The Whole Nine Yards of Con!

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Myanmar is renowned for producing a variety of precious gemstones.  ILLUSTRATION: PIXABAY

If you say Myanmar people are honest to the extent of being gullible, you would probably be correct. The subsequent question would be, ‘Would no one take advantage of them?’. The answer to that would be a resounding ‘Yes’. Let me give you an example using the world of buying and selling gemstones.
A lot of interest has always been placed in the gems and jewellery business in Myanmar. First, other than emeralds, Myanmar produced the most precious gemstones. It’s our country’s unique asset. Second, with supply extremely limited, the prices kept going up every year, with a steady demand from international connoisseurs. Third, there is no barrier to entry to get into this trade. From an aunty selling betel nuts to a medical doctor, anyone can become the seller or, rather, the broker of precious gemstones.
As long as the buyers are not as discerning as most local buyers are, the jewellery market will continue to be the whole nine yard of cons.
Let’s talk about the qualifications of sellers and assessors first. There are two major qualifications in the gem world: GIA for diamonds and FGA for the rest of the coloured stones. The former is US-based, and the latter is UK-based. Alas, most of the people selling, trading, assessing or certifying the gemstones here without qualifications of any kind. We have encountered a number of jewellers whose qualifications are stated as FGA (Cand). At first, we wondered if FGA had shifted to Canada. Only after further enquiries did we realize Cand refers to the word ‘Candidate’. They have not even started the programme yet!
Second, the fraud even continues to be passed on to certifications. Some people doing gems assessment and issuing one-page report cards do not have any form of qualifications. And yet, the buyers quickly fall in line once they see some sort of a report card. If a particular jewellery shop regularly patronizes the assessor, they could be easily ‘influenced’ by the shop to give the upgraded status in the certificate for the gems. There is no such thing as independence, and as long as they are not discovered and no one challenges them after that particular assessment report, Personal reputation is the only one at stake.
Third, training: With the economy crumbling due to a lack of proper business opportunities, a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds have decided to have a crack at this business. Hence, classes are full, and schools and teachers are earning a lot of money. Yet some of the teachers themselves have no formal gemstones-related educational qualifications. Armed just with a few years of gemstone selling experience, their teaching methods are rudimentary, at best. Students are not given much practical experience with genuine stones either. Exams are in-house, and diplomas are issued generously.
Fourth, sellers frown upon buyers with loupes. Without loupes, at least, how would we ever know the quality of the gems! Yet the sellers do not want potential customers armed with loupes! Maybe they do not want to sell to knowledgeable buyers, or their target market segment is over-trusting buyers only. At some extreme ends, a heat-treated ruby may be passed off as untreated; a spinel may be passed off as a ruby; a nephrite jade can be passed off as a similar alternative. The source can also be deceived by the sellers, especially since Mogok rubies are significantly pricier than the Monghsu counterparts.
Fifth, there are regular cases of fights between individual sellers and brokers. Once you want to sell your gemstones, more likely than not, you will be asked to leave that stone with a broker or at a shop. The broker or the shop owner is naturally tempted to take advantage of the dupable seller by swapping the latter’s gem with a similar stone of lesser quality. It is not easily noticeable unless the seller has a really discriminating eyesight.
Sixth, especially when buying any precious stone necklaces, you need to watch out for the mix of stones. A Mogok chain may include a couple or so Monghsu stones. Untreated rubies may be combined with a few heated ones, with the seller passing the chain off as comprising expensive natural gems. Some of the stones contained in the chain may not necessarily have an attractive cut. A lot of these would not have sufficient culet. As long as the facet is there, the stone in the chain looks nice on the surface.
Seventh, with the recent news on the sale of a five-carat Myanmar ruby at a Hong Kong auction for tens of millions, the interest in rubies is at a frenzy level here. Unethical buyers are getting rubies from Vietnam or Mozambique to resell them back to the locals here. As long as you are not armed with the knowledge to determine the quality yourself, you can get conned easily.
Eighth, the seller can easily misinform you about the market potential of each type of stone. Rubies are always at the top of the list, followed by Sapphires. Even spinels are moving up the ladder, too, in the absence of new Mogok rubies entering the market. Citrine may look like Danburite, but they are totally different prices. The seller may upsell Citrine’s potential to sell the unwanted item at a higher price to you.
Finally, what is the solution for us? Just like when buying houses all over the world, we need independent assessment or valuer for our gemstones, too. Check out the seller’s qualifications. The best phrase that the seller wants to hear from you would be, “I know nothing about gems. But I trust you”. Please do not ever ever say that. That will make you fall into the whole nine yards of cons where the perfect trap by the seller awaits. Unless you can arm yourself with GIA and FGA certifications, please find someone with qualifications to accompany you. Bring along that person to the deal table. You will save a lot of headaches and anger in the future. Thank me later.


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