MANDALAY — Burmese gem traders are complaining about poor security at a major gemstone emporium in Burma’s capital after a necklace worth more than US$100,000 was apparently stolen and other precious stones went missing.
A diamond-encrusted jade locket, worth more than 100 million kyats ($105,000) reportedly went missing earlier this month on the opening day of the 50th Myanmar Gem Emporium in Naypyidaw.
“We heard the jade on the locket was about 32 carats, and [the necklace] was decorated with diamonds, and it was lost after the opening ceremony,” a gem trader told The Irrawaddy. “It is believed to have been stolen, which was such a surprise for us because the security this year was much tighter than in previous years, and there were security cameras in the area.”
According to The Yangon Times, the jade locket was decorated with more than 100 diamonds weighing a total of about 20 grams. The Naypyidaw police station opened a theft case, the newspaper reported, after the locket went missing on June 15.
Gem traders also say raw ruby stones and some pieces from a set of raw jade were stolen in the following days, but authorities said poor security was not to blame.
“My friend left a collection of raw jade in the exhibition area and went to the auction hall for his gems, which got around 100,000 kyats,” said a gem trader from Mandalay. “After the auction, when he went back to the exhibition area, one of the best pieces was missing. We alerted the emporium authorities but they said they were not responsible for this.”
“It’s a huge loss for a gem trader,” he added. “Although the security system was upgraded, it’s still poor because they could not provide 100 percent security to gem traders.”
Raw jade—which is often cut from a single stone into between three and 10 pieces—is usually exhibited outside the auction hall under the watch of security guards.
Burmese gem traders also complained of different treatment for foreign traders at the emporium.
A jade trader from Mandalay said that if a Burmese trader fails to collect the gems purchased at the auction within three months, he or she is blacklisted from future emporiums. But he said foreign traders, especially Chinese traders with close ties to high-ranking authorities, were rarely blacklisted.
“There are some foreign gem traders who were blacklisted, but they disguised themselves and re-entered the emporium,” he said. “We want emporium authorities to strictly check on this.”
Burmese gem traders say they would prefer to sell crafted gem statues, rather than raw uncut stones or simple jewelry, at the emporium. Chinese traders often buy raw stones in Burma and make a profit by polishing and cutting the gems for large statues to be sold on the international market.
“If we could produce the quality crafted gem statues by ourselves, our country would get more of a profit, as would the [Burmese] traders and craftsmen,” Win Thu, a gem trader from Mandalay, told The Irrawaddy. “For this we need support from the government—not only to welcome foreign investment, but to ensure that investment benefits the people most.”
Gem emporiums in Burma were once held annually, but in 2010 the emporium was postponed for security reasons.
The 50th Gem emporium in Naypyidaw this year featured pearls, rubies and a variety of raw jade stones valued from 500 euros to more than 200,000 euros (about $650 to $260,000).
According to the emporium organizer, the auction featured nearly 10,000 sets of jade, more than 200 sets of pearl and more than 300 sets of other gems. Most sets included between three and 10 pieces of raw stones in various sizes.
More than 3,000 jade and gem traders—including Burmese traders and traders from China, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and India—participated in this year’s event.