A spectacular find in southeastern Africa brings the sought-after ruby into sharper focus.
In a remote area of Mozambique, at the Montepuez ruby concession, miners last year uncovered an extraordinary pair of matching stones. Each of the rough gems was nearly the size of a cherry, and their combined weight was an impressive 45 carats. Experts estimated their total value as being in the tens of millions of dollars. In June, Thailand’s Veerasak Gems purchased the set for an undisclosed amount, christening the two rubies the “Eyes of the Dragon” for their spellbinding color. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” says Ian Harebottle, CEO of Gemfields, the London-based mining firm that sold the pair and is the majority owner of the Montepuez deposit. “It is as rare as locating a vintage Ferrari; you won’t likely find another model again, and you won’t likely see a set of rubies like this again.”
These standouts and other high-caliber examples, including rubies exceeding 5 carats, are a true exception in the world of gems, according to Harebottle, who estimates that less than 2 percent of the rough stones excavated from Montepuez qualify as premium-quality specimens. Indeed, a high-quality, sizable ruby is more elusive than a fine diamond, sapphire, or emerald; gemologists hold this to be true, and so, it seems, do collectors, as evidenced by recent record-breaking prices at auction. In May at a Sotheby’s Geneva auction, a Cartier ring showcasing a 25.59-carat Burmese pigeon-blood ruby fetched $30.33 million, making it the most expensive ruby ever sold at auction. The untreated stone (which sold for almost $1.2 million per carat) far exceeded estimates, which ranged from about $12 million to $18 million. Also notable is another Sotheby’s Geneva auction, held last November, that saw the Graff Ruby—an 8.62-carat cushion-cut Burmese stone set in a diamond ring—command $8.6 million.
Not surprisingly, these major gems hail from Burma—or Myanmar, as the country in Southeast Asia is known today—where the world’s most desirable rubies have been discovered for centuries. (The term “pigeon blood” is a reference to their distinctive red color.) “Burma is the traditional source for rubies since medieval times,” says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst for the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “Tradition means a lot in this industry, and the Burma rubies are the standard for which all other rubies were judged.” While there are ruby deposits in nearby Thailand, Shor notes, they are not known to produce the same level of color, quality, and size as the Myanmar mines.
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