Field Report

Visit Two of Mogok’s Most Important Mines with GIA

Dattaw and Baw Mar
In this video, you’ll visit Mogok’s bustling gem markets and two important working mines: the Dattaw ruby mine and Baw Mar sapphire mine.

Mogok’s history as a premier gem-producing locale looms large in this new video from GIA’s field gemology department. Join Vincent Pardieu and his team as they explore Mogok’s past and present. You’ll get a glimpse of Mogok’s teeming gem markets and an insider’s look at two of the region’s most important working mine operations: the Dattaw ruby and Baw Mar blue sapphire mines.

Ashim Roy, the Montepuez ruby mine’s general manager, is here to learn from all that Mogok has to offer. “We hear so much and we read so much about Mogok,” he says. “With over a thousand years of history of ruby mining, my expectation is that when I go back, I should have knowledge of not only the geology or the gemology, but also the mining, the social, the economic…I have a lot of expectations for this visit.” 

Mogok is about 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Mandalay in Myanmar’s north. This most famous of all gem-producing areas is made up of several valleys and their towns. The principal ones are Mogok and Kyatpyin, but gems are also found in the fertile valleys surrounding the villages of Bernardymo, Chaung Gyi, and Kyauk Pya That, along with the Kabaing and Kin valleys. Besides ruby and sapphire, Mogok also produces a wealth of other gems, including spinel, apatite, peridot, tourmaline, scapolite, moonstone, zircon, garnet, iolite, and amethyst.

From a vantage point high above Mogok, Pardieu points to a hillside on the other side of the valley, where bright white marble tailings are visible from quite a distance. “You have a mine on top of the mountain, this is Dattaw,” he observes, “probably the most famous in all Mogok.”

The mine is located about 5 km (3 miles) out of town, and the team has to climb a steep path to reach it. “Dattaw is the highest ruby mine in the eastern part of Mogok,” says Pardieu. “It’s also one of the most important, where several very significant rubies were mined.” In fact, this mine has produced some exceptionally large gems, including the infamous 496.5-ct. SLORC ruby (named after the acronym for State Law and Order Restoration Council, the ruling government body at the time of its recovery in 1990).

Dattaw is a hard rock, tunneling operation in crisp, white calcite marble. There, the team witnesses drilling and preparations for blasting. “Currently, they are drilling and placing the explosives in for the blast,” says Pardieu. “Usually, the blast is at the end of the day…You can see that they are putting a lot of explosives in…They are slow power, so they will break the marble, they will break the calcite, but they will not break the rubies.” Gemologist Wim Vertriest is very taken with the mine’s geology. “The marble is so crystalline!” he exclaims. “There are huge crystals of calcite that give it a very strange appearance—it looks like we’re in some kind of video game!”

Finally, the team reaches the deepest levels of the mine. “Here we are in the depths of Dattaw, about 200 meters underground,” says Pardieu, “and we are with a team of Burmese miners bringing back some calcite from the depths of the mine, and they will bring that to the surface. At the surface, they will hammer the calcite…to see if there is any ruby inside.” Some of the hammered pieces look as delectable as prime sushi, or perhaps a selection of exotic desserts. In each, a brilliant red ruby crystal sits at the edge of rhombus-shaped, translucent—almost transparent—calcite. They look almost good enough to eat.

Next, they visit the Baw Lon Gyi mine and village. “What is interesting is the system they have with the Kanase,” explains Pardieu. Kanase are the women who, by tradition, sort through the mine’s tailings in search of gems overlooked by the miners. “You have the people from Baw Lon Gyi village queuing in order to get all the waste of the mine,” continues Pardieu. “Sometimes, hundreds of people are breaking the calcite in order to be able to find the small rubies.” The area resounds with the pounding of hammers as the townspeople methodically break down the calcite. “I think it’s a good way to have the mine also care for people who are not working at the mines, so sustaining the entire community,” attests Vertriest. “And this also gives a market for the small low-quality stones.”

Some of these smaller gems might well appear at Kyatpyin’s afternoon gem market, which is the group’s next stop. “This is a very interesting market with about one or two thousand people,” says Pardieu, “and it’s a market mainly with blue sapphires.” Asked where the sapphires come from, the merchants respond “Baw Mar.” Since 2008, fine blue sapphires from the Baw Mar area of Mogok have been reaching the market. The mine itself is located in the Kyat Pyin area, west of Mogok. It’s equipped with heavy machinery and combines open-pit mining with tunneling. “This is the largest sapphire mine in all Mogok,” remarks Pardieu, “and it’s the largest primary mine.” The operation—which can produce rough big enough for polished sapphires up to 15 cts.—employs about 300 miners and other workers.

The team explores Baw Mar’s underground operations, where at the end of timber-lined tunnels, workers extract sapphire crystals from the weathered rock by hand. “It’s about 20 to 30 meters underground,” relates Stanislas Detroyat, “and we are fascinated by what we’re seeing now, because we can see sapphire pockets inside the rock.” As they watch a miner recovering sapphires, Vertriest remarks, “You see this guy, he’s just working with an iron pick and just going for the areas that contain the most sapphire.”

This is one of the things a field gemologist most wants to see first-hand—recovery of the gems directly from the mine. “So this is great to actually see sapphire in the rock, inside the mine, still in-situ in the matrix!” exclaims Pardieu. “This is the reason why I’m traveling around the world to visit all ruby and sapphire mines to collect all these samples on site at the mine and build the GIA reference collection.”

This GIA Field Expedition (FE75) took place in 2015. Besides Pardieu, the participants were video cameraman Didier Barriere-Doleac and expedition members Stanislas Detroyat, Wim Vertriest, Ashim Roy, Victoria Raynaud, Lauriane Pinsault, and Floriane Duret.

GIA staff often visit mines, manufacturers, retailers, and others in the gem and jewelry industry for research purposes and to gain insight into the marketplace. GIA appreciates the access and information provided during these visits. These visits and any resulting articles or publications should not be taken or used as endorsements.