates two tunneling operations, one at Lin Yaung Chi for ruby and another at Thurein Taung for sapphire. Byon from the various mines is either separated on site, or transported to the MGE Central Washing Plant (Kane & Kammerling, 1992).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 24. Photo of Albert Ramsay, who purchased and cut the Gem of the Jungle. (From Ramsay, 1925)

In addition to government mines, since 1990, the government has allowed private/government joint ventures, which as of 1992 numbered in the hundreds. A number of joint-venture primary-source mines operate near Kyauk Saung, as well one at Dattaw (Dat Taw).11 The later is famous as the source of the SLORC ruby (Kane & Kammerling, 1992).

The mine at Myintada, near the town of Mogok, is famous for fine quality star rubies and sapphires, with facetable ruby and fancy spinels also being found in quantity. Near the town of Kathé (famous for sapphires) is the government mine at Pingu Taung (`Spider Mountain'), where fine sapphires are found. To the west of Pingu Taung is another government mine at Kyaukpyatthat-ashe. In addition to sapphire and ruby, a number of other gems, and even uranium, are also mined.

These are but a few of the localities where mining is proceeding today. Rubies are found in virtually all of these localities, along with spinels and zircons.

Other gems from the Mogok area

Other than corundum, the Mogok area produces fine gems of many species. In this regard, Mogok is, next to Sri Lanka, probably the most prolific source of gems in the world. Chief among these is the spinel, which historically was often confused with ruby. Although occurring in many colors, Mogok produces the world's finest reds (including pink) and oranges, bar none. Not only are the cut stones magnificent, but the area also furnishes the world's finest crystal specimens. Locally termed am nyunt-nat-thwe (`spirit polished'), the perfection of these crystals is such that they are often set into jewelry as is. At Kabaing, pink spinels are mined, while just south from Kabaing, at Sakangyi, hot pink rubies are obtained. Near the town of Kyatpyin are obtained the world's finest red spinels, while many ilometers north, at Pandaw, the best pink spinels are found.

Some of the world's finest peridot is mined at Pyaung Gaung, near Bernardmyo, with cut gems sometimes larger than one hundred carats, while the world's rarest gem mineral, painite (named after its finder, longtime Mogok resident, A.C.D. Pain), has been found near Ongaing.

The following are among the species mined in the Mogok Stone Tract, based on the author's own research, on Kammerling & Scarratt et al. (1994), and U Hla Win (pers. comm., Feb. 1994). In parentheses are the Burmese names for the gems.

Gem species of the Mogok Stone Tract

Gem type

  • Amblygonite/montebrasite – colorless, yellow
  • Andalusite – orange
  • Apatite – green, yellow and light blue, including cat's eyes
  • Beryl – aquamarine
  • Chrysoberyl – alexandrite, colorless, yellow
  • Cordierite (iolite) – good violetish blue colors
  • Corundum – all colors, including stars and color-change gems
  • Danburite – colorless, fine yellow and, rarely, pink and green
  • Diamond – found north of Mogok, near Momeik
  • Diopside – green, including cat's eyes
  • Enstatite – green to yellow (including brown), cat's eyes
  • Epidote
  • Feldspar (myaw myo kyauk )
    • Albite – colorless, white, yellow and cat's eye
    • Moonstone (myaw ) – near colorless, with distinctive rainbow or blue schiller,found east of Mogok
    • Orthoclase, pink, transparent
  • Fluorite – violet/purple, green, yellow
  • Garnet (u daung ) – pyrope, almandine, spessartine and hessonite (grossular)
  • Jeremejevite – near colorless
  • Johachidolite – pale yellow, only one specimen to date (possibly from Mogok)
  • Kornerupine – green, yellow-green, blue and stars
  • Kyanite – blue
  • Lazurite (Lapis Lazuli) (pa la dote hta) – blue
  • Painite – dark red-brown; very rare (only four crystals found to date, two from Ongaing)
  • Pargasite – gray; rare
  • Peridot (pyaung gaung sein ) – green; world's finest and largest, from Bernardmyo
  • Phenakite – colorless, has been found
  • Poudretteite – pink to purple; rare
  • Quartz (sa lin ) – colorless, yellow (sa lin wa), brown (sa lin nyo ), violet (sa lin swe )and rose (formerly thu yaung; today termed sa lin nhin zee )
  • Scapolite (myaw-ni ) – colorless, pink, yellow and violet cat's eyes and faceted gems
  • Sillimanite (fibrolite) – fine blue gems, including cat's eyes
  • Sinhalite – yellow-brown; rare
  • Sodalite – blue
  • Sphene – orange-brown
  • Spinel (am nyunt pan; from am nyunt – 'poor – in reference to spinel's lower hardness compared to corundum) – the world's finest red, pink and orange spinels, plus fancy colors and stars
  • Spodumene – colorless
  • Taaffeite – colorless, pale violet; rare
  • Topaz (hatat ta ya) – colorless and other colors
  • Tourmaline (pa ye u) – yellow, red, brown, orange, green and colorless
  • Wadeite – yellow-green; rare
  • Zircon (gaw meik) – yellow, green, orange and red

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 25. Rubies are not the only gem found in Mogok. Grab bag lots such as this contain mainly spinels, plus a smattering of other gems. Did I hear someone say painite? (Author's photo, April 1996, Mogok)

Mining methods

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 26. Twin-lon mines and native miners at Mogok, Burma. (From Iyer, 1953)

The rubies of Mogok occur in a crystalline limestone (marble) matrix believed to result from a combination of both contact and regional metamorphism. In contrast, the sapphires are derived from a number of different igneous rocks, including biotite gneisses, urtite veins intruded into marble (Kane & Kammerling, 1992), or pegmatites (Iyer, 1953). Weathering has transported both rubies and sapphires down from the hills to the valley floors where they have settled in the bottom of the streams and rivers to form part of the alluvium. It is from these ancient river gravels that the majority of the stones have been recovered.

Four traditional types of mines exist in Mogok:

  • The Twin-lon, or pit method, for mining the valley alluvials.
  • The Hmyaw-dwin, or open trench method, for excavating hillside deposits.
  • The Lu-dwin system for the extraction of gem-bearing materials that fill limestone caves and fissures.
  • Quarrying (tunneling) directly into the host rock to extract rubies and sapphires.

Since the time of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd., these have been supplemented by open-cast mechanized mines.


Twin-lon or "twin" mining involves the sinking of a small round shaft or hole down to the gem-bearing gravel, which is locally termed byon. Miners believe that an area is rich in rubies where big chunks of quartz are found in the byon (Iyer, 1953). Each mine is generally worked by two to three men, similar to traditional gem mining in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Two of the men take turns digging the shaft while the third stands above-ground lowering a small basket to haul up the earth. This basket is attached to the end of a long bamboo pole with a counterweight, or a hand-cranked winch, to assist in lifting the earth. Depths of these twins vary with the depth of the gravel and range from 3–24 m (10–80 ft). Light is provided by ingenious manipulation of a looking glass or reflector at the shaft's mouth so that a beam is thrown down to the bottom. Candles may also be used.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 27. Raising gravel from a lebin (square pit) at Mogok's Inn Gaung (`Big Hole Mine'). Note the foil reflector at the pit entrance, which is designed to direct light to the pit's bottom. (Photo: Thomas Frieden)

Once a layer of byon is reached, horizontal tunnels are driven for distances of up to 9 m (30 ft) to remove as much paydirt as possible. Shallow shafts need no shoring up, but the deeper ones are firmed with posts. Even with these precautions cave-ins do occur on occasion and may be fatal. Flooding from groundwater is a constant problem and the first job each day is to remove the previous night's accumulation of water. Ingenious pumps made from bamboo have been devised for this purpose. Today these are supplemented by diesel-powered pumps. Generally, twin-lon operations can only be carried on in the dry season (Nov.-May).

Larger excavations, shored up by timber, twigs and leaves, are termed lebin and kobin, and the biggest, inbye. These are used in areas where the earth is not compact enough for twinlons. The inbye is rarely seen due to the expense of the timber needed (George, 1915, p. 77).


Hmyaw-dwin mining consists of open cuttings on the sides of hills. J. Coggin Brown was earlier quoted as feeling that great potential still remained for this type of mining. A stream of water, sometimes brought from great distances via bamboo or plastic channels, is directed to the upper end of the working under pressure. This carries the mud into the tail race of the excavation, with the lighter material being swept away. The heavier concentrate is then carried to a suitable site for washing. As this method requires plenty of water, it is used mainly in the rainy season (June-October).

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 28. A Burmese miner at Mogok dewatering an excavation using an ingenious bamboo pump. (From O'Connor, 1905)


The lu-dwin ('loo') is the least common of the three traditional methods of mining in Mogok. These are excavations into the sides of the hills, following the gem-bearing material through the crevices and caves in the limestone. It is within these caverns and crevices that some of the richest finds have been made. One cavern proved so vast in size and the depth of the byon so great, that hmyaw-dwin and twin were actually set up inside the cavern itself. Unfortunately the roof caved in, putting an early halt to the proceedings (Halford-Watkins, 1932a). According to George (1915, p. 76), the danger attending this method was overstated. However, just before Kane and Kammerling's 1992 visit, they were told that several miners had died in a cave-in at a lu-dwin at Than Ta Yar.

Such caves form as a result of impurities in the limestone. Groundwater dissolves the limestone, forming cavities. More resistant minerals, such as rubies and other gems, concentrate in the loamy soil on the cave bottoms. Miners will crawl through tiny crevices in the limestone to reach concentrations of byon. This will then be hauled to the surface for washing. One particularly rich lu-dwin near Bobedaung (Bawpadan) was termed the "Royal Loo"12 because it produced a number of stones of such high quality that they had to be turned over to the king. In 1996, the author was given a grand tour of the now-abandoned Royal Loo at Bawpadan. The entrance consists of a narrow tunnel into which one must crawl.

Figure 29. Although hillside deposits were largely ignored during the British period, today they represent virgin ground. Here, at Inn Gaung (`Big Hole Mine'), in the Mogok area of Burma, miners tunnel like ants, occupying an entire hillside in their quest for the red stone. This drama has been played out throughout human history, a continuum of our species' pursuit of dreams, ego, wealth and power. Some make it big; too many others are left with only the dream. (Photo: Thomas Frieden)Figure 29. Although hillside deposits were largely ignored during the British period, today they represent virgin ground. Here, at Inn Gaung (`Big Hole Mine'), in the Mogok area of Burma, miners tunnel like ants, occupying an entire hillside in their quest for the red stone. This drama has been played out throughout human history, a continuum of our species' pursuit of dreams, ego, wealth and power. Some make it big; too many others are left with only the dream. (Photo: Thomas Frieden)


C. Barrington Brown (Brown and Judd, 1896) described a fourth method of mining – quarrying or tunneling into the host rock itself, which is a slight variation on the lu-dwin. At the time of Brown's visit in 1887, miners were using a gunpowder of local manufacture. However, this often damaged the gems. Today, more sophisticated types of blasting are used to extract both ruby and sapphire from their host rock (Kane & Kammerling, 1992).

Mechanized mining

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 30. French gem dealer, Olivier Galibert, descending into a lu-dwin at Kadoktut, near Bawpadan. We asked the miners how deep it was. They answered that their rope was 5000 ft. long and it did not reach the bottom. (Author's photo, May 1996)

During the time of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd., mechanized mines were operated at a number of different locations, and this continues today. The largest, at Mogok's Shwebontha mine, opened in April, 1894, and operated for years thereafter. These were generally open cuts, with the excavations being made by hand. First, a pit 10 sq ft (0.93 sq m) was sunk to a depth of 25 ft (7.62 m). This served as a water sump, and a centrifugal pump was lowered into position to remove the water. Near this hole coolies would attack the byon by digging a hole and working outward on all sides, breaking down the walls and loading the earth into trucks. As the hole widened, it became possible to sink lower and lower. Workers dug away at the toe of the wall, and as the bank caved in, transferred the earth to trucks, with water being diverted to the pump pit. The trucks were hitched to an endless rope, which would haul the earth up a ramp to the washing plant, where it is tipped into screens and falls into the washing pans (Talbot, 1920).

At Shwebontha, this simple process developed into a huge gaping hole in the surface of the valley nearly a mile (1.6 km) in length. While not deep, it was mining on a grand scale. From January, 1895 to February, 1904, 4,820,000 truck-loads of byon were taken out of the ground at Shwebontha, and its extension at Schwelimpan. These resulted in gems worth over '485,000 (Talbot, 1920).

Washing the byon

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 31. Native kanase women washing ruby gravel at Mogok, Burma, ca. 1905. (From Anonymous, 1905a, Booklovers Magazine)

Once sufficient byon has been obtained, it is transported to the washing area. A shallow circular enclosure is formed with big rocks, the floor of which slopes slightly at one end. Into this the byon is placed and a stream of water directed onto it while the whole mass is stirred. Water and lighter debris flow out a small opening at the lower end, leaving behind the gems and heavier material. Eventually the opening becomes clogged with heavy gravel. This gravel is then removed for further washing on circular bamboo trays, similar to the method used in panning for gold (Halford-Watkins, 1932b). Today, byon is often stockpiled in the dry season, for washing in the wet season, when workings become flooded.

Output from mechanized mines goes to a washing plant, to be separated by machine. In the days of the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd., two separate washing plants were operated at Shwebontha, three at the Redhill mine, and one at Padansho, near Kyauklongyi (Brown, 1933). Today, the government operates a washing plant, where byon from government mines which do not have a plant on site is washed.

The kanase (kanes) custom

Almost inevitably, some of the gems escape and are carried away to the tailings. According to local custom, these tailings may be searched through by anyone, with any stones found becoming the property of the finder. Under the Company, however, this was later restricted to women only; any man who raised a stone from the ground, unless a worker or license holder, was subject to imprisonment. Thus, it is the women who search in this way. They are termed kanase women. According to Halford-Watkins (1932b), this custom resulted in the wholesale theft of large numbers of stones from Company mines, as well as providing a convenient method for the disposal of stolen goods. The way it worked was as follows: a dishonest workman may catch sight of a stone. He would then pass it secretly to a nearby kanase woman or tell her where to search for it. Moments later, there is a shout of joy from the woman as she has just "uncovered" a stone which, by custom, is hers to keep. The Company went to great lengths to prevent the theft of stones, enclosing the sorting areas, requiring workers to wear steel masks so that stones could not be swallowed, etc. However, all this was to no avail because of the kanase custom.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 32. Kanesé girl washing gem gravels in a stream in Burma's Mogok Stone Tract. (Photo by the author, May 1996)

Sorting and trading

Final sorting of the gravel is normally done by the mine owner, his relatives or other trusted staff, with another person present to keep him honest. All others are kept away. As stones are found they are placed into a bamboo container, or today, a plastic bag. At the end of the day, the contents are put into a packet, which is sealed on the spot if the owner has partners who are not present. This seal will only be broken in the presence of all the partners, again to keep everyone honest.

In the morning, stones found during the previous day's work are placed onto a polished brass plate for grading in direct sunlight. First the inferior material, termed sonzi, is removed and separated into three types: ruby, sapphire and spinel. This is later crushed for use as abrasive (Halford-Watkins, 1932b).

Those left on the plate are now graded roughly, by hand or sieve, according to size. The owner himself removes the best stones, for personal grading at a later time, with the remainder graded by sorters. First, lower qualities are arranged in small piles, then better stones. In the end, all are passed to the owner for final classification, assisted by the ubiquitous brokers, who play an important role in the valuation and sale. Valuations and bids are all done with the secret hand language so quaintly described earlier by Cæsar Frederick.

To catch a thief

In a gem mining operation, it is absolutely vital that theft be kept to a minimum (it can never be eliminated entirely). If a significant portion of the production is stolen, these stones will appear in the marketplace, always undercutting the prices asked for legitimate production. The author was once told of one unique method of dealing with this problem. Two brothers purchased a gem mine in Africa. While one brother handled the daily affairs at the mine, the other set himself up incognito at the nearby town as a gem buyer, purchasing all of the stones stolen by his workers. Although they were buying stones that were rightfully theirs, the brothers were happy with the arrangement for it allowed them to control the entire production of the mine, and thus, to better influence the price.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 33. Native workers under British supervision at the Company mines at Mogok, Burma. Despite close watch, theft was a constant problem. (From O'Connor, 1905)

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 34. British sorters at the Company mines, at Mogok, Burma. (From O'Connor, 1905)

The role of brokers is important, both at Mogok and further north at the Hpakan jade mines. Each dealer employs them to act as his eyes and ears. Their job is not only to assist in valuations and sales, but also to obtain intelligence about what valuable stones have been recently mined, who the owners are, and, just as importantly, who the stones are being offered to and the prices bid. Owners of valuable stones do their best to keep details secret, for if a piece is bid upon, when the spies of other dealers learn of the bid, no one will offer more (Halford-Watkins, 1932b; W.K. Ho, pers. comm., ca. 1982). In other words, if one dealer believes it is worth only 50,000 Kyat, then why offer more? This situation results in purchases taking place in a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere as both buyer and seller seek to conceal their activities. Stolen stones in particular may be offered at remote jungle rendezvous', sometimes in the dead of the night with only a hand torch as illumination. Legitimate goods may also be offered in this way, being represented as stolen in the hope that this would increase the buyer's feeling that he is getting a steal of a deal (Halford-Watkins, 1932b).

Perhaps the best summary of the gem business in Burma was that of British officer, Major F.L. Roberts (Chhibber, 1934). Although speaking in reference to the jade business, he could just as easily have been discussing the ruby trade:

From the time jade is won in the Jade Mines area until it leaves Mogaung in the rough for cutting there is much that is underhand, tortuous and complicated, and much unprofitable antagonism. In my opinion the whole business requires cleansing, straightening and the light of day thrown on it.

Major F.L. Roberts,
former Deputy Commissioner of Myitkyina

Judging from the tone of his statement, it sounds like Major Roberts would have been just the man for the job, too.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 35. When miners do find something, their market is close at hand. Here a small trader awaits the results of a byon washing session at Inn Gaung (`Big Hole Mine'). (Photo: Thomas Frieden)

Local classification of gems

Through the many generations of trading in Mogok, a local classification system has evolved as follows (based on the author's interviews with Burmese and Thai traders; George, 1915; Halford-Watkins, 1932):

Thai names

  • Gim baw siang: A Thai word describing a Burmese cabochon ruby with calcite matrix (literally `more than enough to eat', in reference to the belief that this stone brings prosperity)

Burmese names

Individual stones are termed lon-bauk. Ruby parcels are graded by size and color.

First-water stones (deep rich crimson)

  • Anyun: Two ct and over
  • Lethi: Average 1.75 ct
  • The-bauk (haibauk): Average 0.75 ct
  • Saga-the: Average 0.50 ct
  • Ame-the: Average five stones per carat (0.20 ct each)

Second-water stones (bright crimson)

  • Ani-gyi: 2–6 ct weight

Third-water stones (bright light crimson)

  • Ani-te: 2–6 ct weight (also known as Bombaing, because they were fancied in Bombay, India)

Fourth-water stones ( Ahte-kya )

  • Ahte-kya (literally `fallen from the top'): Mixed stones of the above grades but slightly defective in shape or water
  • Kyauk-me: Very dark stones which were sold mainly in Madras, India

Parcels of lesser-quality stones

  • Gaungsa or Yawya: Pale inferior stones of mixed sizes (up to 6 ct)
  • Asa-yo: Dark inferior stones of mixed sizes (up to 6 ct)
  • Asa-yo kya: Inferior to Asa-yo
  • Akyan-the: Similar to Asa-yo but smaller
  • Apya: Flat stones of fine quality
  • Apya-kya, or Apya-sa: Flat stones of second quality
  • Apyazone: Third-quality flats
  • Awa: Large defective stones
  • Gair: Large, impure, almost opaque stones
  • Ani-the: Small stones of second water and good quality
  • Akyaw-the: Small, pale, good
  • Apyu-the: Small, pale, inferior and rough
  • Atwe: Rough and impure
  • Zon-si: Spinels and rejections from other classifications
  • Mat-sa: Opaque sapphire
  • Thai: Tiny stones (literally `sand')
  • Pingoo-cho: First-quality star rubies (literally `spider's thread')
  • Pingoo or Pingoo-sa: Silky rubies (with or without star)
  • Gaw-done or Gaw-cho: Star sapphires
  • Am nyunt: Ordinary mixed waterworn spinels
  • Am nyunt-nat-thwe: Rose spinel octahedra of perfect luster and crystallization (literally `spinels polished by the spirits')
  • Am nyunt-seinche: Tiny spinels of the same type as anyan-nat-thwe above
  • Nila: Large sapphires
  • Nila-sa: Mixed inferior sapphires 



5. Starting as a mule track, it was later widened for carts until its fully-metalled completion in 1901–2. Before its completion, one convoy of carts took over six weeks to make the journey (George, 1915). [ return to chapter text ]

6. Heavy rains in 1925 caused a fall, blocking the tunnel, causing the valley to revert to its former state of a series of large lakes, which is how it remains today. [ return to chapter text ]

7. This opinion was probably only expressed by Brown because his report was confidential. In his public writings on the Burma ruby mines, Brown said nothing about it. [ return to chapter text ]

8. The above has been taken from the accounts of Martin Ehrmann. Readers should be aware that Mr. Ehrmann was not the most reliable of authorities; while his articles are rich in detail, they are also riddled with errors and misspellings. Unfortunately, his are virtually the only non-geological accounts for the period 1930–1960. [ return to chapter text ]

9. To circumvent this ban, Burmese gems were typically traded in cheap, base-metal settings, both in Burma and at the Thai border (based on the author’s OFE; post-1970s; number of stones observed: plenty). [ return to chapter text ]

10. Myanmar Gems Corp. was founded by the Ministry of Mines on April 1, 1976. It was renamed Myanma Gems Enterprise in 1989 (Kane & Kammerling, 1992). Beginning in 1996, the military-run Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, Ltd. (UMEHL) has taken over much of the role formerly played by MGE. [ return to chapter text ]

11. This is probably the Dató of de Terra (1943). The name is said to mean "mercury." De Terra explored several rich cave deposits at Dató. [ return to chapter text ]

12. I probably shouldn't mention the British meaning of that term. [ return  ]

R S end dingbat




Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 36. A fine 7.01-ct. Mogok ruby. (Stone: Jan Goodman; photo: Tino Hammid)

Pigeon's blood: Chasing the elusive Burmese bird

The Burmese term for ruby is padamya (`plenty of mercury'). Other terms for ruby are derived from the word for the seeds of the pomegranate fruit. 13 Traditionally, the Burmese have referred to the finest hue of ruby as "pigeon's blood" (ko-twe ), a term which may be of Chinese (Anonymous, 1943) or Arab origin. Witness the following from al-Akfani, who described thus the top variety of ruby:

Rummani has the colour of the fresh seed of pomegranate or of a drop of blood (drawn from an artery) on a highly polished silver plate.

al-Akfani, ca. 1348 AD (from Sarma, 1984)

Some have compared this color to the center of a live pigeon's eye (Brown & Day, 1955). Halford-Watkins described it as a rich crimson without trace of blue overtones (Anonymous, 1943). Others have defined this still further as the color of the first two drops of blood from the nose of a freshly slain Burmese pigeon. But the piece de resistance of pigeon's-blood research has to be that of James Nelson (1985; Nelson discourages use of such fanciful terms):

In an attempt to seek a more quantitative description for this mysterious red colour known only to hunters and the few fortunate owners of the best Burmese rubies, the author sought the help of the London Zoo. Their Research Department were quick to oblige and sent a specimen of fresh, lysed, aerated, pigeon's blood. A sample was promptly spectrophotometered…. The Burmese bird can at last be safely removed from the realms of gemmology and consigned back to ornithology.

James B. Nelson, 1985, Journal of Gemmology

After that, the only question remaining is whether or not "spectrophotometered" is a genuine English verb.

Color preferences do change with time. The preferred color today is not necessarily that of a hundred, or even fifty, years ago. In the author's experience, the color most coveted today is that akin to a red traffic signal or stoplight. It is a glowing red color, due to the strong red fluorescence of Burmese rubies, and is unequalled in the world of gemstones. Thai rubies may possess a purer red body color, but the lack of red fluorescence leaves them dull by comparison. It must be stressed that the true pigeon's-blood red is extremely rare, more a color of the mind than the material world. One Burmese trader expressed it best when he said "…asking to see the pigeon's blood is like asking to see the face of God." (Nordland, 1982)

The second-best color in Burma is termed "rabbit's blood," or yeong-twe. It is a slightly darker, more bluish red. Third best is a deep hot pink termed bho-kyaik. This was the favorite color of the famous Mogok gem dealer, A.C.D. Pain. U Thu Daw, longtime Mogok dealer and a contemporary of Pain's, has stated that bho-kyaik is not so much a color term, as an overall quality description. To qualify, a ruby must fulfill six requirements. First, it must be at least one carat. Second, the color must be of the third quality (exceeded only by ko-twe and yeong-twe ). The table facet must be perpendicular to the c axis, it must be well cut, of good luster and eye clean. The literal meaning of bho-kyaik is "preference of the British" (U Hla Win, pers. comm., 2 May, 22 June, 1994).

Fourth-best is a light pink color termed leh-kow-seet (literally `bracelet-quality' ruby). At the bottom of the ruby scale is the dark red color termed ka-la-ngoh. This has an interesting derivation for it means literally either "crying-Indian quality" or "even an Indian would cry," so termed because it was even darker than an Indian's skin. Most dark rubies were sold in Bombay or Madras, India. Ka-la-ngoh stones were said to be so dark that even Indians would cry out in despair when confronted with this quality.

The Ruby King

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 37. U Hmat, the "Ruby King," at the town of Mogok, in Burma. (From O'Connor, 1905)

U Hmat was great here in the days before any Englishman had come within sight of Mogôk. He is not a foreigner… but a native of the soil. He lives some distance from the market-place in a rambling wooden house on piles…. At one end he has built himself a strong-room of brick, in which lie hidden, according to popular tradition, rubies of extraordinary value. U Hmat is seldom seen abroad. He goes, it is said, in terror of his life; and his courtyard is thronged with retainers, who make for him a kind of personal bodyguard. But in bygone days he travelled every year to Mandalay with a present of rubies, and was received in audience by the king. He is a builder of many monasteries and pagodas; but is said to be less lavish in this respect than most of his compatriots in Burma. He is believed accordingly by his European neighbours to have `his head screwed on the right way.' His character for economy is the topic of very favourable discussion at the dinnertables of the settlement, and it is a commonplace of opinion that he is the only Burman at the mines who is not a fool. Let it be added that he is the father of a pretty daughter, whose jewels are the despair of every other woman in Mogôk, and that he keeps her in strict seclusion, lest some adventurous youth should steal away her heart, or her person, or both. He has been good enough, however, to show me some of her most beautiful jewels.

V.C. Scott O'Connor, 1905, The Silken East

Burmese rubies compared

Until the discoveries in Vietnam in the late 1980s, Burmese rubies were without peer. Other sources, such as Kenya and Afghanistan, produced the occasional stone which could stand with Burma's best, but such stones were extremely rare. Discovery of ruby in Vietnam changed all that. For the first time in hundreds of years, a viable alternative to Burma presented itself. Only time will tell if the Vietnamese mines can continue to produce, but, historically speaking, Burmese rubies are in a class by themselves.

The color of a fine Burmese ruby is due to a combination of two factors. First, the best stones have high color intensity. This results from a mixture of the slightly bluish red body color and the purer red fluorescent emission. It is this red fluorescence which is the key, for it tends to cover up the dark areas of the stone caused by extinction from cutting. Thai rubies possess a purer red body color,14 but lack the strong fluorescence. In Thai rubies, where light is properly reflected off pavilion facets (internal brilliance), the color is good. However, where facets are cut too steep, light exits through the side instead of returning to the eye, creating darker areas (extinction). All stones possess this extinction to a certain degree, but in fine Burmese rubies, the strong crimson fluorescence masks it. The best Burmese stones actually glow red and appear as though Mother Nature brushed a broad swath of fluorescent red paint across the face of the stone. This is the carbuncle of the ancients, a term derived from the glowing embers of a fire.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 38. A large crystal of calcite in an unheated Mogok ruby, in polarized light. Calcite is suggested because of the intersecting twinning planes visible within the included crystal. Such calcite crystals containing repeated glide twinning are often seen in Burmese rubies, which were formed in a calcite (marble) matrix. (Photo by the author)

A second factor is the presence of silk. Tiny exsolved inclusions tend to scatter light onto facets that would otherwise be extinct. This gives the color a softness, as well as spreading it across a greater part of the gem's face. Thai/Cambodian rubies contain no rutile silk, and thus possess more extinction.

In actuality, rubies from most sources possess a strong red fluorescence and silk similar to those from Burma, with the Thai rubies being the exception. However, those from Sri Lanka are generally too pale in color, while, with other sources, such as Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, material clean enough for faceting is rare. Thus the combination of fine color (body color plus fluorescence) and facetable material (i.e., internally clean) has put the Burmese ruby squarely atop the crimson mountain. Some old-timers consider Burma to be not just the best source, but the only source of stones fit to be called ruby. When one considers that today probably 90% or more of newly-mined rubies owe a good measure of their clarity and color to heat treatment, this statement does not seem so outlandish (unfortunately, most Burmese rubies are today heat treated).

Features of Mogok ruby

Mogok's famous rubies display a distinctive internal picture, often allowing separation from rubies of other sources. Typical are both euhedral (`well-formed') and rounded crystal grains, along with dense clouds of rutile silk. Rhombohedral twinning is common, as is straight/angular color zoning, at times in a swirled pattern termed treacle. Generally absent, or in small numbers only, are the fluid-filled inclusions so common in Thai/Cambodian and Sri Lankan rubies. 15

Varieties and occurrence

Mogok rubies range from lightest pink, through bright red, to deep garnet-red. Most tend to be slightly purplish-red in hue position, and grade into purple and violet sapphires. Fine star rubies are also found. Twelve-rayed star rubies have been reported, but are extremely rare.

Mogok rubies are derived from a crystalline limestone (marble) matrix, resulting from either contact or regional metamorphism.


Crystalline solids of many types are characteristic of Mogok rubies. They typically form clusters of rounded and/or euhedral grains of a light color (or colorless), often concentrating in the center of the crystal. The most common guests are calcite, spinel, corundum, apatite, rutile and zircon.

Calcite is present as both rounded and angular rhombs, recognizable by its cleavage and polysynthetic glide-twin lamellae. Twinning striations may also be found in included corundum crystals, which occur as tabular or rounded individuals of extremely low relief. These corundums included in corundum typically show a terraced, or step-like, appearance from multiple development of the basal pinacoid. Spinel crystals occur as both octahedra or, more often, as rounded irregular forms of low relief.

In addition to lightly colored or colorless mineral inclusions are guests with distinctive colors. Primary rutile crystals of deep red color and metallic luster stand out in high relief. Their square outline and knee-shaped twin or prismatic habit indicate their identity. Bright to pale yellow, partly resorbed crystals of low relief may be apatite; Eduard Gübelin (pers. comm., May 5, 1994) has reported that apatites in Mogok rubies tend to be rounded, while apatites in Sri Lankan stones often show distinct faces.

Yellow crystals of high relief suggest sphalerite or sphene. Rounded, partly resorbed grains of olivine are pale green. Deep-green prisms of a vanadium-bearing amphibole, pargasite [NaCa2 Fe4 (Al,Fe) Al2 Si6 O22 (OH)2 ] have been seen by the author in one spectacular vanadium-colored Mogok specimen (courtesy of Valaya Rangsit, ca. 1985). Dark brown to opaque slabs/plates suggest phlogopite mica. Zircon is also found, with and without stress halos.

Primary cavities

Primary fluid-filled cavities are not particularly common in Mogok rubies. This is said to result from the metamorphic processes in which they grew, which combine extremely slow growth rates with a fluid-poor environment (Roedder, 1982).

Negative crystals in Mogok rubies exhibit similar faces and habits as their host. Typical examples show a terraced appearance made up of numerous steps, the result of alternating development of pinacoid and pyramid (or rhombohedron) faces. Some are well-formed, with flat faces, while others are rounded. Negative crystals can be separated from solids because negative crystals show the same orientation as their host. In other words, the pinacoid face of each negative crystal is exactly parallel to the same face of the host and to any other negative crystals present in the stone.

When seen, negative crystals in Mogok rubies are often two phase. Eppler (1976) identified the filling as gases containing hydrogen sulfide. This constituent was recognized by its odor when the gems were crushed, opening the cavities. He speculated that gas bubbles within the growth solution perched on a face as the crystal grew. This provided an obstacle to the growth at that point on the face, while adjacent areas continued to grow. Eventually the surrounding gem engulfed the bubble completely, trapping it while simultaneously creating the negative crystal.

Secondary cavities

Untreated Mogok rubies contain far fewer secondary fluid inclusions (healing fissures or fingerprints ) than rubies from Thailand/Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Kenya. Heat-treated Burmese rubies may, however, contain many secondary fluid inclusions formed during the heat treatment process.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 39. While strong color zoning is somewhat rare in Mogok sapphires, it is common in the rubies from this area. A fine example is shown above, viewed parallel to the c axis. (Photo: Tony Laughter)

When secondary fluid inclusions are found in untreated Mogok rubies, they tend to be well healed, with angular negative-crystal pockets sometimes containing gas bubbles. Others may be fractures where little healing has occurred. Generally lacking are the intermediate-stage, lacy fingerprints with narrow fluid tubes common to rubies from Thailand/Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Heat-treated Mogok rubies, however, contain far more fingerprints and secondary-fluid inclusions, making the identification of origin more difficult.

Growth zoning

Straight, angular growth zoning is common in Mogok rubies, as with rubies from sources other than Thailand/Cambodia. The zoning is always found parallel to crystal faces. When looking parallel to crystal faces, the bands of color line up into sharp narrow zones; however, in other directions they may appear in irregular swirls termed treacle, from their resemblance to the swirls in syrup.

Twin development

Rhombohedral twinning is common, and may feature long, white exsolved boehmite needles at intersecting twin junctions.

Exsolved solids

One of the most diagnostic features of Mogok rubies is the dense white clouds of exsolved rutile. At high temperatures, when atomic spacing is greater, titanium enters into solid solution with the host corundum. As the corundum cools, however, its crystal lattice contracts, literally squeezing the titanium atoms out of solution, where they join with oxygen atoms to form minute crystals of rutile (TiO2). This process is known among mineralogists as exsolution-- the unmixing of a solid solution. Because of constraints on their movement by the solid corundum host, titanium atoms are unable to travel large distances. Therefore, rather than forming large crystals, they migrate together to form thousands of tiny slender needles where space permits. For rutile in corundum, this space is parallel to the faces of the second-order hexagonal prism, intersecting in three directions at 60/120° in the basal plane.

At times, only long slender threads are visible, while in other cases knife or dart shapes appear. Closer examination reveals many of these to be twin crystals with tiny v-shaped re-entrant angles visible at the broad end. They are flattened so thin in the basal plane that when illuminated with a fiber optic light guide from above, bursts of iridescent colors are seen, due to the interference of light from these microscopically-thin mineral lances.

Rubies from Mogok usually contain at least some rutile silk. It is found in dense white clouds made up of relatively short individuals, whereas in Sri Lankan corundums the rutile silk tends to be longer and less densely woven. 16

Along with the rutile silk in Mogok rubies are clouds of minute particles of an unknown nature. These particle clouds, like the silk, also appear to result from exsolution, and are arranged in an identical pattern. At times, it has been noticed that heat treatment removes the rutile silk, but not the particles. Thus, in some cases at least, they may be composed of a mineral other than rutile. Due to their arrangement, they also influence the star effect of asteriated gems. In asteriated gems where silk clouds consist mainly of particles, the star is diffuse and lacking in definition. Conversely, where clouds contain a preponderance of needles, the star possesses better definition. Both needle- and particle-dominated stars can be found in Burmese corundums.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 40. Rounded crystal grains are a common feature of Mogok rubies, such as those seen above, which are probably apatite. (Photo: Wimon Manorotkul)

Boehmite (Rose channels)

Mogok rubies display one additional type of exsolved needle inclusion: boehmite. Boehmite needles are long white inclusions which form at the junction of intersecting twinning planes and, as a result, lie parallel to faces of the rhombohedron {1011}. Where planes meet, they intersect at angles of 86.1° and 93.9° (three directions total, two in the same plane). If one understands the vast differences in orientation and appearance, there is little likelihood that boehmite needles be confused with rutile silk.

Boehmite results from pressure-induced exsolution. This pressure also is responsible for the gliding (slipping) of atomic planes, creating polysynthetic twins. Since pressure also causes stress fractures, low-grade corundum is generally filled with these twin planes and the accompanying boehmite needles.

Boehmite needles are often long, running completely across the stone. When intersecting in the above manner, they appear like a sort of lattice framework, or creation from Mother Nature's erector set. At times, close examination shows the appearance of narrow fluid fingerprints and frequently one observes narrow stress fractures extending outwards from the needles at 45° angles in a spiral fringing appearance. When twin planes run through secondary fluid inclusions, the boehmite needles often divide them into parallel sections.

Together, the rhombohedral twinning/boehmite needles combination provide one of the best methods of separation from the synthetic stone, for they are seen in a large percentage of natural corundums from all sources. Although rhombohedral twinning and boehmite needles have on rare occasions been found by the author in Verneuil synthetic corundum, curved growth lines and gas bubbles allow separation. Nothing resembling this combination occurs in flux synthetics, making it important in the battle against sophisticated factory products. Twinning is sometimes found in flux synthetics, but without the accompanying boehmite needles.

Within Mogok rubies, rhombohedral twinning with boehmite needles is seen, although not as often as in Thai/Cambodian rubies.

Properties of Mogok (Burma) ruby



Color range/phenomena

  • Colorless to a deep red; the red of Burmese rubies is generally more purple than Thai/Cambodian rubies; some stones are of a 'garnet' red color. Most are strongly fluorescent.
  • Six-rayed stars are common; 12-rays are known, but rare.
  • Color-change stones (colored by vanadium) are rarely found. These have a color change similar to the Verneuil synthetic.

Geologic formation

Found in metamorphosed crystalline limestones (marble) and secondary deposits derived from the same.

Crystal habit

Typically stubby crystals consisting of prism/pyramids terminated by pinacoid faces and modified by the rhombohedron. Crystals often display a terraced appearance due to oscillation between the pinacoid and rhombohedron. Triangular depressions may be seen on pinacoid faces.

RI & birefringence

n omega = 1.760–1.766; n epsilon = 1.768–1.774; Bire. = 0.008 to 0.009

Specific Gravity



Visible: Strong Cr spectrum; V spectrum has been seen on rare occasions.


Strong to very strong red to orangy red (LW stronger than SW). Heat-treated gems sometimes show chalky fluorescence from colorless patches.

Other features

None reported

Inclusion types




Various, often in dense concentrations, including:

  • Apatite, hexagonal prisms (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Calcite, transparent, often with rhombohedral glide twinning (Gübelin, 1969b)
  • Dolomite (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)
  • Corundum (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Garnet (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Graphite flakes, black (Kammerling & Scarratt et al., 1994)
  • Mica (muscovite) (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Olivine (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Pargasite, bright green crystals (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Pyrite (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)
  • Pyrrhotite (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)
  • Rutile prisms (not silk), dark red to black (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Scapolite, well-shaped crystals (Kammerling & Scarratt et al., 1994)
  • Sphalerite, brown (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Sphene, yellow-orange, high dispersion (Gübelin, 1969b)
  • Spinel group minerals (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Sulfur (Fritsch & Rossman, 1990)
  • Zircon (Gübelin, 1953)



  • Primary negative crystals (rare)
  • Secondary negative crystals (healed fractures) are rare, except in heated stones. They often lack the lovely `lacy' appearance of Sri Lankan stones; typically they have fluid-filled channels which are widely spaced.

Growth zoning

  • Straight, angular growth zoning parallel to the faces along which it formed; irregular `treacle' like swirls in other directions

Twin development

  • Growth twins of unknown orientation
  • Polysynthetic glide twinning on the rhombohedron

Exsolved solids

  • Rutile silk in dense clouds of (often, but not always) short needles, parallel to the hexagonal prism (3 directions at 60/120° ) in the basal plane
  • Boehmite, long white needles along intersecting rhombohedral twin planes (3 directions, 2 in one plane, at 86.1 and 93.9° )
a. This table is based on the author's own extensive experience, along with published reports of Eppler (1976), Fritsch & Rossman (1990), Gübelin (1973), Gübelin & Koivula (1986) and Kammerling & Scarratt et al. (1994).

Burmese sapphires

Although rubies are found with much greater frequency at Mogok (rubies form about 80–90% of the total output), sapphires may reach larger sizes. Cut gems of over 100 carats are not unknown. Large fine star sapphires are also found at Mogok, in addition to star rubies. Near Kabaing, at Kin, is located a mine famous for star sapphires.

The sapphires of Burma occur in intimate association with rubies in virtually all alluvial deposits throughout the Mogok area, but are found in quantity at only a few localities, particularly 8 miles (13 km) west of Mogok, near Kathé (Kathe) (Halford-Watkins, 1935b). At Kyaungdwin, near Kathé, in 1926 a small pocket was discovered that yielded "many thousand pounds' [sterling] worth of magnificent sapphires within a few weeks." (Halford-Watkins, 1935b)

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 41. Map of the sapphire-producing regions of Burma's Mogok Stone Tract. (Modified from Halford-Watkins, 1935b)

According to Halford-Watkins (1935b), the majority of fine sapphires were derived from the area between Ingaung and Gwebin, and the present author (RWH) also found this to be the case during his 1996 Mogok visits. Today, important mines are located at Thurein Taung and Yadanar Kaday Kadar.

One magnificent Gwebin gem mined in 1929 was scratched up just below the grass by miners preparing a site for digging. It was a water-worn, doubly-truncated pyramid weighing in at an incredible 959 ct, and was named the Gem of the Jungle. Purchased and cut by Albert Ramsay, it produced nine fine stones, ranging in size, from 66 to 4 carats (see ).

Sapphires have also been found near Bernardmyo: 17

Bernardmyo itself at one time produced large quantities of sapphires, many of which were of magnificent colour and quality, though a number were of a peculiar indigo shade, which appeared either very dark or an objectionable greenish tint by artificial light. During an extensive native mining rush to Bernardmyo in 1913 a number of these stones were placed on the London market.

Many of the stones found in this area were coated with a thin skin of almost opaque indigo colour which, on being ground off, revealed a centre sometimes of a fine gem quality, but in many cases of greenish shade. The method of occurrence was different from that anywhere else as the majority of stones were taken from a hard black iron-cemented conglomerate, which was found layers a few inches thick, often only a few feet below the surface. This area now appears to be exhausted, and little mining is carried on there to-day except for peridots, which are abundant.

Another isolated local deposit which has produced some fine sapphires occurs at Chaungyi, four miles north of Mogok, and about a thousand feet higher.

J.F. Halford-Watkins, 1935b

Other than blue, sapphires also occur in violet, purple, colorless and yellow colors at Mogok. The violet and purple stones may be fine; yellows tend to be on the light side and are not common. Green sapphires are known, but rare.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 42. 21.09 caratsof Burmese midnight-blue mystery. This stone, an example of Mogok's finest product, was offered in the late 1980s in Bangkok for $10,000/ct. wholesale. (Photo: Adisorn Studio, Bangkok)

Burmese sapphires compared

Although it is rubies for which Burma is famous, some of the world's finest blue sapphires are also mined in the Mogok area. Today the world gem trade recognizes the quality of Burmese sapphires, but this was not always the case. Edwin Streeter (1892) described Burmese sapphires as being overly dark. Unfortunately this error was later repeated by Max Bauer and others. G. Herbert Smith wrote…

While the Burma ruby is famed throughout the world as the finest of its kind the Burma sapphire has been ignominiously, but unjustly, dismissed as of poor quality. In actual fact nowhere in the world are such superb sapphires produced as in Burma.

G.F. Herbert Smith, 1972, Gemstones

While this statement must be qualified by adding that the finest Kashmir sapphires are in a class by themselves, those from Burma are also magnificent. J. Coggin Brown said this:

It has been stated that Burmese sapphires as a whole are usually too dark for general approval, but this is quite incorrect; next to the Kashmir sapphires they are unsurpassed. Speaking generally, Ceylon sapphires are too light and Siamese sapphires too dark, and it is more than probable that many of the best `Ceylon' stones first saw the light of day from the mountainsides of the Mogok Stone Tract.

J. Coggin Brown & A.K. Dey, 1955, India's Mineral Wealth

Not all Burma sapphires are deep in color. The best display a rich, intense, slightly violetish blue, but some are quite light, similar to those from Sri Lanka. The key difference between Burma and Ceylon sapphires is saturation, with those from Burma possessing much more color in the stone. Color banding, so prominent in Ceylon stones, may be entirely absent in Burma sapphires.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 43. An offerring of small sapphires in a Mogok temple. (Author's photo; April, 1996)

Features of Mogok (Burma) sapphire

In certain respects, the inclusions in Mogok sapphires differ from their red relatives. These differences can be accounted for by the different modes of origin for each. Although mined in close proximity to one another, the sapphires are believed to have originated in pegmatites and nepheline-corundum syenites, while the rubies formed in a metamorphosed crystalline limestone.

Like the rubies, Mogok sapphires contain dense clouds of rutile silk, and a number of fine star sapphires in various shades of blue have been unearthed. Included crystals, however, are less common in the blue gems than the red, while secondary fluid inclusions are far more abundant. Finally, the color of Mogok sapphires is exceptionally even, and banding is not found in some specimens, even under immersion. The lack of sharp zoning (and presence of rhombohedral glide twinning) helps to separate Mogok sapphires from those of Sri Lanka, where it is less common.


  • Near colorless to rich, deep blue almost verging on the violet. Despite the stereotypical 'intense blue' Burma sapphire, many Burmese sapphires are quite light in color, wholly resembling those from Sri Lanka. The blue color of Burmese sapphires is often just slightly more violet than those of Sri Lanka.
  • Purple to violet.
  • Yellow, generally a light, straw yellow.
  • Green has been reported (U Hla Win, personal comm., 1994), but is relatively rare.
  • Six-rayed stars are common in many colors; 12-rayed stars are rare.


Burmese sapphires have been found in a variety of environments, including pegmatites, corundum syenites, gneisses and urtites. Gems are recovered from both primary and secondary deposits.


With the exception of exsolved minerals, solid inclusions are somewhat rare in the sapphires from Mogok. Zircon has been identified as rounded grains, both with and without halos, as well as magnetite (spinel group) octahedra, large single rutile prisms and pyrrhotite (magnetic pyrite) crystals. One specimen examined by the author possessed a highly corroded tabular crystal of low relief with a pale green color. This might possibly have been olivine. Other crystal inclusions reported are apatite, monazite, fergusonite and phlogopite mica.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology
Figure 44. Two views of a secret…
Two different looks at unknown red crystal inclusions in a Burmese sapphire from the Mogok area. (Photos by the author)


Negative crystals are common in sapphires from the Mogok Stone Tract, although most appear to be of secondary, rather than primary, origin. Healing fissures, in all their glory, are usually profusely distributed across the stones. These range from fingerprints with slender, worm-shaped fluid channels, to curving concentrations of angular negative crystals, some two phase in nature. At times, fluid-filled fingerprints are superimposed upon these arrangements of negative crystals, suggesting two separate stages of fracturing and healing. Characteristic are the fingerprint patterns which appear folded or crumpled like flags in the wind.

Growth zoning

The color distribution of Mogok sapphires is exceptionally even; this is one of the key differences between Mogok and Sri Lankan blue sapphires. In gems from each locality the blue hue is equally fine, but one can never get too much of a good thing and Sri Lankan stones normally contain substantial areas without color. Thus, the even coloration of Mogok sapphires gives them an intensity lacking in most Sri Lankan stones. So well dispersed is the color in the former that, in many cases, even close scrutiny while immersed in di-iodomethane fails to yield evidence of the zonal banding. In the author's experience, only with the small blue sapphires from Yogo Gulch, Montana and those from Mogok is the banding often lacking.

Twin development

Polysynthetic twinning along the rhombohedron faces is common in Burma sapphires. Often accompanying these lamellae are long white boehmite needles. Such twinning is comparatively rare in Sri Lankan stones.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 45. Although Burmese sapphires share a number of similar features with their cousins from Sri Lanka, polysynthetic twinning is generally not one. The rhombohedral twinning in the Mogok sapphire above is rather rare in Sri Lankan sapphires. (Photo by the author).

Exsolved solids

Rutile silk in Mogok sapphires is similar to that of the Mogok rubies. Compared with Sri Lankan stones, the silk tends to be shorter and more densely packed, and can be recognized by its spike or dart shapes. These needles lie in the basal plane and run parallel to the faces of the second-order hexagonal prism, intersecting at 60/120° angles.

The author has observed in certain Mogok sapphires what appears to be a second type of silk, differing from the rutile silk in several respects. Its color tends to be more brownish or yellowish than the rutile. Although it is oriented along three directions at 60/120° angles in the basal plane, these directions are offset 30° from that of the rutile, running parallel to the faces of the first-order hexagonal prism, not the second-order. Differences in shape are also apparent, with the new silk occurring as ultra-thin elongated plates of a distorted hexagonal outline. Possible identities include hematite, ilmenite, or a hematite/ilmenite intermixture, such as has been identified in Thai, Australian and Umba sapphires. Rarely, 12-rayed star sapphires have been found in Mogok. These possibly result from near-equal presence of both rutile and a second type of silk, as described above.

Again, like Mogok rubies, zoned clouds of minute exsolved particles are common in Mogok sapphires. While it seems possible that, in some cases, they are merely smaller versions of rutile silk, in others, differences between the silk and the particles can be seen. At times, the particles produce a pinkish reflection with overhead fiber-optic lighting. In others, the reflection is simply white. Apparently, like the two types of silk, there exist at least two types of exsolved particles in Mogok sapphires.

Exsolved boehmite needles are common. They differ radically from the orientation of the exsolved rutile silk, lying not in the basal plane, but instead along the rhombohedron faces, at the junctions of crossing twin planes. Their angles of intersection are 86.1/93.9°, as they follow the edges of the rhombohedron faces.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 46. Rutile silk in a Burmese sapphire from the Mogok region. (Photo by the author)

Properties of Mogok (Burma) sapphire



Color range/

  • Near colorless to rich, deep blue almost verging on the violet. Despite the stereotypical `intense blue' Burma sapphire, many Burmese sapphires are quite light in color, wholly resembling those from Sri Lanka. The blue color of Burmese sapphires is often just slightly more violet than those of Sri Lanka.
  • Purple to violet.
  • Yellow, generally a light, straw yellow.
  • Green has been reported (U Hla Win, personal comm., 1994), but is relatively rare.
  • Six-rayed stars are common in many colors; 12-rayed stars are rare.


  • Burmese sapphires have been found in a variety of environments, including pegmatites, corundum syenites, gneisses and urtites. Gems are recovered from both primary and secondary deposits.

Crystal habit

  • Unlike sapphires from most other sources, Burmese blue sapphire crystals tend to be rather tabular, consisting of short prism/pyramids with large pinacoid faces. The result is cut stones which are often flat.

RI &

n omega = 1.757–1.765; n epsilon = 1.766–1.774 Bire. = 0.008–0.009

Specific gravity

~3.95–4.10 (higher readings in darker stones)


Visible: Weak to strong Fe spectrum.


Generally inert (LW & SW). Cr-bearing stones may show a weak red under LW.

Other features

To the best of the author's knowledge, Burmese blue sapphires are not typically heat treated. This is not for lack of trying, but because the treatment secrets of this gem have yet to be unlocked. But give them time…

Inclusion types



  • Apatite (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Brookite, yellow crystals (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)
  • Dolomite (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)
  • Fergusonite (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Monazite (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Mica (phlogopite) (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Pyrrhotite (rare) (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Rutile, dark red prisms (Gübelin, 1953)
  • Spinel group (magnetite) (Gübelin, 1973)
  • Unidentified green crystal
  • Zircon (Gübelin, 1973)


  • Secondary healed fractures are quite common (unlike Mogok ruby); they take on a variety of patterns and thicknesses.
  • Fractures may be lined with reddish secondary limonite stains (Gübelin & Koivula, 1986)

Growth zoning

  • Growth zoning is not so common; occasionally broad areas of zoning are seen.

Twin development

  • Growth twins
  • Polysynthetic glide twinning on the rhombohedron

Exsolved solids

  • Rutile in dense clouds of (often, but not always) short needles, parallel to the hexagonal prism (3 directions at 60/120°) in the basal plane. Rutile is reportedly rare in yellow and green stones (U Hla Win, pers. comm., May 2, 1994).
  • Boehmite, long white needles along intersecting rhombohedral twin planes (3 directions, 2 in one plane, at 86.1 and 93.9°).

a. The above is based on the author's own extensive experience, along with published reports of Eppler (1976), Gübelin (1973), Gübelin & Koivula (1986) and Kammerling & Scarratt et al. (1994).


13. The Thai word for ruby, taubptim, also means pomegranate. [ return to chapter text ]

14. Purer in the sense that the hue position is closer to the center of the red (relative to purple and orange). [ return to chapter text ]

15. After heat treatment, Burmese rubies may contain numerous fingerprints and feathers, a result of stress-induced fracturing and subsequent healing in the oven. [ return to chapter text ]

16. It has been suggested by some that the length of the rutile needles and density of its clouds can be useful in separating Mogok and Sri Lankan rubies, but this is a test the author would not want to rely upon. [ return to chapter text ]

17. The plateau of Bernardmyo was chosen by the first British expedition to Mogok as a suitable place for a sanitarium for British troops. It was thought the climate better suited Europeans and hoped that the place would eventually develop into the Simla of Burma. Bernardmyo was christened after the first British Chief Commissioner of Upper Burma, Sir Charles Bernard (G.S. Streeter, 1887b, 1889). It was once home to the local airport, but today consists just of a small village. [ return to chapter text ]

R S end dingbat



Namsèka rubies: Salt of the earth?

One Burmese locality that has received scant mention is that of Namsèka. Located 24 km (15 miles) southwest of Mainglôn (which is just south of Mogok), in the narrow valley of the Nampai, it was described by Fritz Noetling in 1891.

At the time of his visit the deposit had apparently not been worked for some time. The exact occurrence is said to be less than 1 km northwest of the small village of Namsèka. According to Noetling, the first samples of ruby brought to the attention of the Government of Burma were of high quality and were provided by Lieutenant Daly, Superintendent of the Northern Shan States. However, Noetling spent three full days with twelve coolies working the deposit, and found not even a single fragment of ruby. Only some dark purple spinels turned up.

According to a story told to Noetling…

When the Thibaw Sawbwa sent one of his officials to Namsèka to get samples of good stones from the mines, none could be procured. The man therefore went over to Mogôk, where he purchased the stones which were handed over to the Sawbwa as "Namsèka rubies.

Noetling told the local Sawbwa about his doubts regarding ruby occurring at Namsèka. The Sawbwa proceeded to produce a plate of stones which included both rubies and other gems, with the rubies matching those of Lieutenant Daly perfectly.


In the end, Noetling had to conclude that he just wasn't sure about rubies at Namsèka. It was possible that the mine was originally salted in an attempt to sell the mining rights, but it was equally possible that the rubies occurred in irregular concentrations which would be uncovered only by sustained work at the site. Since Noetling's report in 1891, nothing more has been heard of the rubies of Namsèka…

 Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 48. Möng Hsu rubies revitalized Burma's moribund gem industry when they first hit world gem markets in the early 1990s. The above two stones, weighing 2.59 ct total, are superb examples of just what all the fuss was about. (Photo: © 1994 Tino Hammid; stones: Amba Gem Corp., New York)

Other Burma corundum localities

Gem-quality rubies and sapphires are found in a number of other areas, all of which are in upper Burma. These include:

  1. Sagyin, near Mandalay, where poor-quality rubies have been mined from the marble quarries.
  2. Thabeitkyin, along the Irrawaddy river, west of Mogok, for ruby.
  3. Yet-Kan-Zin-Taung, 50 miles (80 km) from Mandalay along the Mogok road, for ruby.
  4. Namsèka, south of Mainglôn (Möng Long), for ruby.
  5. Naniazeik, Myitkyina district, Kachin State, for ruby.
  6. Möng Hsu, Southern Shan States, for ruby.
  7. Möng Hkak, Southern Shan States, for sapphire.
  8. Nawarat (Pyinlon), Shan State, for ruby.
  9. Namhsa, 15 km north of Nawarat (Shan State), for ruby.

Sagyin Hills

In the Sagyin Hills, just 26 km north of Mandalay and 3.2 km from the Irrawaddy river, rubies were once obtained from the detritus of clay-filled hollows and fissures in the crystalline limestones. Such hollows were said to yield sapphires, spinels and amethysts, in addition to rubies (Penzer, 1922). This locality is famed for fine marble, as well.

Apparently the mines had been worked for many years. King Mindon Min was said to have obtained Rs30,000 worth of rubies in one month from an old cave-working and pit in the adjoining alluvium, which were called the Royal Loo 18 (Holland, 1898).

About 1870, the mines were under the supervision of a German engineer named Bredemeyer, who stated that stones were best when the detritus was of a yellow color. In 1873, Captain G.A. Strover, described the Sagyin rubies in the Indian Economist as being lighter in color that those from Mogok (Penzer, 1922).

According to Penzer (1922) and Chhibber (1934), a Sir Henry Hayden inspected the tract in 1895. He found the rocks to be gneisses and schists, with bands of crystalline limestone in them. The latter were considerably altered, and contained numerous minerals, including spinel and ruby overlying the crystalline limestone. Moisture moved through the joints between the limestone and surrounding rocks, dissolving the limestone and creating fissures and hollows. These open spaces later trapped the more resistant and insoluble clayey materials, including rubies.

At the time that Penzer described the deposit (1922), little work was being done and it appears that little work has been done since.

In May of 1996, the author visited Sagyin, which is mainly worked for marble. A few workers were digging into the marble for gems, but apparently having little luck.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology Figure 49. Sagyin is famous for marble, as evidenced by the large block roughly formed for a Buddha carving. At the time of the author's visit in May, 1996, a few people were also digging for rubies. (Author's photos)


Buying at the source

Before the discovery that Burmese rubies could be heat treated, the presence and relative abundance of fluid fingerprints and feathers was useful in determining whether or not a particular ruby originated from Burma. The author recalls examining large numbers of suspected Burmese rubies brought for examination. A quick look in the microscope, however, revealed numerous fingerprints and feathers. Looks of anticipation turned to frowns when told that the only thing "Burmese" about the gems were the nationality of the sellers.

In the same vein, a story regarding an acquaintance comes to mind that speaks volumes about the efficiency of modern transportation. This gentleman journeyed all the way from Bangkok to Peshawar, Pakistan for the purpose of buying Afghan gemstones. He bought several lots of rubies from Afghan refugees who had just crossed the border, eager to raise cash for purchasing weapons to drive the Russian infidels out of their homeland. Back in Bangkok I examined his purchases and was forced to relay the information that his journey had been for naught. Most of the rubies were from Thailand.

Thabeitkyin (Thabeikkyin)

Burma's Thabeitkyin area has received little notice.The following is based on the 1938 report of U Khin Maung Gyi (Gyi, 1938).

Thabeitkyin township is located on the Irrawaddy river north of Mandalay. In former years, access to Mogok was via river steamer to Thabeitkyin.

From there, the road heads east to Mogok, some 60 km away (today a road heads directly to Mogok from Mandalay).

Rubies at Thabeitkyin were reportedly mined as early as the 1870s, though no valuable stones were found until the reign of King Thebaw [1878–1885]. U Yauk, from Ye-nya-u village, is said to have found a ruby the size of a hen's egg.19 Since all large finds were considered the property of the king, the stone was duly delivered to the palace. This was how the king came to learn of rubies at Thabeitkyin, and from that point on a ruby tax was levied on the villagers of the area.

Old mining sites at Thabeitkyin are west of Wabyudaung, at Twindawgyi, Kyaukpya, Ohnbaing and Ye-nya-u Pandwin. In the 1930s, ruby was found at Kyet-saung-taung, Zaneechaung and Nyaungbintha. Kyet-saung-taung lies roughly 5 km southwest of Wabyudaung.

In addition to rubies, blue and star sapphires have been recovered from Thabeitkyin.

In recent years, several spots in the Thabeitkyin tract have been worked, mainly for spinel. Bangkok gemologist, Mark Smith, visited a locality known as "One Cock Hill" in 1998, where people were digging mainly spinels.


Corundum is said to occur at Yet-Kan-Zin-Taung village, which lies on the east side of the Mandalay-Mogok road, some 50 miles (80 km) towards Mogok, near the village of Let-Pan-Hla (U Hla Win, pers. comm., 27 June, 1994). Good-quality ruby is said to occur along with red spinels. The locality is also notable for its production of red star spinels. Mining is said to be difficult due to the rocky nature of the soil.

Naniazeik (Nanyaseik, aka Namya)

In the early 1890s, ruby was found at Naniazeik, Myitkyina district, Kachin State. Naniazeik lies some 80 km west of Myitkyina and 19 km west of Kamaing. According to Penzer (1922), Warth examined the deposit, in 1895. "He [Warth] stated that rubies, sapphires, and spinels were obtained from the detritus afforded by the disintegration of crystalline limestones surrounded by intrusive masses of granite."

The most complete description of this occurrence is that of Chhibber (1934), with Tanatar (1907), Bleeck (1908) and Hertz (1912) also weighing in with reports. Chhibber (1934) examined the deposit in the early 1890s. He described the major localities as being in the neighborhood of Mawthit and Marrawmaw. Shan women would wash for gold, while the males would work for rubies and other gems. In addition to ruby, spinel is also found. Their color was said to vary from a near-opaque, dark green to a bright, translucent red, with the latter color being rare. Metamorphosed limestones were thought to be the source of origin for both the rubies and spinels.

The author is unaware of anything published on this deposit since Chhibber in 1934. In 1996 and 1997, the author visited the village of Naniazeik. Inquiries were made about mining in the area, but little work was apparently taking place. In late 1997, gemologists George Bosshart and Thet Oo visited Naniazeik, where they were shown corundum rough, mostly pink and blue, with some small reds. Diamonds are also found in the area. A restaurant owner stated to them that the alluvial deposits north of the village were more productive than those to the south. (G. Bosshart, pers. comm., 21 July, 1999)

Figure 50. Möng Hsu rubies  
Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology
In their untreated state, Möng Hsu rubies typically display a bluish core.
Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemology Heat treatment removes the bluish core, leaving white clouds in its place.
(Photos: Tony Laughter)

Möng Hsu (Shan: Maing Hsu)

In 1991, U Tin Hlaing first reported on the occurrence of ruby at Möng Hsu. The following is based largely on his reports (Hlaing, 1991, 1993a, 1994).

Rubies at Möng Hsu were said to have been discovered by a local resident who had worked as a miner at Mogok. While bathing in the Nam Nga stream, which runs near the town of Möng Hsu, he stumbled across rubies among the pebbles on the banks. Thus began the most recent of Burma's ruby rushes. Fortune seekers flocked to the area and the population swelled from 8000, to over 30,000 at the peak of mining activity. This tapered off, however, as between April and June, 1993 the price for Möng Hsu ruby rough dropped by half (Hlaing, 1994).

Möng Hsu is one day's drive northeast of Taunggyi, (173 km by road; 83 km as the crow flies). It lies between the Nam Pang and Salween rivers. Typical of many areas in Burma's Shan States, the population of the Möng Hsu area consists of Shans in the valleys, with hill tribes (Palaungs at Möng Hsu) living at higher elevations. These Palaungs were involved in tea cultivation before the discovery of ruby (Hlaing, 1994).

Mining was initially restricted to valley alluvials, but later moved into the in-situ marble deposits in the surrounding limestone hills. Minerals associated with the ruby are flattened quartz, green tourmaline, red-brown garnet, staurolite, pyrite, and radiating acicular tremolite (Hlaing, 1993a).

In early 1994, the Burmese government was said to be considering joint ventures with foreign firms for the mining of ruby at Möng Hsu (Ted Themelis, pers. comm., Feb., 1994). Similar noises were made in 1989–90 about allowing foreigners to mine at Mogok, but turned out to be nothing but a pipe dream.

Much of the material mined at Möng Hsu makes its way into Thailand, particularly through Mae Sai. Initially the deposit has shown great promise, so much so that by the early 1990s, Möng Hsu was supplying the world with as much as 90% or more of all facet-grade ruby in sizes of 2.0 cts. and under.

But this material is not without its problems. Most of the Möng Hsu ruby is heavily fractured. Thai burners combat this by heating the stones in the presence of flux (typically borax), which heals the fractures shut. Unfortunately, the fact that this treatment was performed on virtually all rubies from this deposit was not disclosed to buyers by sellers in Thailand, leaving these customers feeling literally like they had been "burned." The eventual result was a rejection of these goods by a substantial number of buyers.

Today, this flux-healing treatment is generally known by most buyers, meaning that Möng Hsu rubies fetch prices far less than their fully natural brethren from Mogok. For a full description of the problems with Möng Hsu ruby, see the author's Foreign Affairs: Fracture Healing/Filling of Möng Hsu Ruby.

Characteristics of Möng Hsu (Burma) corundum

Since the discovery of ruby at Möng Hsu, good reports of their characteristics have been published. These are summarized in the following table on Mong Hsu rubies:

Properties of Möng Hsu (Burma) ruby



Color range/

Generally medium to deep red. Before heat treatment, crystals display cores of a blue to violet color. Such blue cores are eliminated during heat treatment. Star stones have not been reported.


Found in primary metamorphosed crystalline limestone (marble), as well as secondary deposits derived from the same

Crystal habit

Well-formed crystals consisting of pyramids/bipyramids terminated by the basal pinacoid. Development of the hexagonal prism is generally slight.

RI &

RI readings may vary depending upon the area of the crystal tested, with higher RIs found in the crystal center. It has been hypothesized that this is due to higher Cr concentrations in crystal centers.

n omega = 1.760–1.770; n epsilon = 1.768–1.778 Bire. = 0.008 to 0.009


3.97 to 4.01


Visible: Strong Cr spectrum, identical to other natural and synthetic rubies

Ultraviolet: Differences were found between the UV spectra before and after heat treatment. Heat-treated specimens showed dramatically increased transmission from 340-280 nm.

Infrared: Sharp peaks were recorded at 3189, 3233, 3299, 3310, 3368, 3380, and 3393 wavenumbers. Such peaks have not been found in rubies from other sources.


UV: Moderate to very strong red (LW stronger than SW)

Other features

Not reported

Inclusion types



Many Möng Hsu rubies possess no solid inclusions. When they are found, they tend to occur near the surface, making them rare in cut gems. Those identified to date include the following:

Apatite (Smith & Surdez, 1994)
Chlorite: Mg-rich (Peretti & Schmetzer et al., 1995)
Diaspore: in veins. These were not found in heat-treated specimens and are easily confused with glass infilling (Smith, 1995).
Dolomite: colorless, rounded to subhedral grains (Smith & Surdez, 1994)
Feldspar: plagioclase (Peretti & Mullis et al., 1996)
Fluorite: euhedral crystals (Peretti & Schmetzer et al., 1995)
Mica: white (Peretti & Schmetzer et al., 1995); fuchsite & Mg-chlorite (Peretti & Mullis et al., 1996)
Rutile: red-brown crystals (J. Koivula, pers. comm., 28 Feb., 1995)


Secondary fluid inclusions (healed fractures) are common, in a variety of patterns. Many of these result from flux-assisted healing of fractures during heat treatment. See the author's Foreign Affairs article for more information on this treatment.

Growth zoning

Straight angular growth zoning parallel to the crystal faces is present in all specimens. Irregular `treacle'-like swirls in other directions. Zoning can be extremely sharp (use shadowing illumination).
Many crystals display zoned blue cores (such areas actually alternate blue and red) at their center. Such blue zoning may also be found in other parts of the crystal. Heat treatment eliminates such blue areas.


Polysynthetic glide twinning on the rhombohedron {1011} is often present
Twinning has also been seen on the first-order hexagonal prism {1010}

Exsolved solids

Clouds of tiny exsolved inclusions of unknown identity are common. As with all exsolved inclusions, these follow the growth structure of the crystal, and are concentrated relative to the original impurity content of the crystal at that stage of growth.
Extremely fine, short rutile needles have been rarely seen

a. Information is based on the published reports of Smith (1995), Smith & Surdez (1994) and Laughter (1993a-b), along with the author's own observations. See the author's Foreign Affairs article for more information on this material.

Möng Hkak

Vague reports of a Kengtung Stone Tract have existed for years (Halford-Watkins, 1934). In 1993, U Tin Hlaing (1993b) gave specific information on a sapphire deposit in that area. Located in the Southern Shan States, 75 km east of Möng Hsu and just north of Kengtung, sapphires are said to occur in a secondary deposit associated with surrounding metamorphic (schist, gneiss) and igneous (granite, basalt) country rocks. The gems were found near the village of Wai Hpa Fai, 5 km from Möng Hkak, with ethnic Wa mining sapphire from open pits. Möng Hkak sapphires are said to have an average length of 1.5 cm, with gem-quality material being "much smaller (about 0.3 mm in size)" (Hlaing, 1993b). This description of the size of the gem material may be a typographical error, for unless larger material were forthcoming, the deposit would seem to have little potential. Blue-green bi-color sapphires are also said to be found at Möng Hkak (Hlaing, 1993b).

Nawarat & Namhsa

Kane & Kammerling (1992) reported on two additional areas where ruby has been found. Nawarat,20 also known as Pyinlon, lies in the northern Shan State, near the Chinese border; Namhsa is some 15 km north of Nawarat. Mining in this area has apparently been ongoing since 1990. Immediately after the 1991 MGE emporium, a 5.25-ct faceted ruby "of exceptional color and clarity" was shown to Kane & Kammerling. This gem was later christened the Nawarat Tharaphu, and was reportedly cut from a 9.70-ct piece of rough found on April 23, 1990 at Nawarat.

Pilgrimage to Mogok

Everyone has their own personal Mecca, their own pilgrimage to make. For myself, it has been Burma's Mogok Stone Tract. I waited patiently for over 15 years for this door to open. In April-May of 1996, it happened.

Mogok was everything I expected, and more. The town itself is no longer a small village of a few thousand inhabitants, but a bustling city. Today, the entire district probably contains 300,000–500,000 inhabitants. These consist of Burmese and Shan (Buddhist), Nepalese Gurkhas (Hindu), Lisu (Christian and Animist), along with a smattering of Muslims, Sikhs and those of Eurasian origin. The region's population has swelled tremendously in recent years, following the Burmese government's liberalization of the gem trade.

Today, urban Mogok encompasses everything from Myintada in the southwest, to On Bin, in the northeast. One valley over, the town of Kyatpyin has merged with Kathé. Many areas, which were once distinct villages, are now simply urban appendages of either Mogok or Kyatpyin.

During my trips, in addition to Mogok/Kyatpyin, I visited mines at Ah Chauk Taw, Chaunggyi, Dattaw, Inn Chauk, Inn Gaung, Lay Oo, Lin Yaung Chi, On Bin, Ongaing, Pingu Taung, Pyaung Gaung, Shwe Pyi Aye, Thurein Taung, and Yadanar Kaday-kadar.

Today, the easily-accessible valley alluvials have been exhausted, and thus mining has largely moved to hillside and hard-rock deposits. During the author's five days in Mogok, not a single twinlon was seen, with the only valley mines observed consisting of lebins.

Hard-rock mining takes place at a number of localities, including Dattaw, Thurien Taung, and Lin Yaung Chi, among others.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my journey was a visit to a loodwyin at Thurien Taung. The indefatigable Dr. Saw Naung Oo, who resides in nearby Kyauk Pyatthat, guided us through thin cracks deep inside the mountain. These represented solution cavities and fissures within the marble, and provide places for gems to concentrate. Small wooden channels have been constructed to carry the overburden and byon out for washing. While most loos consist of narrow cracks, in places these widen out into limestone caverns. Dr. Saw Naung Oo told us of one chamber at Yadanar Kaday-kadar which was nearly as big as a football field.

Another fascinating day was spent traveling to Bernardmyo. Transport was Willy's Jeep, ca. 1950, but the road was strictly 19th century ox-cart path. Indeed, while it takes 1.5 hours by jeep, one can walk it in less than six. This gives some idea of the speed of the jeep. Thankfully, while the jeep sometimes carries as many as 20 passengers, ours had only five.

Halfway to Bernardmyo is the fascinating Inn Chauk mine, where rubies are pried from beneath towering marble pillars. Due to weathering, such marble outcrops feature a black skin, and are common throughout the Mogok area.

At Pyaung Gaung, peridot is obtained by blasting in a peridotite. Bernardmyo itself is a small village inhabited by Chinese and Lisu. Nearby is a cemetery, where tombstones bear mute witness to early trials of British soldiers in this area. Most graves date from 1888–1892.

My pilgrimage to Mogok was a dream come true. It is a Mogok tradition that one wishes the owner luck when leaving a mine. Thus, to the people of Mogok I wish them luck. Kyauk gyi, kyauk gaung, yaba zay. Good luck. May the stones you find bring you as much happiness as my visit to Mogok brought me.

Mining areas and trading

While a variety of stones are found in most deposits, local inquiries revealed that certain areas are famous for a particular variety.


Locality Varieties
Ah Nauttaw Good star rubies
Balongyi Top star rubies
Dattaw Good TP rubies
Ho Mine Top TP rubies
Inn Gaung Good star rubies
Kyauk Sin Good fancy spinels
Kyauk Pyatthat Good blue sapphires
Lebin Sin Top TP rubies
Lin Yaung Chi Good TP rubies
Mainglong Tourmaline
On Bin Top red spinels; good fancy spinels
Pyaung Gaung Top peridot
Sakangyi Quartz, topaz
Shwe Pyi Aye Good TP rubies
Sinkwa Good star blue sapphires
Thurein Taung Top TP blue sapphires
Yadanar Kaday Kadar Top star blue sapphires; Good TP blue sapphires

The Mogok area also features several regular gem markets, which have certain specialties and times of operation.


Market Time Specialty
Kyatpyin town    
Cinema-hall area 09:00–11:00; 14:00–17:00 All kinds of gems from the western part of the Mogok Stone Tract
Inn Gaung 15:00–18:00 (every 5th day) Various kinds of rough
Mogok town    
Lay Oo 07:00–09:00 Small rough of all kinds
Myintada 15:00–18:00 Small rough
Peik Shwe 9:00–12:00; 14:00–17:00 All kinds of rough and cut stones. This is the biggest market in the Mogok area (3 Kyat entrance fee)
Yoke Shin Yone
(Cinema Hall)
15:00–17:00 Fine gems. Also a meeting place for exchanging information on mining and trading.
Bernardmyo village Every fifth day Peridot, enstatite, diopside and other semi-precious stones
Note: The best stones are not offered in the markets at all, but are shown to customers in private homes.


In the past few years, trading in Burma has undergone a revolution. Just four years ago, private gem trading was illegal; today, both rough and cut stones can be freely purchased by foreigners with dollars from licensed traders, with only a 10% export tax to be paid. And most importantly, such licenses are cheap and easy for locals to obtain. Thus, for the first time in over 30 years, private trading and export of gems is both simple and legal.

In a land where private business was once the sole province of the tatmadaw (military), these changes are nothing short of remarkable. Make no mistake, the tatmadaw still has their fingers in many pies, but, for the first time in decades, they are allowing others to have a taste, too.

Burma ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, corundum, gems, gemologyFigure 51. Foreign buyers examine rough jadeite at the 1992 gem emporium at Rangoon's Inya Lake Hotel. Such emporiums were once the only legal way to do business in Burma, but today trading is possible via licensed private gem dealers. (Photo by the author)

Future prospects for Burma

Production from Burma's mines has never been great, a fact consistently overlooked by those seeking to exploit the deposits. 21 Although mining methods have improved over the past few years, production remains small. This has pushed prices for Mogok rubies and sapphires to record levels. Prospects for the future appear no better than the past. While it is likely that material remains in the ground waiting to be mined, only a change in government seems destined to bring about a total revitalization of Burma's gem and jewelry industry. In the meantime, other sources, such as Thailand, and recently Vietnam, fill, to a degree, the world's appetite for ruby. This may push away the pangs of hunger, but it does not satisfy the heart's longing for the storied stones of history. Thus the world is forced to wait, with bated breath, for the day when the glowing red stones of Burma will again take their rightful place as the world's premier ruby.


18. The "Royal Loo" was also mentioned by Brown and Judd (1896), but described it as being at Bobedaung, near Mogok. It seems likely that the name was applied to any deposit that produced a "Royal" ruby.[ return to chapter text ]

19.Rubies the size of "a hen's egg" have been frequently reported in the literature. The author is still waiting to see his first fine specimen of such a size.[ return to chapter text ]

20. Literally "nine gem talisman," which is related to the nine planets of Vedic astrology. Ruby, the gem of the sun, is traditionally placed at the center.[ return to chapter text ]

21. Witness Samuel Chappuzeau, who in 1671 wrote of Burma: "Nothing comes thence but Rubies, and not in so great quantities as is believed, seeing that every year there comes not out to the value of an hundred thousand Crowns, and amongst them you'll very rarely find a Stone of four or five Carrats that is fair." [ return to chapter text ]

Further Reading

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