VOL. 23, #2, Summer, 2005
New Burma Ruby Auction Record, 8.01 AGL Burmese Ruby Grading Report, The Estate Business, The Purple Pearl, Auctions, Collectors Corner, In the News
New Burma Ruby Auction Record
by Robert Genis
On April 12th at Christie’s New York sale a 8.01 carat oval-cut Burmese ruby sold for $2,200,000 to an Asian private after heated bidding on the phones, setting a world auction record price for a ruby at $274,656 per carat.
The following excerpt is from the Christie's catalog:
"The Ideal Ruby Of all the countries in Asia, it is perhaps Burma that has the most valuable gem deposits. So unique are the quality elements exhibited by the rubies found here that it has emerged as the standard by which other stones are judged."
Rubies from Burma are therefore the most treasured in the world. Those over 5 carats, and in particular, ones that have not undergone any thermal enhancement are exceedingly rare. This is mainly because the famous mines of the Mogok Stone Tract are yielding fewer and fewer stones of an important size. It is also because the market has seen a diminishing number of antique ruby jewelry and old Burmese gems appearing for sale.
The 8.01 carat Burmese ruby offered for sale exhibits all the qualities characteristic in the ideal gem. It displays a pigeon-blood red color typical of old Burmese material and a strong fluorescence which makes the stone "come alive" and appear internally illuminated. In addition to this, it possesses a flawless clarity that is near impossible in stones of this size and its cut, shape and size also make it a perfect gem in every respect.
To say that this ruby is worthy of a king would be no exaggeration.
Until the middle of the 19th century, only the Sovereign of Burma or an individual deemed worthy by him would have been allowed the privilege of possessing such a magnificent gemstone. It is truly a ruby of world importance.
AN EXCEPTIONAL BURMESE RUBY RING
Centering upon an oval-cut ruby, weighing 8.01 carats, within an oval-cut diamond surround, to the pear-shaped diamond shoulders, mounted in platinum.
With report 0302588 dated 21 November 2003 from G¬übelin GemLab stating that the origin of the ruby is Burma (Myanmar) and shows no indications of thermal enhancement (NTE); accompanied by an appendix discussing the exceptional rarity of this ruby.
With report CS 37221 dated 30 August 2004 from the American Gemological Laboratories stating that the total quality integration rating is exceptional. Based on available gemological information, it is the opinion of the Laboratory that the origin of this material would be classified as Burma (Myanmar). Heat Enhancement: None; accompanied by extensive notes discussing the exceptional rarity of this ruby; and a letter discussing the exceptional rarity of this ruby.”
You can study the actual AGL document. Although we disagree with Christie’s calling this 65% red stone pigeon blood, that should only be used with stones grading 70% red at the AGL. However, the stone is free of inclusions, perfect tone with high brilliancy. Although we heard this stone was available for a much lower prices before the auction, this sale sets a new benchmark for all Burma rubies.
The Estate Business According to Ralph Esmerian
by Robert Genis
As many know, if a gem dealer or jeweler buys properly in the estate market, they can reap a profit margin typically unheard of in a normal gemstone business. It can be a wonderful source of revenue that can be similar to winning the lottery. However, if a mistake is made, it can put a large dent in your cash flow and can haunt you for years.
Gem dealer Ralph Esmerian is considered an art collector extraordinaire and a gem dealer’s gem dealer. He spoke about his views on the estate market and the gemstone industry.
Robert Genis: How would you describe the ideal estate buying situation?
Ralph Esmerian: “In a perfect world, you get an invitation to buy from an estate and you are the first one to look through the goods at the bank vault. Hopefully, the client was a prestigious older person who loved jewelry and colored gemstones. This is the best case scenario and you can probably guess the goods are as they were represented. Not always, but the odds are on your side. Barring this very unusual event, you must really protect yourself.”
RG: How would you describe the estate market today?
RE: “The thrill of buying estate colored gemstone jewelry is gone. The amount of really good fakes is at an all time high. The old days of buying unenhanced or untreated goods is gone.”
RG: Are you saying the science of deception is at an all time high?
RE: “The science of treating stones to improve them has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. The classic diamond story is the General Electric story. They found off-white diamonds and treated them so they were white. The GIA could not detect these stones. The GIA asked them how they were doing it. They refused to reveal their formula and were not forthcoming. Unlike the art market, where there are books of every famous artist’s paintings, the gemstone industry has no database. As a matter of fact, the auction catalogs are often used to deceive. Anyone can look through auction catalogs and recreate or “knock- off” the piece and make it look old. Jewelers and dealers have gotten really good at it. They have figured out how to reproduce the mounting and recut the stones to make them look old. Sometimes this recreation is obvious and sometimes it is not. Therefore, everything needs to be checked.”
RG: Have you ever made a mistake buying in the estate business?
RE: “All dealers have been cheated buying in the estate market. I once bought a ruby cabochon around 1965-1970. It was a beautiful stone and I thought it was a straight deal. It wasn’t until a much later date the I submitted the stone to a lab only to find out the stone had been heated. I was amazed to learn the stone had been messed with because I bought it such along time ago. This is a treacherous business.”
RG: Who is behind the estate business deception? Is it privates or people in the trade?
RE: “My guess is 90% of all estates come to me from other dealers. Of course, they always come with a great story about how they bought it from an important estate. Sometimes I look at the goods and simply pass because I suspect something is wrong.
The vast majority of people doing the deception are from the Far East.
They have mastered platinum design and recutting stones to make them look old. There are also a couple of houses in London that do excellent work recreating old pieces. They sell the pieces as modern and do not attempt to deceive. However, after the jewelry has been on the market for 6 months to a couple of years, they are often purposefully sold as old pieces which they are not. Occasionally, you see also really good fakes from South America.”
RG: So it is not the privates who own the jewelry who are ruining the estate market?
RE: “It is not generally the privates that have messed up the estate market. It is dealers trying to take advantage of other dealers who are responsible. Of course, they are simply motivated by greed and money. For example, the emerald market. It was not the wearing of the stones by privates that messed up the emerald market. It was the treaters who filled the goods with plastic resin that caused the prices of these goods to decrease by 50% or more. Everyone says it is the fault of the people at the mines for treating emerald. In fact, people were treating these goods in locations all over the world. We have to admit that we did it to ourselves.”
RG: Are you buying many Kashmir sapphires in the estate market?
RE: “Kashmirs are becoming rarer and rarer all the time. They are becoming almost impossible to buy. The very best Kashmirs were mined years ago. The new material does not have the cornflower blue look of the older material top Kashmirs. Today's production looks more like Ceylon sapphires.”
RG: Are you buying many Alexandrites in the estate market?
RE: “One of the most difficult stones to obtain remains the old Russian alexandrite. If you find a 5-6 carat Russian alexandrite it is a rare and expensive stone. The vast majority of these stones are quickly bought and sold to the Far Eastern markets. Plus, in the last 30 years, a great deal of synthetics were produced and sold. Most of what you see today are Sri Lankan stones and small Brazilian alexandrites.”
RG: Do yo ever see colored diamonds in the estate markets?
RE: “Most important colored diamonds go directly from estates to auction. However, when you see them from an important estate, you can
figure they are legitimate. In the last century there were major families that collected colored diamonds in California and Texas. You can find yellows, greens and blues. Interestingly, Europe and the Far East never really collected colored diamonds. In the last 30 years, when the rest of the world entered these markets this drove the price of these goods into the stratosphere.”
RG: Which laboratories do you use today when confirming your estate purchases?
RE: “In the good old days, you could use your eyes to buy merchandise. Now you need independent grading reports from major laboratories before you purchase an estate piece. The labs have the equipment to detect these treatments that you can no longer see. For example, the new fracture-filling in ruby is very difficult to detect in the field. Today you cannot buy without the expertise of a major gemological laboratory. I utilize the AGL for colored gemstones and the GIA for diamonds.”
In The News
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
For him, all that glitters is gemstones
by Praveen Menon
Professor Karanth is a fascinating Indian gemstone collector. ED
“Gems hold a fascination for many people. Among them is Professor R V Karanth who has made collecting gems his passion. The proud owner of over 10,000 world class gemstones, he has the most enviable private collection in India.Be it color, brilliance, durability or rarity of the stone, Karanth’s collection is indeed unique. This professor of geology at M S University, explains how he has classified his collection based on several criteria like type of stone, family of stone, region of origin and properties.You will find in his collection an entire box of rubies from all over the world in different shades with particulars of individual regions. Another box full of gems belonging to the beryl family includes the velvety green emerald, sea blue aquamarine, pink morganite, yellow heliodor and colorless goshenite. The precious gems are from Tamil Nadu, Orissa, among other states as well as from Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka. He has collected the gems over a period of 30 years on several trips within the country and outside. Karanth holds each stone in the sunlight and describes various properties like the ‘cat’s eye’ effect and iridescence.
"I do not talk about my collection. I do not want thieves in my home,'' he says though most of his stones are in bank lockers. ''I started looking beyond the appearance of the stone and began studying the properties systematically,'' says Karanth who specializes in the study of inclusions of gemstones under the microscope and their optical properties. ''While a Burmese ruby the size of a peanut (1 carat=200mg) could cost as much as Rs 1 lakh the similar looking synthetic stone would cost less than Rs 100,’’ said Karanth stressing that what is needed is the eye to detect the inclusions in the stone that make it priceless. He has visited several countries such as Thailand, Australia, Sri Lanka and Germany to give a detailed account of Indian gem mineral deposits and the gem industry. He was also invited by the University of Vilnius, Lithuania, to introduce the study of gemstones and set up a laboratory in that country. Karanth has written the only book on Indian gems published by the Geological Society of India in 2000. Among his favorites is an amber stone, which he says is 40 million years old and is from the Baltic region. It has a mosquito trapped in it. But his dearest possession is the carving of a fisherwomen on Chinese Jade, which he says is priceless. He has carried out intensive studies on lapidary (gem cutting) processes that have evolved in India over a period of 5,000 years. According to him Cambay is the oldest surviving lapidary center in the world. Karanth is now trying to popularize study of gemology in Indian universities and has conducted several courses sponsored by the Geological Society of India, Bangalore.
After the initial few glorious years of the gem industry, India was pushed into a corner as Belgium and Israel emerged as leading centers in the 20th century. In 1960, merchants from Gujarat found that the many stones could be cut further and be transformed into beautiful gems. These artisans had the knack for finding the usable portion and cutting and polishing tiny fragments of one milligram size or less. The gem industry in the state slowly became a cottage industry. The diamond industry flourished in Surat, Navsari and Bhavnagar. More than 50% of the world’s diamonds are now cut in India. The industry has spread to Cambay, Palanpur, Ahmedabad and Vadodara. The quality of cut stones are comparable to those produced in Israel and Belgium.”
May 12, 2005
Gemstones forever: A curse or blessing?
By Bilham Kimati
This fascinating article is written from a third world miners perspective. ED
“An estimated one million people in Korogwe wallow in abject poverty, despite the district being abundantly blessed with large mineral deposits.And we can authoritatively report that, after Tanzania became a high priority investment destination following the discovery of large deposits of high quality gold, tanzanite, diamonds, sapphire and many colored gemstones, the amount of minerals clandestinely shipped out to international markets could be higher than previously estimated because of lack of an effective monitoring system. Investigations by The Guardian found that smugglers are preying on the ignorance of artisanal miners to rake in millions of shillings, leaving the over 2000 residents of the village who do the donkey work in misery. Interviewed, some miners in the mineral-rich Kigwasi village said the wily brokers, who pay them a pittance in comparison with the prevailing market rates, have exacerbated their impoverishment. Once again, the searchlight exposed the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) for failing to keep the tabs on the movement of minerals out of the country, thereby denying the exchequer revenue worth billions of shillings. The small-scale miners blamed their plight on the indifference of TRA, which despite having been informed of exploitation by middlemen, has not acted to curb smugglers insurmountable appetite for minerals.
Kigwasi has large deposits of sapphire, ruby, emerald and a myriad of other precious and colored gemstones. Comparing the official prices provided by Dr. Peter Kafumu, Senior Geologist and Communication Officer at the Ministry of Energy and Minerals headquarters in Dar es Salaam with those offered by brokers at Kigwasi, it is apparent that brokers grossly underpay artisanal miners. Kafumu said a carat (the equivalent to 0.2 gm) of alexandrite, for example, sells between 40,000/- and 50,000/- across the country. The price of ruby falls within the same range, said Kafumu. But, no one is willing to pay that amount of money here. We are paid between 10,000/- and 20,000/- per carat depending on the quality of the gemstone, a miner from Moshi, Akeri Kimicho, 29, said. The miners are optimistic, though, that the situation will improve when the government allocates them mining quotas and in the process be able to control the quantity of mineral mined. The small-scale miners also blamed the government for preferential treatment of foreign investors.Look over there. The nice buildings you see across the border belong to a Thai mining company. The government allocated them with the most productive portion of the mining area. They have become ruthless and can shoot anybody who dares to cross the boundary they have set, Gao Makoche, a Lindi resident, complained. Reached for comment, Acting Commissioner for Minerals Omar Chambo criticized the miners for collaborating with smugglers to deny the government billions of shillings in revenue. Chambo vehemently denied the allegations of preferential treatment of foreigners, saying the majority of the artisanal miners were not ready to apply for both prospecting and mining licenses. Commercial miners have the machines to do the job better and the results are always better, Chambo said. However, the commissioner was optimistic that the newly devised community education strategy, in addition to strengthening the co-operation between Zonal Mining Officers and the TRA would improve the earnings of small-scale miners.But as the miners and government officials haggle over which mining method is best, consignments of uncut gemstones locally known as lumbesa are being exported clandestinely to Kenya through the Horohoro border point and numerous other panya routes. Although appears dormant, Horohoro is a busy mineral market. Some of the dealers are civil servants and police officers. The minerals - ruby, sapphire, rhodolite and other gemstones - are shipped across the border disguised as bags of maize flour. Minerals are sold cross the border in viroba (big parcels). I wonder why it is so difficult for authorized dealers to open a shop right at the mining site to control smuggling, wondered Lameck Soi, 69, a retired schoolteacher and resident of Horohoro. Soi said Tanzania has undergone rapid change from being a low-priority country for mineral resources, to a high-priority region, where interest in gold, diamonds and precious stones is the focus of both foreign and local companies. “Continued loss of revenue in what is regarded as less important gemstones cost the nation dearly. I have seen a number of individuals becoming extremely rich through the disregarded Kigwasi mining site. We need a change now,” Soi said. The plight of small-scale miners exposes the quandary the mining sector has plunged into after privatization of the industry. It is believed that the quantity of the minerals mined in Kigwasi went up after the government turned over the industry to the private sector. But Chambo insisted, there are many authorized dealers. The mineral department has established zonal offices near the mining fields to handle issues to do with marketing and pricing. Most miners go through brokers for two major reasons: to hide the quantity of the minerals and because most of them do not have mining licenses. The national mining policy enacted in the late 1980s to end the State Mining Company (Stamico) monopoly allows any Tanzanian to register to own a mine and sell minerals. The liberalization of mining has brought poverty alleviation to rural areas in the 1990s on a scale far surpassing the impact of donor-funded job creation. Two major problems arise on the control of revenue and rapid depletion of the resources. The Guardian recently visited Kigwasi mining area, about 40 kilometers northeast of Korogwe town in Tanga Region and witnessed how ruby, sapphire and rhodolite among other gemstones, are spirited out of the village without government officials as much butting an eyelid. The mineral fields are a desolate plain that is characterized by stumpy hills and shallow valleys, thorny bushes and sandy soils. It is in these bushes brokers and miners rendezvous to cut deals, villagers said. Unregulated mining, besides the dangers it poses the lives of the miners, has become a serious environmental threat, thanks to the numerous scattered open holes in the sprawling village. “The brokers move around with the weighing scales I suspect have already been tampered with to cheat us out of our labored wealth,” Zadock Ngocho, 32, a Singida resident, said. In spite of the blatant exploitation, Ngocho said the brokers were ‘tolerable devils' because, “They pay instantly. One does not need to travel to Tanga to sell the minerals.” “In this jungle, we opt for a quick buck, even if it is kiasi cha mboga (a pittance) to keep us going,” another miner, Mustafa Zunga, 42, added. “Knowing that we need the money and that we have no time to bargain or travel to Tanga to sell the gemstones, the brokers descend on us like eagles and we are forced to accept whatever they offer. The buyers come from as far as Kenya,” Zunga said.”