By Robert Genis

The following interview is with a Burmese gem dealer. Due to the fact he fears the Burmese government (SLORC), the interview was performed under strict conditions. First, since this publication is posted on the internet, the interview would have to be anonymous. Second, any questions regarding the political situation in Burma or any questions which the Burmese Government could utilize to discover his identity were strictly off limits. Remember, it is illegal to own a computer or fax in Burma. Although SLORC has internet access and a web page, the citizens of Burma do not enjoy such privileges.

Gemstone Forecaster: Why did you decide to specialize in the US market?

Burma Connection: When I was in the university, before I came to the US, I read the Lapidary Journal and articles from the quarterly issue of Gems and Gemology by the GIA. I saw gem and jewelry advertisements from the United States. So I concluded the colored gem market would be in the United States. The other thing is the US is a consumer market for any merchandise; you know, cars, TVs. Somebody, they manufacture something, they like to import to the US. That's why I decided to go to the US and find a market.

GF: So you didn't even consider Europe or Japan?

BC: No. You think my decision is correct?

GF: I do, I think the markets are smaller in Europe and Japan has been in big trouble for years, so I think your decision was correct.

GF: Tell our subscribers what it is like trying to buy gems in Burma.

BC: In Yangoon most of the stones are cut stones and in Mogok most of them are rough. But either in Mogok or in Yangoon we seal them when we deal with the stones. Suppose I want to sell to you, I ship to you and sometimes you ship to your customer. We never do business like this. Either the owner or a broker will show me the stone. If I am interested, I make an offer. If he wants to think about it or the broker wants to talk to the owner, what we have to do is seal it. We close it.

GF: Do you seal the gem papers with wax or with tape?

BC: I seal the gem in the paper with tape, sometimes I sign it, sometimes no, but I write down how much I offer. That means if they decide to sell, suppose I bid $10,000 and they think about it and they want to sell for $10,000, I have to buy it. I have an obligation to buy it. When I seal the stone, they are not supposed to show it to anybody else. They say it is...something...not rude, but it is not done, everybody understands that. That means it is his stone, but he is not supposed to show to anybody else, because we are dealing business. And if they want to sell, I have to buy at this price, if I bid $10,000, I cannot say, "No, $8,000." I cannot take off. After buying the stone, there is no refund, no exchange, no down payment. When I buy the stone, they understand I am to pay in a few days. We don't use checks, they only take money.

GF: Do the brokers come back every time and say the owner has said no?

BC: Yes. I spend a long time looking at the stone, and if I like, I decide the price, I bid a price.

GF: Do you have to spend a long time negotiating when you find a gem you want to buy?

BC: I don't want to spend a long time negotiating. If the bid is sealed, there is a twenty four hour limit.

GF: Who are your competitors?

BC: My competitors are mostly from Thailand and Europe, no Japanese.

GF: Are the Thais buying for the Japanese and the Americans and the Europeans?

BC: Yes, Thais buy and cook the stones and they sell all over the world.

GF: How many gems do you usually look at before you buy one?

BC: I buy whatever stone is good for the United States market. If quality is good, I buy it if the price is reasonable. So people show me a lot of stones, some of them I don't like. Some stones I like so I make offer. If they can sell, I buy, otherwise, I don't buy. I cannot buy. So I see hundred stones to buy 10 stones, so one in ten. The thing is I can see as many as I want, I can see thousands of stones, but the dealers, the brokers know what I like, so they only show me stones they think I will like.

GF: Are you the only dealer looking for Mogok Burma, no-heat?

BC: No, not only me, other people also. But in America, I am the only Burmese who specializes in unheated Mogok Burma stones. I don't do any diamonds, emeralds, or Mong Hsu ruby. In Burma, a lot of people, the purpose to come to Burma is they want to buy natural stones. If they want to buy heated stones, they buy in Bangkok.

GF: Is there a cooking or burning industry in Burma?

BC: A few people do this but they are not successful. They cook but the result is not good. They go to Mong Hsu, but the quality is not as good as Thai people do.

GF: So all the material you look at in Burma is not heated?

BC: No heat.

GF: Burma gems usually get cooked when they arrive in Bangkok?

BC: Yes.

GF: When does it rain in Mogok? Do these monsoons stop the mining of ruby and sapphire? Do they mine in Mogok twelve months a year?

BC: It depends on the mine and the mining method. Most of the mines are stopped by the monsoon rains. But some mines, when it is raining they are happy because they need water. They need water to wash the gem gravel, they need water to pump up the gravel. With water they can easily dig the gravel. A few mines, they need water, so they work in monsoons only. But most of the mines, they have to stop mining. The monsoons start in June and go through September.

GF: Do you want to explain what a natural is and why all Burma rubies and sapphires seem to have them?

BC: When corundum was formed eons ago, rubies and sapphires were intruded by foreign particles, foreign materials, and foreign minerals. Corundum is intruded. During the alluvial process the foreign materials are softer than ruby and sapphire so they wash away. When the rough crystals are found, there are small holes or indentations in the crystal structure. These are the naturals you see after the stone is faceted.

Other stones such as Thailand stones have no naturals because they clean all of them. The Burmese don't want to clean all of it because it is Burma stone. You have to remember that unheated Burmese ruby and sapphire are rare and expensive. They are not like Thai ruby. Just as long as you don't see too many naturals on the top it is okay.

GF: So the owners of the rough material instruct the cutters to save weight and hide the naturals on the back of the gem?

BC: Long time ago, we sell the stones with naturals on the back; they don't mind, the buyers don't mind. Some people like Burmese naturals because it is used as an identifier of natural unheated Burma Mogok material.

GF: What can you tell us about Burma spinel in Mogok?

BC: I see Burmese spinel in Burma- red, pink, purple, green and blue spinel. Some blue spinels are very beautiful, the blue is different from sapphire, it is greenish blue, sometimes I cannot tell if it is green or blue.

GF: Do you ever see any green spinel that looks like emerald?

BC: No, not that green, dark green. It doesn't look good.

GF: Are gem quality star rubies and sapphires rare?

BC: Yes, especially star rubies. Thai people buy and cook and they remove the silk and they cut into a faceted stone. So it is hard to buy.

GF: Does the Burmese government make it difficult for you to be a gem trader?

BC: Since 1990s it is easier to do business in gem trade. The government lets the people do business freely. Before, 1962 to 1990, it was an illegal business.

GF: And now its legal and they want you to buy and sell?

BC: In Burma, you can freely buy and sell among the Burmese people. And for foreign markets, you can buy in US dollars.

GF: Do you have to pay taxes and fees to the government?

BC: I buy in US dollars and the owner has to pay a 10% tax to the government. I buy only from the license holders, I cannot buy from any dealer. The license holders have the right to sell in US dollars and the right to legally carry. I cannot buy from Mr. B or Mr. A, I can buy only from a licensed holder. He pays tax to Burma government, but I have to buy in only foreign currency, not Burmese currency. If I buy with Burmese currency, I can not export. Only if I buy in foreign currency from this license holder, I can export.

GF: What is the Burmese currency?

BC: The Burmese currency is kyat. With this Burmese currency, I cannot export.

GF: So the Burmese government wants foreign currency and they want the taxes from it?

BC: Yes, the owner has to pay taxes, I don't have to pay taxes. But the owner, he charges me more of course, the ten percent.

GF: You have been doing this for three years. Do you think the prices are lower or higher in Mogok?

BC: The price is definitely higher, because more foreigners come now and buy . The production is lower, so the price is higher. Production is low compared to three years ago and really low compared to ten years ago. When I started, a long time ago, the mine owners told me the stones are getting rare. Before this a lot of stones came out, now they are rare. They told me that fifteen years ago. And now, when I compare the situation today, fine gems are very rare still. Fifteen years ago I could find a lot of nice stones. Two carats were very easy to find at that time. One carat were very, very easy. You could find three carat also. But now, two carats are very hard to get.

GF: Three carat unheated Burma ruby is really hard to find now?

BC: Two carats are very hard to get. Three carats are practically impossible.

GF: Many of my subscribers are collecting Mogok Burma ruby and sapphire. What do you think they should be collecting?

BC: If you want to collect, I recommend collecting unheated gems. It is not available easily.

GF: One carat and larger?

BC: Yes, one carat and up.

GF: Do you know what percentage prices are up in the last three years?

BC: Twenty to twenty-five percent.

GF: Thank you.


An interesting new gemstone program has been created by Peter J. Wennerholm of Sweden. PC Gemologist was designed for Windows 95 and for Windows NT. The current version number is 1.15. It requires 4 MB of hard disk space, and works best on a system with at least 8 MB memory and a 486-66.

Gemstone Identification
The main program of P C Gemologist is the Gem Identifier. This internal database contains some 440 varieties of gemstones, ornamental stones, and fakes. If you have a stone that you cannot identify, you can describe as many as fifteen test variables. The Gem Identifier will give you possible answers.

Comparison Tables
Select a range of gems that interest you and let the Library tool provide you with a customized property list. You can search for hardness, density, chatoyancy and other attributes.

Name Searches
You can also search any gem that interests you. Find out all the vital scientific aspects of the gem. The Name Search Screen has a database of 2400 trade names, variety names, alternative names, and misnomers.

Gem Data Card
No matter what search function or selection tool you use, you have the option to display the gems as Gem Data Cards. Each card tells you about the gemstone's optical and physical properties and its variety names, and informs you about how well it will take ultrasonic cleaning or steam cleaning.

Cutting Information
Almost all gemstones can be cut, and more than half of them can also be faceted. PC Gemologist provides the gemcutter with vital information about 280 gem varieties, everything from recommended angles and polishing compounds to the degree of heat sensitivity and cleavage - plus expert tips and warnings.

Unit Conversions
The Unit Converter gives instant translation between some 40 units of weight, temperature, and length.

Gem Scales
The Gem Scale unit helps you guesstimate the weight of cut and mounted gemstones. Nine common shapes including round brilliant cut, heart cut, cabochon, and emerald cut; provisions for unusual girdles or pavilion bulges.

Re-cut Estimations
A good way to avoid costly results is to know the results of a re-cutting operation before it is done. The Diamond Re-Cut Calculator lets you do exactly that. A damaged girdle, a broken culet, or just an old-fashioned mine cut in need of a touch-up - how will the resulting gem look?

Pearl Calculator
The Pearl Calculator will help you calculate weights of single pearls and necklaces.

Diamond Grading
The Diamond Grading unit allows you to easily compare GIA's rules for diamond grading with those of major European grading systems.

If you like the program, do not forget to send Peter the US$50.00!

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