Since the earliest times, gemstones, because of their natural beauty and rarity have inspired covetousness, and their possession is an obvious accoutrement to the symbolic language of wealth and power, and remains so today.

The Ruby, because of its uncanny similarity to the colour of blood, acquired additional supernatural talismanic qualities, which bestowed with sacred life-blood evoked healing powers, and invincibility in battle to its wearer, especially if worn next to the heart.

Other associations are those of virginity, love and passion, while fascination with the mysterious quality of light emanating from stones was also linked to fire, which in turn lent these gems divine powers, a feature which was utilised in Buddhist architecture in Myanmar.

In ancient Hindu culture the ruby was regarded as the King of precious stones, ranked even above diamonds, a value that is reflected in modern times, where carat for carat, rubies command the higher price.

The natural balance of geological conditions required to create rubies is itself quite rare, and rubies are only found in a few precious locations around the world, but the collision of the Asian and Indian tectonic plates that gave rise to the formation of the Himalayas has created the highest abundance of rubies, and in particular, in Myanmar.

The area around the settlement of Mogok, situated to the north of Mandalay has been inhabited since around 3,000 BC, but the roots of the modern city were established in 579 AD, following the discovery of a vast ruby deposit hidden in the jungled mountainous terrain, which later became the ruby mining capital of the world, particularly for the exquisitely exceptional quality of its stones which became the most sought after of all rubies.

In the Bagan era, rubies were worn by Burmese royalty, and in following ages many of the most precious stones were incorporated as religious symbols into Buddhist shrines and stupas, many of which were later sadly raided by British troops, who regarded them only for their monetary value, during the colonial takeover.

Under British rule, the Ruby Mine Company was established to profit from Burmese rubies, during which time the local villagers were forcibly relocated when it was discovered that their village was sited upon the richest deposits. The company later fell into financial trouble due to their reliance on expensive mechanisation in such a remote area and numerous problems with flooding.

The Japanese invasion of the Second World War finally put an end to the British monopoly of Burmese rubies, an event that would also result in the restoration of Burmese Independence following the cessation of hostilities.

Rubies belong to a family of gems, which are based on the mineral Corundum, which, in its pure form is colourless, and their distinctive red colour is distinguished by the presence of chromium. Differently coloured forms of the stone, which are then known as sapphires, are also a feature of the Mogok stone tract, and the area is particularly known for its beautiful and highly valuable royal blue sapphires.

Many other semi-precious stones are also found among the ruby and sapphire deposits, including lapis lazuli, garnets, moonstones and peridots.

During the height of the Junta regime, international embargos on Burmese gems, particularly by the US, had a profound effect on trade, but many gems still found their way onto the international market through neighbouring countries, which were characteristically produced under government control employing typically harsh labour conditions, while its rulers amassed extraordinary wealth in offshore accounts.

In modern Myanmar, although Mogok is still awash with rubies, the city is now declining in importance as a source of extraordinary rubies, in which the previous unassailable quality of stones that defined Burmese rubies as of the highest standard in the world, are becoming increasingly rarely found.

The discovery in 2009 of the Montepuez deposit in Mozambique is also now producing exceptional rubies. The potential development of Ruby mining in Greenland also threatens Myanmar’s long supremacy in the ruby world.

For many years under the military rule, Mogok was entirely closed to foreigners, but can now be visited with an official permit, which is obtainable through tour operators such as ourselves. The gem markets of Mogok are full of rubies, sapphires and lapis lazuli and a host of semi-precious stones.

If you are interested in buying gems from Mogok, however, you will need to be well versed not only in the knowledge of assessing the quality and value of gemstones, but also in the subtle arts of bartering.