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East African Ruby

Although East Africa has gained big league status as a producer of newcomer gems such as tsavorite and tanzanite, it is still considered bush league when it comes to traditional stones such as sapphire and emerald.

For sure, the region is rich in these standbys. However, the quality of stones found so far is generally judged inferior to that from other active gem localities such as Burma and Sri Lanka for sapphire, or Colombia and Zambia for emerald.

That leaves ruby, which East Africa mines in abundance, to earn it the respect it craves as a source of stalwart gems. Ruby finds in Kenya have already begun to raise hopes. But no one is ready yet to raise glasses. “It all depends on whether the new deposits prove the rule rather than the exception, “ says a Seattle dealer who specializes in African gems.

What has the newer East African ruby got that older stones from this region lack? And how good does that really make this ruby when compared to that of its Southeast Asian counterparts?

Burma Color, African Price

East Africa has been producing ruby in bulk since around 1970. Because most of its ruby is heavily included, less than 1 percent of the rough has been suitable for faceting. In fact, East Africa is known chiefly for cabochon ruby. Even now, with better grades more common, the number of facetable stones is minuscule.

However, what African ruby lacks in clarity, it more than compensates for in color. Indeed, up until 1980, as much as 15 percent of the output from the famed Longido mine in northern Tanzania was said to be virtually indistinguishable color-wise from medium-to-fine Burmese rubies, the most highly prized specimens of this species in the world.

Most other mines, such as Tanzania’s Morogoro mine, produced more characteristic material. “The best pieces of rough always had a killer red with some pink,” one dealer explains. “But when you cut them into cabs they usually turned a disappointing purplish color.”

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East African Ruby