This no-heat Burmese sapphire ring exhibits the intense velvety color that makes these gems so desirable.
1. Burmese Sapphires and Ancient Roots
Few gems have held the fascination of man for as long as sapphire. With a namesake derived from the Latin word for blue (sapphirus), surprisingly sapphires are actually found in a rainbow of colors. A variant of the mineral corundum, sapphire’s chemical composition consists of aluminum oxide combined with trace amounts of vanadium, titanium, chromium, or magnesium. The color expressed is wholly dependent upon the unique combination of these trace elements. Apart from Padparadschas, bright, intensely vivid blue shades tend to command the highest prices. Today, the sapphires with the purest color and highest values come from three locations: Burma, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar. Of the three, it is the Burmese sapphires that is most coveted. What sets Burmese sapphires apart from other sources around the world? The quality, history, and relative rarity of Burmese stones command record prices when their origin has been confirmed through a respected laboratory.
The intensity of color so eagerly sought after by gem aficionados is common in Burmese rough, and its luster is unmistakable. Myanmar has been producing sapphires for over 1,000 years, and specimens from this region are famous for their vibrant royal blue color. Sapphires from Myanmar are also well-known for the presence of “silk”, tiny inclusions that collectively scatter light and add a velvety softness to the distinctive appearance of gems from this area. Unheated, natural sapphires from this region are worth far more than those that have been treated.
A Textbook Example of Silk Presence in an Unheated Burmese Sapphire
2. Moving Mountains Make Spectacular Sapphires
Geologically speaking, tectonic movement was the precipitating factor in the creation of Myanmar’s world-class sapphires. When the Indian and Asian subcontinents collided somewhere between 4 and 5 million years ago, the unique conditions of the violent impact created the perfect conditions for the creation of some of the finest sapphires known to man. While Myanmar has sapphire mines in multiple areas of the country as a result, the best known is the Mogok Stone Tract. This concentration of mines has a rich history of production that dates back for centuries. Burmese sapphires from Mogok have adorned the crowns of kings and queens since their discovery, with many being passed down for generations as cherished heirloom pieces with significant historic and genealogical significance for the respective monarchies.
Top view of a Burmese sapphire crystal
In Mogok, sapphires are either mined from alluvial deposits, or from small artisanal mines in the region. Because mining in Burma has traditionally been most strongly focused on the deposits of ruby found there, Burmese sapphires are, comparatively speaking, scarcer than those found at other sources of origin. Interestingly, the two corundum varieties are frequently found near each other, but their geological formations are distinct. In the Mogok Stone Tract, rubies tend to form in marble schist, while sapphires are typically found in granitic pegmatites or corundum syenites.
Sapphire miners in the Mogok stone tract work under challenging conditions.
3. Supply and Demand
It is expensive and difficult to mine these areas, so sapphires of this caliber are becoming fewer in quantity. Current mining conditions have also been greatly limited, and more recently distribution has been complicated due to the Covid-15 pandemic and subsequent closure of the Burmese border. When these recent limitations to supply are combined with the superior color and strong provenance of Burmese sapphire, it is no surprise to see auction house prices sometimes exceeding final values in the million for exceptionally large, high quality natural gems.