Ruby is probably the most iconic colored gemstone in the world, and its name will forever be linked with its striking, definitive color. It is part of the Corundum family of gemstones, which also includes Sapphire – Ruby is the only form of Corundum not to fall under the Sapphire name. Mining of the gemstone can be traced back over 2,500 years, a period of time over which the stone has amassed an incredible history. Here we delve into the story of Ruby and explore how it came to be known as ‘the king of gems’.
THE HISTORY OF RUBY
Just being in the presence of a quality Ruby cannot fail to make one’s heart beat faster. No other gemstone shares such a strong link with feelings of love and passion. It holds an iconic status in the world of gems and is by far one of the most popular gemstones we source at Bjaar. Ruby is one of only four precious gemstones, along with Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond. All other gemstones are known as semi-precious.
Ruby has one of the richest histories of all the gemstones. Since it was first discovered over 2,500 years ago, it has captivated all who have encountered it. Early cultures believed that Ruby held the power of life and ancient scriptures mention Ruby in association with attributes like beauty and wisdom. The name Ruby comes from the Latin word ‘ruber’, which means ‘red’. In Sanskrit, Ruby is known as ‘ratnaraj’, meaning ‘the king of gems’, and later also ‘ratnanayaka’, meaning ‘leader of all precious stones’. Historically, the gem has had many other different names around the globe, which highlights how popular and important it has been with many different civilizations.
Ruby mining can be traced back to over 2,500 years ago in Sri Lanka, which is still one of the finest sources of Ruby (and Sapphire) in the world. In Burma (now called Myanmar, a known Ruby source since at least 600 AD), warriors carried Ruby as a talisman, as they believed it made them invincible in battle. In Burma and Thailand, another significant source of quality Ruby, one legend tells of the ancient Burmese dragon who laid three magical eggs. From the first egg came forth Pyusawti, King of Burma, from the second emerged the Chinese Emperor, and the third egg provided all of the vivid Rubies in Burma, many of which local gem traders will tell you are yet to be discovered. Burmese miners once believe that the Pink Sapphires they found were Rubies that had not yet ripened.
Ruby is mentioned frequently in significant historic scriptures, spanning the entire globe and covering many different civilizations, eras, and faiths. In the Bible, the gemstone is known as Carbuncle, although recent research has shown that this name was also used for several other red gemstones. In fact, despite Ruby’s vast history, it wasn’t until improvements in gemstone identification techniques the early 1800s that Ruby was recognized as being a distinct, red variety of the mineral Corundum. Before this, red-colored Spinel and Garnet were often erroneously attributed as Ruby. The most famous ‘Ruby’ in the British crown jewels, the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ in the Imperial State Crown, is, in fact, a 170ct unfaceted Spinel.
Because of this relatively late scientific categorization, there are many trade names still in use that are not actually attached to varieties of Ruby. Buyer beware if you come across ‘Arizona Ruby’ or ‘Australian Ruby’, as you may be buying Garnet. If you see ‘Siberian Ruby’, you’re probably buying Rubellite, the gorgeous red variety of Tourmaline. Pliny the Elder, influenced by the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus (371 – 287 BC), wrote, “In each variety of Ruby there are so-called ‘male’ and ‘female’ stones, of which the former are the more brilliant, while the latter has a weaker luster”. Considering Pliny’s work took place almost 2,000 years ago, this remains one of the few theories relating to gemstones that he misinterpreted. Shortly after Marco Polo (1254 – 1324 AD) documented his travels, in which he recited how Ruby was used by people of the Khan to protect themselves in battle, Sir John Mandeville wrote a book of his own global experiences (compiled circa 1365). Mandeville believed that “Once a man had touched the four corners of his land with his Ruby, then his house, vineyard, and orchard would be protected from lightning, tempests and poor harvest”.
Ruby grew in importance with the rise of the western world and became the most sought after stone in the world by European royalty and the upper classes. Many medieval Europeans wore Rubies to ‘guarantee’ health, wealth, wisdom and success in love. Ruby has been a popular gemstone for centuries and has been set in many famous historic pieces of jewelry. Some of the most famous Rubies include the Graff Ruby (8.6cts), the Sunrise Ruby (25.5cts) and the Carmen Lúcia Ruby (23cts), all three of which are Burmese in origin. Historically, Ruby was mined between the three countries of Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka, and indeed fine quality stones are still discovered in these lands. More recent discoveries have been made on the African continent, in countries such as Mozambique, where we source Montepuez Ruby, and Tanzania, where we source Winza Ruby. Madagascar also provides us with very fine Ruby, known as Malagasy Ruby, which we talk more about below. Ruby may have a remarkable history, which we’ve only scratched the surface of here, but with new deposits still being discovered, it is certainly a gemstone with a future very much as exciting as its past.
RUBY GEMSTONE INFORMATION
Ruby is the birthstone for July and the gem for the 15th and 40th anniversaries. It is often given as a gift to show the strength of one’s relationship. The gem features a trigonal crystal system. Ruby is the red variety of the mineral Corundum, to which Sapphire also belongs. Corundum in its purest form is colorless, the iconic color of Ruby comes from traces of chromium within the stone. The gem needs as little as one part chromium per 1,000 parts in order to display a beautiful rich red color. Corundum is aluminum oxide, with chromium replacing some of the aluminum in the chemical makeup of Ruby. This unmistakable deep red color has earned the gem the nickname ‘the gem of love’.
Most Rubies show purplish-red to brownish-red hues. However, the overall color, the color being a combination of hue, tone, and saturation, can provide gem dealers with an indication of the stone’s original geographic origin. Burmese Rubies tend to be purplish-red in color, while Thai stones tend to be brownish-red. Ruby shows pleochroism, which means that the color varies when viewing the gemstone in different directions. Inclusions in Rubies are called ‘silks’, and if sufficiently abundant and precisely arranged this can lead to wonderful asterism. With the correct, highly-skilled cutting, incredible Star Rubies can often be the result. Inclusions are normally welcomed in Ruby as they not only show that a gem is the work of Mother Nature rather than a synthetic stone, but they also make each stone unique and give it character and charm.
Rubies can command the highest per-carat price of any colored stone. This makes Ruby one of the most important gems in the colored stone market. Fine Ruby glows with intense red in sunlight thanks to red fluorescence, which intensifies its red color. It is said that over 95% of Rubies on the market today have been heat-treated, therefore whenever buying a Ruby it is best to assume that the gem’s color has been enhanced. Large, natural Rubies of good color and clarity are so valuable that they often demand a higher price per carat than even the most flawless Diamonds. For example, in 1988 Sotheby’s auctioned a 15.97ct Ruby which sold for more than $3.6 million under the hammer and there are many other examples of Ruby selling for incredible prices.
Some of the finest Rubies are from Burma, where their color is said to be comparable to that of ‘pigeon blood’. At first glance, this isn’t a particularly pleasant comparison, but the term actually refers to the intense color of the red ring surrounding the pupil of a pigeon’s eye. The phrase ‘pigeon blood red’ originated in Burma and many local gem traders insist it should only ever be used in reference to very fine Burmese Rubies. Other important sources of Ruby include Thailand, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and India. A new deposit of Ruby was found in Madagascar in 2015, and we talk more about this important find below.
When valuing a Ruby, we apply different values than we do with Diamonds. With Diamonds, how well the gem is cut has a great bearing on how well its brilliance, dispersion, and luster will be unlocked. The quality of the cut plays the most vital role in judging both Diamond’s beauty and value. With colored gemstones, it is the vividness of its body color that we are most interested in. As Rubies and Blue Sapphires are both primary colors, the purity of their color plays a critical role. Although the secondary tones in a Thai Ruby can be useful for identifying the gem’s origin, and even though sometimes it can be very attractive, generally speaking, the purer the red, the more valuable the Ruby.
As it has a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, it is a tough and durable gemstone, and when set in precious metal should continue to shine for thousands of years to come. Besides being used in jewelry, Rubies are also used extensively in laser technology. Rubies tend to be cut by lapidaries in the countries in which they are discovered, which can sometimes mean they need to be recut elsewhere in order to create a satisfactory look for jewelry. This is often because the lapidaries in the country of origin will cut the stone for maximum carat weight (to maximize profits) rather than prioritizing the beauty of the stone. Rubies are generally found in smaller carat weights. Finding stones over 5cts is unusual, finding Rubies over 10cts is incredibly rare. Color-wise, Ruby transitions seamlessly into Pink Sapphire when it reaches a point where it is considered more pink than red. The exact hue at which this divide occurs has been a matter of furious debate for many years!
RUBY CRYSTAL HEALING
Gemstones are as old as time and in the years since their first discovery they’ve picked up a lot more than adoring collectors and fascinated mineralogists. Many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties, and whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that any of these properties are real, it’s still interesting to explore the esoteric side of Mother Nature’s miracles. It’s worth asking ourselves, “If you truly believe in something, does that mean it’s true”? Scientifically, the answer is no, but what about on a more personal, spiritual level? If you really truly believe that an item in your house is having an effect on you, are you more likely to feel that effect? It’s really not for us to say, but it’s a very interesting concept that deserves further research. Once again though, we must point out though that no studies have ever found any therapeutic effects or properties in gemstones, and the following is for your information only.
With a history as rich as its color, Ruby is understandably surrounded by a great deal of folklore and legend. In the ancient world, people believed that Rubies could help them predict the future and they have been worn as talismans to protect from illness or misfortune ever since. It has also been said that the wearer of a Ruby would enjoy romance, friendship, energy, courage, and peace. For many centuries, Ruby has been thought to remove sadness, prevent nightmares and protect against many illnesses. With its likeness in color to the blood, it was once even thought to help stem bleeding and cure inflammatory diseases.
WHERE IS RUBY MINED?
VARIETIES OF RUBY
- Malagasy Ruby
- Burmese Ruby
- Thai Ruby
HOW TO CLEAN RUBY
It’s a beautiful gemstone, but how do you clean Ruby if it starts to look a little dull? The easiest way is to use the warm soapy water and soft cloth method. This is perfectly safe to use on Ruby, as it’s one of the hardest gemstones – in fact, only Diamond is harder. Be aware that Ruby is often fissure-filled to improve its appearance and to help stabilize the gem. Unless you are absolutely certain that your Ruby is 100% natural, we’d recommend staying well away from steam cleaners and ultrasonic cleaners. In fact, even if your Ruby is 100% natural, there’s really no reason to go beyond soapy water unless you’re having real trouble shifting the dirt.
WHERE TO BUY RUBY
A jewelry collection without Ruby is like strawberries without cream – they’re just meant to go together. If you don’t yet own a Ruby, we have a glorious number of designs to choose from, whether you’re looking for a dainty everyday Ruby ring in silver for everyday wear, or a whole suite of gold jewelry to wear for all your biggest occasions. Just contact us at [email protected] and we will be happy to help you. 🙂