inhabitants of Mogok, the htar pwe, or gem market, has a
marked influence on day-to-day living.
The prominence of gem trading in the town led to the
establishment in the middle of the 20th century of htar pwe
gone, or gem market hill, a quarter where traders buy and
sell gems on small copper trays.
This daily gem ritual attracts speculators from throughout
the surrounding area traders show their gemstones, give a
starting price, haggle and finally strike a deal.
The day starts early for those doing business at the gem
market. Most Traders move from lae oo htar pwe (an area in
east Mogok) to pan chan htar pwe (gem market garden) at 9:30
in the morning - the biggest and most famous gem market in
Cars, bicycles and motorbikes line up inside the crowded
compound at pan chan htar pwe, where the traders sit under
big umbrellas, analysing precious stones with microscopes
before negotiating a price. They chat about gems, eating
snacks and salads on sale nearby.
Opinions differ as to the current state of htar pwe, but
many people agree that good quality gems are becoming rarer.
"We don't seethe best quality stones in htar pwe anymore.
Most of the best stones go directly to Yangon and Mandalay,"
a trader said.
"Most of the stones traded here are semiprecious. Gemstones
ranging in quality, type and size are traded. Normally, the
gemstones go to border areas such as Tachileik, Kengtong and
Tamu," said a woman at the market.
Although most agree that business at htar pwe is not as
healthy as before, the place is still crowded and alive with
An old man in his 70s said he could not pass a day without
going to htar pwe.
"1 am not here for business, but I love to see the gems and
hear the latest news on the gem market," he said.
Bargaining is all important at htar pwe. A trader who wants
to sell a gemstone worth at most K10,000 may ask for
But as one trader says: "Don't hesitate to bargain - you
might get that stone for K8000 sometimes. There is no need
to feel intimidated by the high prices being asked at htar
pwe; buyers just need to judge the real value of a gem and
then dare to bargain."
These rules, although not made explicit, are widely used in
the Mogok trading business. There is no legally binding
contract. The oral agreement between the buyer and seller is
deemed to be enough.
"In Mogok, a good reputation is the most important thing.
Without a good reputation, nobody will trust you. With a
good reputation, gem trading will go well although you might
not get rich," said a ruby merchant.
Although many of the gem traders in Mogok do not hold
diplomas in gemology, they rely on their long, rich
experience as experts in their field. Rapidly examining the
precious stones, traders decide how they can best be cut,
how much they might be worth and to which export market they
should be sent. To have a 'good eye', as they say in Mogok
The instinct for gem trading in Mogok is even apparent in
the younger generation, who trade less precious stones
within their limited means.
"I just started gem tradirding at htar pwe with K10,000
after passing .my BEHS (Basic Education High School) exam -
I've made about K100,000 in one year," said a young girl,
beaming with pride.
Htar pwe becomes busy at 10 o'clock until the crowds begin
to disperse at about one o'clock. For these three hours the
people of Mogok are filled with hope and the dream that, one
day, they might be rich.