RUBY

RUBY

Are Rubies Rare?

Rarity is what many gem hunters are looking for—a highly valued, and unique piece of stone that sets itself apart from everything else on the market. Who wouldn’t want that? And as one of the four precious stones—along with sapphire, emerald, and diamond— Ruby can fetch a fortune, with some of the priciest gemstone auctions ever centering on the rarest blood red-to-pink gems the world has to offer. On the other hand, odds are that most retailers have some ruby on hand for the average buyer, so how rare can it be? The short answer is that not all ruby is equal, and the most expensive pieces are those that are hardest to find.

Historically, the Mogok Valley in Myanmar (formerly Burma) gave the gem trade the majority of the ruby that was sold around the globe. On top of producing various shades of the mineral corundum, from red rubies to blue sapphires, the “Valley of Gems” also yielded the rare and fabled “pigeon’s blood” ruby, a variation which possesses a rich red saturation and an undertone of blue. Centuries of hand-mining the tunnels in the country, however, has led both to a natural depletion of ruby in Mogok’s deposits, as well as in the marketplace. 

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Cavalier has been lucky enough to visit the Mogok region to see first hand a lot of Myanmars ongoing mining activity, gem production and cutting in the local marketplace, and chat with locals about the state of Ruby mining in general. Ruby mining is the biggest economic driver for the local people, and is the main source of seemingly everyone’s livelihood in Mogok and the surrounding regions.

While Mogok ruby has become more uncommon a find, a boom in production in Mozambique over the last decade has put plenty of red gemstones in the hands of collectors. Since 2009, shaft mining operations in Montepuez have unveiled some exceptional pieces of gem-quality ruby. But some have argued that the higher iron content in these deposits have made these African rubies less fluorescent that what had been found in the Mogok Valley. Factoring in colour, carat weight, and rarity between the two kinds of ruby, stones from Myanmar still tend to be valued higher.

Size also comes into question when determining the rareness of a ruby. It’s not uncommon to find smaller pieces of ruby, usually under a carat, whether loose or set in jewelry. It can still be expensive, depending on clarity and hue, but it’s not impossible to find. Once you start looking at pieces above a carat, and especially over five carats, the price begins to soar because of the relative improbability of finding fine quality rubies of this size. Just take the Sunrise Ruby, a monolithic 25.59-carat "pigeon blood" ruby that sold at auction in 2015 for a record $30.42 million USD: The bigger the ruby, the steeper the price. Check out a few of the most expensive rubies ever sold. 

The world’s third-biggest precious stone, the Chaiyo Ruby, weighs 109,000 carats // © Dawid Wapenaar © Getty Images

The world’s third-biggest precious stone, the Chaiyo Ruby, weighs 109,000 carats // © Dawid Wapenaar © Getty Images

Ruby can often out-price diamond in the marketplace, especially fine gem quality Pigeon’s Blood from Myanmar, and is now one of the rarest and most prized in the business. Depending on its geography, colour range, or quality, it has always been a highly touted piece for any gem collectors arsenal.

The biggest bling in the world

The biggest bling in the world

Whether you're looking online or at a store, you're bound to find diamonds of all shapes and sizes, but what about out in the wild? Gem deposits all over the world have been uncovering rough stones for centuries, and production has been going strong ever since, but the thing is, much of what is discovered  tends to weigh in at less than a carat. Rarer are the specimens that positively dwarf the average size. In light of the recent discovery of the largest diamond in North America, here are some of the greatest finds that have gemologists and jewelers gobsmacked.

North America's newest stunner 

First things first: the most recent stunner of a find is a massive 552 carat yellow diamond unearthed in October of 2018 at the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada's Northwest Territories, roughly 215 km south of the arctic circle. Amazingly, the dazzling, chicken egg-sized piece of yellow diamond weighs close to three times more than the previous record-holder, the 187 carat Foxfire diamond, which was found in the Diavik Diamond Mine in 2015. Plans for the as-yet unnamed yellow diamond have yet to be revealed, but it will eventually be cut and polished for future sale. It could be noted, however, that the creamy and phosphorescent Foxfire was later fashioned into a pair of pear-shaped earrings and sold for $1.5 million.

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The majestic Cullinan diamond

While a record was just smashed in North America, the Cullinan diamond, discovered at the turn of the 20th century, still reigns as the largest gem-quality diamond ever. The stone was found in the town of Cullinan, South Africa on January 26, 1905—both the gem and town were named after the mine chairman, Thomas Cullinan. When first plucked from the mine, it weighed a gargantuan 3,106.75 carats. It was originally believed to be crystal and worthless, but was quickly re-evaluated due to its blue-white beauty and clarity. 

The Cullinan was later broken down, principally, into nine gems. Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa, weighs 530.4 carats, and is the largest clear cut diamond in the world; it's mounted on the head of the Sovereign's Sceptre and sits among the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Also part of the collection is the Cullinan II, or Second Star of Africa, which weighs 317.4 carats and rests within the Imperial State Crown. The remaining seven segments, cumulatively weighing 208.29 carats and set within various brooches and rings, are privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II; she also possesses the rough fragments of the Cullinan.

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Lesedi La Rona: the largest uncut diamond until recently

Since the Cullinan was eventually shaped down from over 3000 carats into a series of stunning pieces, the largest piece of uncut diamond was the Lesedi La Rona, an awe-inspiring colourless diamond that sat at a still hefty 1,109 carats. It's a more modern discovery, having been plucked from the Karowe Mine in Botswana on November 16, 2015. While initially named the Karowe AK6, after the mine, a public competition was held to rename the gem. Lesedi La Rona translates to  "Our Light" in the Tswana language, a fitting title for the beaming piece of raw, Botswana diamond. It was sold off in rough form in the fall of 2017 for $53 million USD to Graff Diamonds, who have recently cut two D-colour, flawless diamonds, of which one is a cushion-cut, 6.06ct and the other an oval-cut, 11.12ct. There are approximately 30 other newly cut diamonds from this piece of rough that will all feature the trademark “Lesedi La Rona” name with an inscription on each of the new diamonds.

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What is true Padparadscha Sapphire colour

What is true Padparadscha Sapphire colour

Sapphires are inarguably most well-known for possessing a potent, peacock blue hue, but it's by no means the only colour available within this diverse family of gemstone. One of its most striking variations may actually be its most rare: the Padparadscha sapphire. This is one of the most highly sought after sapphires that almost all fine gem collectors will appreciate. 

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The vast majority of Padparadscha has been mined in Sri Lanka, with its name taken from the Sinhalese word for "aquatic lotus blossom". Like that flower, the Padparadscha sapphire's colour saturation floats between light pink and light orange. Some would compare Padparadscha to having an overall salmon-colour, though these stones tend not to be evenly coloured, often with certain zones of the gem taking on more pink properties than orange, and vice versa.

Like many gems, clarity is key when grading Padparadscha. Stones that appear eye-clean, with little to no inclusions, will be more valuable. And because of the pastel shade of a Padparadscha sapphire, flaws can make the gems appear cloudier than other forms of sapphire. That said, being that true Padparadscha colour is so rare, it may be hard to track down one that is flawless or perfectly clear. 

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While it's true that, traditionally, Sri Lanka has provided the world with the most  Padparadscha, more recent deposits in Madagascar and Tanzania have shifted the marketplace. There are slight saturation differences between the stones regions, though, with Madagascar-derived Padparadscha taking on more pink than orange. Similar sapphires from Tanzania’s Umba Valley region, meanwhile, refract more orange, and even shades of brown. For these reasons, the richer pink-and-orange saturation of the Sri Lankan gems are heralded as "true Padparadscha," and are valued much higher than their counterparts.

No matter their origin, the scarcity of these sapphires, especially if found over two carats, means that buyers will be paying for Padparadscha at a premium—with price points not uncommon to the finest blue sapphire. Whether rough cut or heat-treated, the highest-quality of Padparadscha could potentially yield tens of thousand dollars per carat and up. 

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Hidden amongst the dense streets, in a small enclave, is Chinafort, the jewel of Sri Lanka’s global gemstone industry. Just minutes removed from the oceanside town of Bentota, this walled neighbourhood is where the action happens.  

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Its residents are predominately Muslim and gemstones are traded daily - with the exception of Fridays when prayer takes precedence over business.  Otherwise, it is a constant, bustling marketplace where many of the worlds sapphires make a brief stop before moving on to broader markets. 

In addition to the thriving marketplace, gem cutting factories and heat-treating facilities are nearby. Gem brokering takes place anywhere two people can find the space to negotiate; crowded office spaces, on street corners, in alleyways, and even on tiny, plastic tables set up specifically for this purpose.

However, the most established gem-cutters - the ones with the inside track on fine sapphires and direct access to the mines of Ratnapura - are tucked away in gorgeous Sri Lankan style villas or larger residences on the side streets in Chinafort.

Emanating from these villas is prime inventory which flows regularly between Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe by way of in-house brokers (usually a family member) hosting a constant rotation of showings to private clients. 

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Depending on the time of year, inventory levels fluctuate greatly. For example, during monsoon season mining slows dramatically, leading the pace of cutting production to decline substantially. 

Outside of the villas, the main gem market of Chinafort is where lower to medium quality gemstones can be purchased; either by the parcel for recutting, or by the single stone as needed.   This type of buying takes patience. If you’re hoping to find premium goods, or you’re looking for something really specific, your best to seek out the assistance of a trusted local or broker.  

It can be extremely difficult to get a feel for who has the best selection and quality on a particular day. Therefore, searching for specifics gems in a place this hectic is incredibly time consuming and take hours, days, or even weeks.

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Outside of town, about 3 hours depending on how fast your local drivers drives, is the town of Ratnapura. This place is a Mecca for rough sapphires, polished gem-trading, and basically anything sapphire related as the mines are all located in nearby mountains, rivers, and tunnels.

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A typical day in Ratnapura starts early in the morning at one of the rotating rough gem markets around town. Depending on the time of day, the focus then shifts to various offices and cutting factories. By late afternoon, it’s essential to have an office with direct daylight on one of the busiest gem market avenues for the best opportunity to grade, select, and buy the sapphires passing by.

On the outskirts of Ratnapura, into the hills by way of dirt roads steeped alongside the odd Tea Plantation, are the mines themselves. Typically, it’s easier to see the mine owner in town to buy their gems but, on occasion, it’s worthwhile to visit them in person and see what’s been dug up over the previous few weeks. The mines we toured were river bed mining and shaft mining - almost 100 metres deep - which leave the least environmental footprint of any type of operation.

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Buying direct can save money if everything works out accordingly, but the risk often outweighs the reward.  Taking the time to properly assess the sapphires in a comfortable and pressure-free environment in these parts isn’t always an option.

What to look for when buying a gemstone

What to look for when buying a gemstone

When you're in the business of handling gems, you need to have a pristine idea on which stones are precious and which ones are just pretty.  At Cavalier, the most important factor to keep in mind when taking stock of an oceanic sapphire or eye-catching emerald is the colour. It sounds simple enough, but it takes a keen attention to detail to properly assess the richness and colour depth within the gem.

After sorting through a parcel and taking hold of a single stone, one of the first things to determine, aside from the colour, is the clarity of the gem as-is. Does the stone's pure colour sparkle through at every angle, for instance, or is there windowing, where white backing seen through the other side of the gem reduces its overall brilliance? Taking a close look with a loupe is the next step to answering questions on a particular gem, like whether recutting a piece can provide even more colour saturation or lighten it up, but there's more to consider before we put a stone up for sale. 

The quality and price of a ruby, sapphire or emerald often correlates to where it came from. Colombian emeralds, for instance, are treasured for their uniquely rich colour range, and that perfect sparkle comes at a premium. The reputation of a mine doesn't only come from their product, though, as fair working wages, professional working conditions, and political stability also factor into price. Additionally, other buyers from around the world are often looking for the same gems, which means the price paid for a gemstone can vary simply based on supply and demand.

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Lastly, one major factor that sometimes goes under the radar is the relationship with the supplier. In the gemstone business, the people (or companies) that pays the quickest, can usually receive better service, selection, and price. If a gem cutter is able to get a quick return on the inventory, secure his payroll expense or operating costs, and focus their attention back toward running their business in general, there’s real value in allowing them to do that by simply paying quickly.