Valley Of Rubies
Located about 124 miles (200 km) northeast of the city of Mandalay, the valley of Mogok has been producing some of the world's finest rubies for well over a thousand years. Some historians believe the area's earliest inhabitants were the first to discover gemstones in Myanmar, about six thousand years ago. Today, Mogok itself is something of a gem in a largely rural, backward part of the country. Over centuries, the excitement of discovering rare, precious stones and the promise of commercial rewards lured a steady stream of hopeful miners and gem dealers to the valley. Close to 500,000 people now live in Mogok, and the town's businesses, services, and infrastructure have developed to meet their needs. Although other colored gems are mined in Mogok, rubies are the valley's most renowned treasures.
A Gem Economy
A typical day in Mogok begins well before the sun's first rays light up the valley. In town, food hawkers sell their wares in the streets, and children make their way to school. On the outskirts of town, in the mining areas, miners eat their breakfasts and begin preparing the mines by pumping out any stale water that accumulated overnight in the shafts or pits.
Most of the mines in Mogok are worked in the same labor-intensive way. Once ruby deposits are located, the area is cleared. Surface or shallow deposits are mined in a simple, open pit, while deeper veins or mountain deposits have to be mined with shafts or from tunnels blasted out of the mountainsides with explosives. Gravel that contains rubies is carried from these mines and emptied into sluices, which are long, sloping troughs. Water washes away the lighter gravel, and the heavier residue is caught in grooves along the bottom of the sluices. Miners scrutinize this residue for the glimmer of precious stones.
Rubies do not reach the market in their natural state. Most homes in Mogok have a small room or workshop where the stones are cut and polished. Some of the gems are first heat-treated in special ovens to enhance their color and transparency. Although gem shops dominate the businesses in Mogok, and several outdoor gem markets operate daily, the most beautiful rubies not available in Mogok but in the larger cities, such as Yangon or Mandalay. The finest stones are also exported to other Asian countries, Europe, and North America.