Gem merchants converge in Myanmar for flagship auction

28 June 2015
Gem merchants converge in Myanmar for flagship auction
Gem merchants examine jade lots at a special sale of jade in Yangon. Archive photo: EPA

Hundreds of merchants from China to Malaysia flocked to Nay Pyi Taw on Friday to inspect jade and other precious stones at an annual auction that offered a glimpse into the country's notoriously murky but lucrative gems industry.
The 13-day emporium that opened on Wednesday is expected to draw around 5,000 local and foreign visitors who will bid for the raw jade, gems, jewellery and sculptures up for sale.
Traders carefully examined raw slabs of jade with torches and measuring tapes Friday at a sprawling complex in the former-junta ruled nation's capital.
"We invited (merchants from) Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and China for this year's gems emporium," Than Zaw Oo, vice-chairman of the event's organising committee, said. 
"More than 2,000 gem traders came from those countries. Most are from China," he added.
Up to 90 percent of the world's jadeite -- the most sought-after type of jade -- is mined in northern Myanmar, feeding a vast appetite for the green stone in Asia and particularly China, where it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.
The country's secretive trade remains highly profitable, although the exact revenues from sales of the precious stone remain unknown.
Large amounts of jade are sold through illegal mines and in rebel-held areas despite reforms by a quasi-civilian government aimed at opening up the resource-rich nation.
Kyaw Naing, a gems company owner from Mandalay on the look-out for high-quality jade, said it was tough work negotiating a good deal.
"We normally bid for 10 items each day. If we are lucky, we will get them for the price that we want," he said.
According to state media, last year's gems emporium generated a record $3.4 billion and was attended by more than 4,000 traders from Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Japan.
This year's sale will showcase 8,943 lots of jade and 323 lots of gems.