သံုးရလြယ္ကူေစသည့္ Link မ်ား

More American Jewelry Stores Banning Burmese ''Blood Rubies''

  • Bill Rodgers
  • Kane Farabaugh

Dealers from more than 20 countries are registered for the auction, where -- as these images from 2004 show -- blocks of raw, uncut jade and gems are on sale. The gem auctions are a lucrative source of foreign exchange for Burma's military government.

And this auction is being held just weeks after Burmese security forces violently crushed pro-democracy demonstrations spearheaded by Buddhist monks. The crackdown has triggered efforts in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to tighten already existing sanctions against Burma.

On Capitol Hill, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos has introduced a bill that would strengthen the ban on Burmese gem sales to include those that come from third countries.

"It will make it impossible for the junta to sell their gems by pretending that they come from China and Thailand. These are Burmese gems and I think our legislation will put an end to the generals enriching themselves by using subterfuge in selling their precious stones."

More than 90% of the world's rubies and fine-quality jade comes from Burma. And gemstones are Burma's third-largest export, earning several hundred million dollars over the past year.

Most of this money goes to Burma's military leaders, says American jeweler Brian Leber who is lobbying Congress to stop the trade.

"The regime has unprecedented control over the gem industry. They have a majority share in every mine, they issue the licenses and permits. To become a partner in a mine usually requires being a senior government official or a crony of the government."

Sold as uncut stones -- many of Burma's rubies end up in Thailand where they are cut, polished and sold in jewelry stores or exported.

Highly prized for their deep red color, they evade U.S. import restrictions because a loophole in American law considers them "Thai" or third-country rubies.

Pornchai Chuenchomlada heads a Thai jewelers association. He acknowledges there is international pressure to stop the practice, but doubts it will work.

"Some of us are not happy with the things that happened to this country. And some of us also don't want to buy any gems from the Burmese. But a lot of people who are buying these gemstones from the Burmese are still buying. So we have two sides."

Some American jewelry stores continue to sell Burmese gems cut in third countries, but the 11,000 member Jewelers of America trade organization has come out in support of the Lantos bill. Peggy Jo Donahue is the organization's public affairs director.

"That would change the law in a way that would no longer allow Burmese gemstones to come into the country and it was the feeling of our membership that that would be the right thing to do under the circumstances."

With the threat of sanctions, there are conflicting media reports on this year's auction attendance, though deals are still being made. That prompts this warning from Congressman Lantos.

"Many people have absolutely no moral compunctions in dealing with a totalitarian state. This is not unique to Burma -- we've had this experience through the decades. Nevertheless, we will have sufficiently tight legislation that will make it impossible for people to make money on these blood jewels."

Lantos's bill has passed two House committees and is expected to be voted on later this year.

The people who mine them call the coloring of these precious stones "pigeon-blood" red. Thomas Moses, who works for the Gemological Institute of America or G-I-A, knows the value and uniqueness of these gems, which come from only one place in the world.

"Historically, Burma rubies were one of the most sought after gems in the gem and mineral kingdom."

Throughout the years, Moses, Senior Vice President, Gemological Institute of America says Burma was generally not a major exporter of the precious rubies. That changed in 1991 when a new deposit was discovered in the eastern part of the country.

"Burma today is probably the largest producer of commercial quality rubies that are in the marketplace."

A 2003 law bans the sale of Burmese gems in America. But a loophole in the law has kept those gems in the marketplace, says Peggy Jo Donahue of the Jewelers of America.

"As long as a gem is cut in Thailand, for example, or in India it is not considered a product anymore of Burma. Technically I guess you could say Burmese Gems legally could be here if they were cut and polished in a different place."

The Jewelers of America felt that the loophole did not follow the spirit of the legislation, designed to keep money from the sale of those gems out of the hands of the Burmese military government. They also discovered many jewelers knew little about the ban.

"I spoke to jewelers who never knew of a Burmese ban of any kind. Our consciousness was raised as an industry by the events that we saw taking place in August and September, and then the sense that we had that gemstones that we knew came from Burma, therefore we needed to do something about it."

The Jewelers of America now educates its members, encouraging them to support the ban by not selling the gems in their stores. Tiffany and Company as well as Cartier are two of several major jewelers that have signed on to the effort.

First Lady Laura Bush , an outspoken critic of the Burmese government, issued a statement last week applauding companies who support the ban. As more jewelers sign on, demand increases to identify the origin of rubies in the marketplace. It's a service Donna Beaton (Colored Stone Service) with the G-I-A helps provide to customers.

"There's a hierarchy of value that has been established in the trade already, so people want to know where it comes from hoping it comes from a premiere source, so in the case of rubies, Burma is a premiere source."

Since the need to verify the origin now goes beyond just the value of the gem, G-I-A uses the latest technology to leave little doubt as to where a ruby in question comes from.

Wuyi Wang is a Research Project Manager with G-I-A. He uses high-powered lasers to cut microscopic pieces of a gem, which is then used to determine its chemistry.

"You will see some difference between Burmese rubies and rubies from other locations like from Vietnam for example. There are quite systematic differences, either gemological features including color, inclusions, as well as their chemistry."

G-I-A expects an even greater demand for its services if further legislation banning the import of gems, regardless of where they were cut or polished, becomes law. That legislation is currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress.

XS
SM
MD
LG