Know Everything About Gem dealers urge boycott of
rubies from Myanmar Merchants condemn
Tribune , Nov 18, 2007 by Mick Elmore
YahooTechnoratiRedditPrintRecommend0BANGKOK, Thailand -- The rich
red hue of Myanmar's prized rubies is a reminder to many gem dealers
of the military government's bloody crackdown on democracy advocates,
and talk of a boycott is increasing.
a growing awareness that it is a fascist regime," said Brian
Leber, a third-generation American gem dealer.
what this regime has done to its own people, we're troubled to see
that a precious stone is offering such a great source of cash for
them," he said in a telephone interview from the Chicago suburb
of Western Springs, Ill.
these stones supports human rights abuses," New York- based
Human Rights Watch said in a statement this week. "The sale of
these gems gives Burma's military rulers quick cash to stay in
power." Myanmar is also called Burma.
successful boycott of what activists call "blood rubies"
will prove difficult. More than 1,500 people from more than 20
countries registered for a gems auction that opened Wednesday,
despite the boycott calls. While some rubies are exported legally,
many also are smuggled out of Myanmar.
The ruby trade
puts money in the junta's pocket, since it controls mining
concessions, but the scale of the profit is hard to assess. Secrecy
shrouds both the gem trade and the country as a whole.
Myanmar introduced an annual gem auction, and starting in 1992 the
sale was held twice a year. In more recent times, a special third
auction has been held each year.
has taken other steps to increase earnings, including an effort to
cut smuggling. The country's New Gemstone Law, enacted in 1995,
allows people in Myanmar to mine, produce, transport and sell
finished gems and jewelry at home and abroad -- as long as they pay
tax, which smugglers don't.
are trafficked as rough stones. They are dug out of mountainsides in
the Mogok and Mong Hsu areas of northeast Myanmar. From there, they
are carried on a long, perilous journey over mountains, through
jungles and insurgent-prone areas, changing hands several times on
their way to Thailand.
rough stones are heat-treated with chemicals at high temperature for
long periods to bring out the brilliant color and clear away small
cut and polished, the gems are sold to foreign wholesalers, who
distribute them to jewelers around the world.
determiner of the final price is the success of the heat enhancement.
If done improperly, the process can split a stone and make it almost
worthless; done right, a ruby can become more expensive per carat
than a diamond.
The best large
stones fetch millions of dollars. Christie's auction house, on its
Web site, lists a ring set with an 8.62 carat ruby which sold for
$3.6 million -- a record per-carat price of $425,000 -- in February
majority, however, are stones of up to 2 carats that miners in
Myanmar sell for just a few dollars. They end up in jewelry shops
with price tags ranging from a few hundred to several thousand
bypasses the state-owned Myanmar Gem Enterprise, which oversees the
industry and runs the gem auctions in the city of Yangon.
Gem Enterprise said it generated sales of nearly $300 million in
fiscal 2006-07, according to Human Rights Watch.
The agency did
not respond to questions from The Associated Press sent by e-mail.
Bangkok estimate the generals earn at least
annually from gems, but some say the amount could be as high as 10
figure, a growing number of dealers want to deny the junta any
windfall from rubies.
sanctions will be fraught with problems, particularly since as many
90 percent of
the world's rubies come from Myanmar. Most go to the United States,
Europe and Japan. Myanmar also exports jade, sapphires and pearls.
would almost have to ban
the trade in rubies altogether for the embargo to work, said
P.J. Joseph, a teacher at the Asia Institute of Gemological Sciences,
a school and lab in Bangkok.
are stacked against the embargo working. The generals are pretty used
to divide and rule, and it will be difficult to get all countries
involved. China, India and Southeast Asia are the key," he said,
adding that these would probably not join.
Silverberg, who owns AJS Gems in Bangkok, said an embargo hurts all
the mom-and-pop businesses in the industry.
amount of money the generals get from gems is minuscule compared to
the money they get elsewhere. The generals don't give a damn, they
have all the money in the world," he said.
said those pushing the boycott "are just trying to make
themselves feel good. But we're starving the people, not the
generals. I feel bad for the Burmese people."
America supports the ban on Myanmar rubies, advising its more than
11,000 members to "to source their gemstones in a manner that
respects human rights," the group's president, Matthew A. Runci,
said in a statement released last month.