Romancing the Source: Myanmar

Mogok, Myanmar, is perhaps the world’s most exotic and romantic gem-producing area.

This series of articles and videos follows a team of GIA Field Gemologists on their travels from the mountains of Afghanistan to the jungles of Sri Lanka in search of the sources of colored gemstones and the people who pursue them. This thrilling journey will take you to remote gemstone-mining areas, where you’ll witness the extreme effort required to wrestle nature’s treasures from the earth.

Mogok, Myanmar, also known as The Valley of Rubies, is perhaps one of the world’s most exotic locations. Photo by Andrew Lucas/GIA.

The romance of a colored gemstone arises from its beauty, the exotic qualities of its source’s location, the adventure leading to its discovery, and the stories of the people who seek it. These factors have united to create the allure of gemstones through the ages, and continue to do so even in modern times.

Mogok, Myanmar, has become as famous as the magnificent rubies, sapphires, spinels, and other gems it produces. It is an amazing area, dotted with pagodas, temples, Buddha statues, and outcroppings of marble rock.

The people are as exotic as the location, blending populations of Burmese, Shan, Lissu, Karen, and former British Nepalese troops called Ghurkas. Most exotic of all are the Kanase women. By tradition, these women have the right to mine the tailings of mining operations in search of gemstones, surrounded by what often appears to be a sea of white marble. They wear traditional painted or cone-shaped hats and decorate their faces with a white paste.

Mogok miners engage in all types of colored gemstone mining, and the local gem markets are as colorful as the miners.

Andrew Lucas is Manager of Field Gemology at GIA in Carlsbad, California; Tao Hsu is Technical Editor of Gems & Gemology.

Vincent Pardieu
Jordan, our driver, guide, and translator
Jean Yves Branchard of Ananda Travels in Yangon, Myanmar, who helped us with permits and logistics; and of course the people of Mogok, who welcomed us and shared with us their knowledge and friendship