Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ruby of Sumbawanga, Tanzania

The most coveted rubies have traditionally emerged from the ancient Mogok mines in Upper Burma, or Myanmar. Today, these mines are virtually depleted, sending the price of prized Burmese rubies sky high.

African rubies are starting to take up the void left by the Burmese, and the African ruby that caused the biggest stir last year was a 15.29 carat oval-shaped Mozambique gemstone. The ruby sits front and centre in Cartier's Reine Makéda multi-strand ruby necklace. Whatever the origin of a ruby it is the "pigeon's blood" ruby that sets the gold standard, and traditionally these have been from Burma.

Burmese ruby is known for its' fluorescence, which makes them appear to glow. Burmese are a rich red and the African rubies have a small touch of purple. One can tell the difference between an African and a Burmese ruby, except those from the Windsor mine in Tanzania, which are very close to the Burmese.
Extremely high quality ruby is being mined in the province of Rukwa, in the southern highlands of Tanzania. Most of the material is being found in Naende, near the village of Chala, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Sumbawanga, the capital of Rukwa.

The find was made in 2002 by a local miner. He found two pieces of a gemstone which was unknown to him. The man took a half gram to Nairobi where a dealer identified it as ruby and bought the sample for US$350 and a set of tires. Pleased with the quality, he asked to see more. Without the money to invest in mining equipment, the local had no way to produce more in large volumes.
To date, there has been no large scale mining in the very remote area, but hundreds of local miners are now digging with spades, hoes, and whatever else they can find. Just a few feet under the surface they are able to get cabochon quality, semi gem quality, and sometimes fine rubies. Many of the mines reach just 10 meters (six feet) in depth. They cannot go deeper due to a lack of modern equipment to break the hard rock and pump out water.

Small scale miners in Rukwa lack a market for their gemstones, so local illegal dealers buy them at “throwaway” prices.