Rubies of Burmese origin have long been considered the finest in the world. The so-called "Pigeon Blood" colour of the most exquisite among them, an extremely saturated red that almost seems to glow due to the fluorescence of the stone, is legendary amongst gem connoisseurs. The source of these gems, the Mogok Stone Tract of northern Burma, has been known for over 800 years. The following three jewels (lots 462, 463 and 464) are set with fine examples of these celebrated gemstones.
Rubies of this origin first came to the attention of Europe at the beginning of the 15th Century though their existence had initially been corroborated in legendary fashion by the 13th Century explorer, Marco Polo. Numerous reports from other travellers described the sumptuous treasures of the Burmese royals.
Amongst the Europeans, the English have played the most integral role in the history of Burma. In the third quarter of the 16th Century, they began extensive exploration of this region as a precursor to the founding of the British East India Company in the late 1500s. The actual conquest of Burma was initiated by the first Anglo-Burmese war of 1824-6, which started as a result of border disputes with British-ruled India. This led to the ceding of several cities to the British East India Company. The second Anglo-Burmese war in 1852-3 in addition to several commercial disputes in 1885 provided the British with an excuse to not only take over the southern city of Pegu, but also to appropriate the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma.
Under the British aegis, the Burma Ruby Mines were created. They were managed by a conglomerate of the London Rothschilds and jeweller Edwin Streeter. Due to much speculation, there was a frenzy when shares of the Burma Ruby Mines were floated in the British capital. Overly optimistic expectations of ruby production combined with unanticipated difficulties related to infrastructure eventually led the Mines to declare bankruptcy in 1931. At this juncture, the mines returned to the local population.
In 1962, the military coup of General Ne Win started the Burmese on a path of seclusion from the rest of the world. The year 1969 saw the nationalisation of the mines. The reduced output of the rubies and
other gems was auctioned annually in Rangoon.
Due to anti-government riots in 1988, the stringent economic controls
imposed by the government since the sixties have been loosened, joint ventures in mining between the private sector and the government have been initiated and the export tax for gems has been reduced to 15
Burma's turbulent history throughout this century has only served to make the superb rubies it produces all the more valuable and coveted. The "pigeon-blood" hue continues to be considered among the most exquisite traits in the world of gems. Proof of this lies in the fact that, other than coloured diamonds, no other gemstone enjoys such elevated prices per carat.