One of the highlights of my work as a gemmologist is being able to travel around the globe to source rare gemstones.
In January this year, I took a trip to a remote part of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), in search of amber. I found myself in Myitkyina, on the west bank of the Ayeyarwady River, also known as the Irrawaddy, in the very far north of Myanmar.
I and a small group of fellow gemmologists obtained permission to visit a gem market in Kachin Province near to the border with China. The area is dangerous, as there is long-running internal conflict, so this was a trip which required considerable planning.
Burmese amber, also known as Burmite, is sought after for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has only recently returned to the international gemstone trade having been unavailable for many years due to the political situation in Myanmar. It’s naturally very pure and is dark and often can be red. This is the most prized colour of amber and is very different in its appearance to Baltic amber, which is younger, more yellow in colour and has more inclusions (often referred to as ‘sun spangles’).
Unlike Baltic amber – which is about 40 million years old, and has been traded in Europe since Roman times – Burmese amber is thought to be just over 100 million years old. It frequently contains the most superb plant, insect and occasionally animal remains.
I have always had a fascination with rocks and gemstones. To be able to see the gemstones that I buy so close to source is very important. I always take my testing equipment, including my spectroscope, refractometer, loupe and more on my trips.
The gem markets in Myanmar sell mainly to China. However, their Chinese customers are mostly interested in jade. This means that there is less competition for amber, keeping the price lower. I love being able to pass this saving on to my clients. The benefit of buying your gemstones from an experienced gemmologist is knowing that they have been sourced responsibly, selected personally by me and priced fairly.
The Burmese amber that I returned home with is rich in colour and takes a high polish; it can be dressed up or down and looks fabulous with fabrics such as cashmere. I look forward to sharing more of my stories with you in the future.