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Mystical Myanmar
By: Diamond World News Service
Jun 29 2015 4:51PM
Reference: 11636  

A bridge between Asia and South East Asia, Myanmar is known for its scenic beauty, ethereal cultures and traditions and most importantly, its precious gemstones. In this article, Priyanka Desai talks to Myanmar gemstones industry bigwigs to give you a lowdown of the vast mining market of Myanmar.

Myanmar has long been known as the best source for lustrous rubies in the world, gemstones whose beauty is rivaled only by the emeralds produced by the mines of Colombia.

During the Bagan (Pagan) Dynasty (1044 to 1287 CE) rubies were worn by Myanmar royalty. Some of the royal rubies were so valuable that a Chinese emperor is said to have offered a city in his own country in exchange for one of the prized gemstones.

Rubies were used in ceremonies and to adorn royal regalia, and the choicest items mined were reserved for the court. Some were sold to India and the Middle East, but many of the finest rubies and other gemstones were dedicated to the Buddhist religion.

Myanmar people follow Theravada Buddhism, which preaches the virtues of humility and living a simple life without ostentation. The gems were therefore not used for personal adornment but were encased in the htarpanar-taik, or relic chambers of pagodas and stupas. The search for these riches was one reason why more than 1000 pagodas were desecrated and destroyed by British troops at the end of the Third Anglo-Burmese War.

With few naturally occurring deposits in Myanmar, diamonds are not as economically productive as other precious stones such as rubies, jades and sapphires.

While the majority of diamonds in the world come from Africa, Myanmar has only small deposits in Mong Mit Township in Shan State, and Myeik township in Tanintharyi Division.Most diamonds in the Myanmar market come from Thailand, India, Hong Kong and Belgium.

A diamond dealer on Shwebontha Street in downtown Yangon said that gem traders come to Myanmar from India to sell diamonds, then they buy rubies, sapphires and jade to take back With them.

Myanmar diamonds are roughly classified into two types: white (or colourless) and yellowish. White diamonds are more expensive than yellow ones. Flaws on the surface of either type will reduce their value.

Precious stones the world over are measured using a unit called a 'carat', but diamonds in Myanmar are measured by dealers with a local unit called a 'rati'. One carat is equal to 1.2 rati.

“The rati, which is only used in Myanmar diamond transactions, is smaller than the internationally recognized carat, so Myanmar diamond dealers suffer losses on the international market,” said Dr Aung Htay, the owner of the Cartia diamond house in downtown Yangon.

Diamond sizes in Myanmar range from .01 to 20 rati, and the stones are graded into classes based on colour, brightness and clarity.One diamond expert in Yangon said that cut, colour and size are matters of personal taste and individual choice. Although one-rati diamonds are the most popular among customers, most people buy according to what they like and how much money they can afford to spend.

“Different people like different sizes and colours. Generally, older women like big and expensive diamonds, whereas young girls like fancy jewellery made of small diamonds. They want up-to-date and strange designs in their bracelets,” said Dr AungHtay.

Dealers recommend that customers get guarantees on any diamonds they buy to ensure their value.

“Buyers have the right to turn around and sell their stones anytime they like, so getting a guarantee is very important,” said Daw Yin Yin Mya.

According to gem shop owners, the diamond market is not very active at the moment. Sales reached their peak in 2002 but have declined since April 2003.

Despite this, diamonds remain a longtime favourite among women, many of whom dream of wearing rings, necklaces, hairpins, earrings and pendants set with the precious stones.

As Daw Yin Yin Mya, the owner of Sein Akariz diamond shop, put it, “Diamonds are the royalty of precious stones. Women who can afford them, wear jewellery decorated with diamonds on grand occasions, such as weddings and other important events. In other words, diamonds represent the standards of their wearers.”

Myanmar jade, unrivalled in quality around the world, fills its country with pride.

The English word 'jade' is derived from ijada, Spanish for ‘the stone that cures kidney diseases’. The Chinese word for jade is yu, a general term for any stone that humans utilise for their own purposes.

In Myanmar it is called kyauk sein, which literally means 'green stone'.

Jade is geologically classified into two types: nephrite and jadeite. The latter type is harder, has more lustre and is more valuable. It is found in only five countries -Myanmar, Japan, the U.S., Guatemala and Russia.

However, jadeite from the other countries cannot compare with the unique, tone, texture and translucence of that which comes from upper Myanmar.

Jade has long been used in religious rituals and as a symbol of power and wealth for emperors and dignitaries.However, many people in Asia also believe the stone holds the power to assure good health and good fortune for those who wear it as an amulet.

Despite Myanmar's status as a source of some of the most prized jade in the world, regulations are preventing the country from taking its place in the world market.

“At the moment, we must rely on the Myanmar Gems Emporium and the Gems Trading Centre (GTC) system for selling jade,” said U Nay Win Tun, Chairman, Ruby Dragon Company.

The Myanmar Gems Emporium takes place twice a year, in March and October, and affords merchants the chance to bid on precious gem lots.

The GTC is a year-round gem trading system implemented by the Myanmar Gems Enterprise in 1994.

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