By Maitreyi Gupta
A lovely little girl, Mia, is bouncing around a jewellery store in downtown Yangon, trying to get her hands on some of the sparkly merchandise. Mia was born in Myanmar to Amber Cernovs, an Australian development worker who has lived in Yangon for over four years. While thinking of a middle name for her daughter, she wanted to find a link to this beautiful country that has touched her heart. Ruby, she thought, would be the perfect choice! Mia Ruby represents her daughter and is a “keepsake and memory for having spent her early years here,” says Amber with a broad smile.
This middle name selection-exercise led her to ponder upon the possibilities of buying rubies – the world’s best – in the country of its origin. Thus began the ruby research.
It’s hard to find gems that are more responsibly sourced these days, and until the end of 2016, the US government still had sanctions on Myanmar rubies because of the military control of ruby mining in the country. So Amber was left with a quality quandary – she really didn’t know what to buy or if she was looking at red glass instead of real ruby stones. This got her started in gemmological studies at the Gemmological Institute of America; which has a campus in Bangkok.
This sparked a deeper interest in Myanmar’s gems and led to a visit to Mogok in central Myanmar, which has been famous for centuries for having the best rubies. The marble and rock formation has occurred in a way that leaves the stones with the richest color in the world. People say the best rubies in the world, come from this one valley in Myanmar.
The uniqueness of Mia Ruby’s gems is from the Mogok family they trade with. Their stones are neither heat-treated nor coloured. Mia Ruby also asks the family to only source their stones from non-military owned mines. The gems are cut in Mogok itself, which provides a livelihood to Myanmar gem cutters. It is estimated that the majority of Myanmar’s gems are smuggled out of the country and most get cut in Thailand, meaning local artisans miss out on benefiting from this hugely valuable natural resource. “I want to add value to Myanmar” says Amber. Every product in Mia Ruby is sourced, designed and made in Myanmar, giving more opportunity to local Myanmar people, and value adding to the economy.
Amber says eventually one thing led to another and she began designing her jewelery, which had is modern but with a Myanmar twist, a product that could be worn by anyone. A Mia Ruby shop was a natural next step, and it is now located on Pansodan St, right next to Rangoon Tea House.
When the time came for her to leave Myanmar, and travel back to Australia, Amber encouraged Mia’s nannies to expand their horizon and take a chance on a new career; and they embraced the opportunity! Kry Sar and Mee Chaw initially worked in Singapore as domestic help and were not very well treated. Like so many Myanmar women, they were smart, keen and hard-working but faced a mountain of social and economic barriers that stopped them being able to take charge of their own lives. Amber was blown away by their willingness to learn the business. Within a year of having launched Mia Ruby, she decided it was their time to take over the shop. “I really want to give them an opportunity to have a better life too,” she says with tears in her eyes.
Amber still designs all of Mia Ruby’s jewelry and stays in touch by regular travel back to Yangon.
When asked about where she draws inspiration from for her jewelry design, she narrates that although it’s a modern take, the designs are inspired by Myanmar culture. For instance, the Mandalay-weave design; taken from the royals’ attire and crafted into an intricate ring. Necklaces with words such as “love” and “happiness” written in the Burmese script, sprinkled with a few jewels for a touch of positive affirmation. And a tribute to the rare orchid flowers of Myanmar; these floral inspired designs stand as a recognition for Myanmar’s natural beauty.
When talking about the process of designing and finally creating a product, Amber animatedly points to her hand drawings, which she sends to the workshop where the jewelry draftsmen redraw the image to the perfect millimetre. The design is printed via a 3D printing software into a wax mould, which liquid gold is then poured into. Once the gold jewelry piece is cast, the gems are then set by hand.
Mia Ruby’s silver jewellery is hand-made through a community organisation called Akhaya Women. The mission of the group is to empower Myanmar women, including by teaching them non-traditional vocational skills. Since most goldsmiths are men; Akhaya Women launched She Smith, which trains women to become silversmiths and eventually goldsmiths. This focus on empowering Myanmar women is a perfect match with Mia Ruby’s values.
At Mia Ruby only Myanmar gems such as rubies, sapphires, spinels and peridots (so no diamonds or emeralds, which are not mined in Myanmar) are used to create their beautiful jewelry. Amber tells us that in purchasing a coloured gem, there are 4C’s to be aware of – color, clarity, cut and carat. When purchasing a ruby, or any coloured gem, colour is the most critical of these. Myanmar rubies are known to be the best in the world because of their rich-red coloring known as “pigeon’s blood” which is sold at the highest prices.
What sets Mia Ruby apart is their modern designs with a local twist, their passion for more responsible and sustainable approaches to making jewelry, and a mission to empower Myanmar women.
So the next time you want to pamper yourself, or buy the perfect keepsake from Myanmar, make sure to stop by at Mia Ruby. They source, design and make locally – and it’s beautiful.