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Myanmar, a glittering legacy
YANGON, Myanmar - When Thiri Tin Htut grew up here in the 70s, she and her three sister played by claiming to be selling gems to each other. However, the jewels and saphires in her little palms were genuine, she remembered, and her mum and dad did not allow the match until their girls were old enough not to take the product.
Myanmar's gems are known abroad for their exceptional qualities, and Mrs Thiri Tin Htut's wife's wife has been in the gemstone industry since the nineteenth century: her great-great-grandfather, U Hmat, was the most important ruby mine for Thibaw, the last emperor and the last emperor in the world.
When Thiri Tin Htut came back to Myanmar in 1995, after spending a ten-year period in Thailand, Switzerland and the United States, the opening of a handicraft jewellery store with one of her nurses seemed a logical step in her professional life, she said. Manawmaya House of Jewels, which is located in a neighbourhood of Yangon, Myanmar's culture and commercial capitol, has silently developed into a place for jewellery lovers from Myanmar and beyond for more than two years.
However, the two-storey interior display room has display cases full of jewellery that sparkle with scarce jewels and saphires, along with other gems and semi-precious gems. Each piece of jewellery is handcrafted by a doze of artisans, and about 90 per cent of the gems come from Myanmar, Ms Thiri Tin Htut said.
Ms. Thiri Tin Htut is bossy and self-sufficient, "and it somehow comes through in the plays," said M. H. Au, a Hong Kong customer who spotted Manawmaya House on a 2014 journey to Yangon. Ms Au said in a phone conversation that the boutique's jewellery mixes old and new in a way that distinguishes it from domestic jewellery stores and global brand names.
For a long time, people have claimed that the country's precious stone mining, many of which are associated with the Myanmar army, is a haven for misuse and bribery. In 2003, a United States bill prohibited the imports of Java and ruby from Myanmar, with certain restrictions, and the prohibition was reinforced by extra regulations adopted during the administration of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
However, Myanmar has gone through a tragic transformation since 2012, when its first free legislative elections in decade-long and sorrowful era of reign. The United States has since progressively relaxed the imposition of restrictive measures on many of Myanmar's economies. President Obama said in September that he had agreed to lifted all residual Myanmar penalties, also known as Burma, to show partial backing for the country's policy reforms.
"It' s the right thing to make sure that the Burmese nation gets reward from a new way of doing things and a new government," he said and sat in the Oval Office next to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a former Burmese detainee and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is now de facto Myanmar's leading figure.
Ms Thiri Tin Htut said she was pleased with the removal of US penalties and hopes that this step would increase openness in Myanmar's gem industry. However, for them gemstones and jewellery have always been more private than public. Said that the folks in her familiy speak of a myth in which her great-great-grandfather, Mr Hmat, listened to a sound that urged him to go up to his cottage at noon.
Later he worked as the top ruby worker for King Thibaw, said Mrs. Thiri Tin Htut, and his oldest daugther got remarried to the Momeik Kingdom King's kingdom, which reigned over Mokokoks ruby-mining. "Thiri Tin Htut said with a smile. He was a very good politician.
One of her married sons, Sao Hkun Hkio, was serving as Secretary of State of Burma, a former UK settlement after gaining sovereignty in 1948, she said. However, other members of the noble stone shop remained and ran gemstone stores in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth c... In 1962, when Myanmar was taken over by general Thiri Tin Htut, her grandpa blew up the family's Mogok mine, and the whole familiy began to concentrate solely on the precious stone trade.
Ms Thiri Tin Htut said she came back to Myanmar in 1995 at the insistence of one of her nurses. Later she took over the jewellery store, although her older brother, a gemmologist who now resides in Bangkok, is still part of it. Other Yangon jewellers are facing increased rivalry as Myanmar's economic situation opens up and it is not clear whether anyone from the next generations of their families will take over the company.