It’s a ruby?! It’s a sapphire?! It’s a spinel?! It’s a ………
Purchasing a Burmese ruby is high on the to do list of many visitors to Myanmar. And rightly so considering that Myanmar’s Mogok valley is home to the highest quality, and most sought after, rubies in the world. Yet buying ruby in Myanmar is not necessarily an easy task. Since opening our first Mia Ruby shop in January, I have had a lot of discussions with customers regarding what real Myanmar ruby is, and in particular the confusion between ruby, pink sapphire and red spinel.
Part of the confusion is driven by the fact that rubies and sapphires are in fact essentially the same substance, both being comprised of a mineral called corundum. Pure corundum is actually colourless; it is traces of chemical elements that give corundum its colour. Rubies get their intense, blood red pigment from a trace element called chromium. Importantly, only red corundum stones are considered rubies. Every other colour corundum, including green, blue, yellow and white, is considered sapphire.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), one of the most respected international gemology laboratories, argues that red must be the ‘dominant hue’ of a corundum gem in order for it to be called a ruby. Importantly, colour is the most significant factor affecting a ruby’s value. GIA state that 'fine gems are a pure, vibrant red to slightly purplish red.' Pink corundum is therefore correctly classified as pink sapphire, rather than pink ruby. Yet in many countries in Asia pink sapphires are still often marketed and sold as ‘pink rubies’. This also happens in Myanmar. I frequently hear customers talk about the ‘pink rubies’ they have seen or been offered for sale. These may be very beautiful gems and they may actually also be quite high quality in terms of their clarity and cut, but they do not have a colour that deserves a ruby price tag. Buyers of these gems will also find that they will most likely not be classified as a ruby by international gemology laboratories, affecting their value and resale potential.
Another gem commonly confused with ruby in Myanmar is that of red spinel. This is nothing new, as around the world spinel been confused with ruby for centuries. Many famous rubies, including some in the British Crown jewels, have actually turned out to be spinel. It wasn’t until recent modern scientific techniques allowed scientists and gemologists to closely study the structure and composition of gems that they discovered the difference between spinel and rubies, which include different crystal structures. Myanmar produces some very fine red spinel. I am a real fan and so are our customers as we sell a lot of red spinel in our store. Part of its appeal is also that it is significantly cheaper than both rubies and sapphires, but still a very beautiful gem.
So how to tell the difference? Below are photos that compare the gems that Mia Ruby sources and uses in our jewellery. All our gems are sourced from non-military mines in the Mogok valley, and are untreated and locally hand cut. In each photo the gems on the left are red spinel, in the centre are rubies and on the right are pink sapphires. You can see how our Mogok rubies have a colour something like a nice glass of red wine, while the red spinel are a much brighter red and the pink sapphires are well, pink, not red.
Yet even when what you have found is indeed a ruby, there are also a number of other considerations to bear in mind when buying. These considerations include the difference in quality (and value) between Mogok rubies and rubies mined in other areas of Myanmar, whether the ruby you are buying is from Myanmar at all (Mozambique rubies are commonly sold across Asia) and whether the gem is natural or heat treated. But that is for another blog!