The ruby mines of Thailand are, for the most part, a thing of the past. However, the gem trade remains an essential part of Thailandís modern economy, attracting tourists and fueling the heat treatment and jewelry manufacturing businesses. Due to excess iron, Thailandís rubies were always a darker shade than Burmaís famed pigeon-blood stones, and it wasnít until the 1960ís that demand for Thai rubies was high enough to fuel significant economic development. After Mogok, and other important mines in Burma were nationalized, the jewelry world had to look for other productive and reliable sources. The Thai were able to meet the demand by cultivating heat treatment techniques that allowed them to improve the color of their stones to match the hues of Burmaís rubies. From the 1960ís to the 1980ís ruby mines around Chanthaburi were active, as well as in the region bordering Cambodia. Today, most of the rubies in Thailand were either smuggled out of Myanmar (formerly Burma) or imported from other regions of the world like Madagascar, other African nations, and India. Border towns on the edge of Myanmar, including Mai Sot on Thailandís middle-western edge and Mai Sai at its northern tip, host jumbled but busy ruby markets. Many of the stones sold here are authentic Burmese gems that have been smuggled (along with other black market goods like narcotics) out of Myanmar, but there are also many stones marketed at ďBurmeseĒ that originally came from Africa and other places, as well as synthetic imitations designed to fool gem-trading novices. Because the Thai possess expert skills in heat treatment, they are able to improve the color of bluish rubies from Mong Hsu, one of the newer mining areas in Burma, and fetch a premium for them.
Please check back in mid-2008 for a more thorough report on Thailandís gemstones and visit the Links page for more resources on Thailand.
This map is from Chapter 12 of Ruby & Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes, who is a gemologist and an expert on the gemstones of Southeast Asia.
Click on a thumbnail to view an enlarged photo
with a descriptive caption.
Some photos courtesy of fieldgemology.com