Rubies have long sat atop the gem world, serving as one of the most historically significant stones and commanding at times the highest per-carat price of any gem.
Burmese rubies, in particular, always have been regarded with a certain reverence, encapsulating the best the gemstone has to offer.
Yet in recent years the market has had to find a new direction in which to head, as the Burmese material remains banned for import into the United States due to government sanctions and the source itself dries up.
A few African sources, particularly in Mozambique and Madagascar, are offering the gemstone world new supplies that, a few experts say, are on par in terms of quality with the Burmese stones. What remains to be seen, however, is how long these supplies will last and how long it will take for the market to fully accept them.
One of the major challenges for the supply side of rubies is the fact that the import of Burmese rubies remains banned in the U.S., cutting off supply to the American market. Even if the ban wasn’t in place, the Burmese sources for the gemstone have been drying up, which means there isn’t much new material available on the market anyway, according to Benjamin Hakimi of gemstone supplier Colorline Inc.
However, material from Tanzania, Madagascar and especially Mozambique is reviving the ruby supply and can offer high quality material comparable to that from Burma for a fraction of the price. Hakimi called these African rubies a “lifesaver” for manufacturers, as it is bringing ample affordable material to market.
According to gemstone dealer John Buechner, when Mozambican rubies that were comparable in color and clarity to the Burmese material came onto the market around 2008, they were selling for about one-sixth the price of Burmese rubies. Today, though, “that gap has narrowed and they are about half the price,” he said, though he noted that the stones still offer a great value.
Hakimi, meanwhile, said that he sees the African material at, on average, about 30 percent cheaper.
There’s also a major player involved in the ruby market now, which will have a lot of influence on where the market is headed.
Gemfields holds a 75 percent stake in the Montepuez mine in Mozambique. It received the license to mine the site in 2012 and held its first ruby auction in 2014. Since then, the colored gemstone miner has had a total of five auctions of rubies, with the latest in December reaching revenues of $28.8 million, or $317.92 per carat.
As of late, there’s been a bit of a slowdown in buying in the Far East, Hakimi said, adding that the decrease in demand from the Chinese market has been partially offset by the signs of recovery coming from America.
Even so, demand for rubies, while perhaps not at the level seen for sapphires, is still very high, especially for the higher quality, unheated material. And while U.S. customers might have a much harder time getting their hands on the Burmese material, overseas buyers still are asking for it.
Most buyers these days also are looking for “pigeon’s blood” rubies, especially in Hong Kong, Jeremy Hakimi of Colorline said. “They’re always looking for royal blue (sapphires) and pigeon’s blood (rubies). Maybe not as much here (in the U.S.), but that’s definitely what most people want.”
Buechner predicted that given the (so far) consistent supply of material on the market due to the more recent sources, along with consumers becoming much more educated about rubies and their rarity, demand for the gemstone in the U.S. will continue to rise and so will price.
And given rubies’ long history and staying power, it’s obvious that while demand might dwindle here and there based on certain economic factors, the stone is here to stay.
Benjamin Hakimi said that with the introduction of the new material from Africa, he thought that prices for rubies might soften a bit, but they have not, they have remained stable.
Gemfields also is seeing price and demand stability for the stone, as the market becomes more comfortable with the material that is being produced in its mine and seeing its high quality.
Yet this increased need for ruby reports comes with a silver lining, of sorts.
A number of grading laboratories now are including color terminology on their gem reports, which could be good for jewelers because it could “help them quantify a sale,” Hakimi said. Of course, on the other hand, it could also hurt the sale if the report instead includes “vocabulary that’s not appealing” to a buyer who sees it.
“The bottom line is, you have to look at the (color of the) stone and see if you like it,” he said.