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Winza Ruby

Congress has finally given First Lady Laura Bush the gift she wanted—a comprehensive ban on rough and cut Burmese ruby. Whether or not the embargo will make a dent in the consciences or the coffers of Myanmar’s ruling generals remains to be seen. But U.S. dealers are certainly feeling some of the blows meant for Burma’s junta.

Just weeks after passage of the bill and weeks before it takes effect later this month, gem dealers whose business will be hit by the ban are scrambling to find alternatives to the world’s most coveted red corundum and jadeite. Since Burma is said to supply 90 percent of the world’s ruby (we think that oft-quoted figure substantially underestimates Madagascar as a bountiful producer of low-grade but treatable ruby), there aren’t many substitute sources to fill the coming import gap.

But that may soon change. New York dealer Jeffrey Bilgore explains, “Ruby is a deep-seated tradition which most jewelers and dealers are loath to abandon. So the only answer to the Burma ban will be to find new sources for ruby.”


An earnest hunt is now on for real-deal ruby from countries other than Myanmar. Madagascar, an important source for ruby as well as sapphire, has frozen exports for the last six months, further decreasing supply on the market. Although today Madagascar and Tajikistan are the two most important sources other than Burma, a new ruby deposit at a place called Winza in remote southeastern Tanzania offers ruby lovers the best hope for a continuation of connoisseur stones.

Most dealers caution that, for now, it’s still mostly hope. “Winza is a new deposit so we aren’t sure how much there will be,” says ruby specialist William Hakimi of A. Hakimi & Sons in New York, who had only a few examples in his all-ruby booth at a recent show.

Despite the uncertainty of supply, Winza ruby is making a big stir for several reasons besides the fortunate timing of its discovery. The best stones boast exceptional transparency—reminiscent of that seen in Vietnamese material back in the 1990s. But whereas Vietnamese ruby hovered near the borderline between red and pink, the robust red of Winza material keeps it securely in the red zone. Although early samples tend to be orangish, new material has slight purple and blue tints. The best of the material gives Burma a run for its money.

What’s more, Winza’s enviable reds are often completely the product of Mother Nature. This deposit produces the largest percentage in recent memory of material that doesn’t need any heating to develop its good looks. Even before the ban, dealers who specialize in fine ruby found unheated Winza ruby above five carats, often startlingly crystalline as well, impossible to resist.

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