Ruby is probably the most iconic coloured gemstone in the world, and its name will forever be linked with its striking, definitive colour. It is part of the Corundum family of gemstones, which also includes Sapphire, but Ruby is the only form of Corundum to not 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 never fails 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 it's by far one of the most popular gemstones we source at Gemporia. 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 civilisations.
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 civilisations, 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 recognised as being a distinct, red variety of the mineral Corundum. Before this, red coloured 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 categorisation, 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 have a weaker lustre”. 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 world's most sought after stone 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 jewellery. 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 fine-quality stones are still discovered in these lands. However, 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, the gem for the 15th and 40th anniversaries and is often given as a gift to show the strength of one’s relationship. The gem also features a trigonal crystal system, a system characterised by three equal and equally inclined axes. Ruby is the red variety of the mineral Corundum, to which Sapphire also belongs. In its purest form, Corundum is colourless - the iconic colour of Ruby actually comes from traces of chromium within the stone.
A Ruby needs as little as one part chromium per 1,000 parts in order to display a beautiful rich red colour. Corundum is an aluminium oxide, with chromium replacing some of the aluminium in the chemical makeup of Ruby. This unmistakable deep red colour is what earned the gem the nickname ‘the gem of love’.
Ruby And Sapphire Formation
Most Rubies show purplish-red to brownish-red hues. However, the overall colour - colour 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 colour, while Thai stones tend to be brownish-red. Ruby also shows pleochroism, which means that the colour 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 coloured stone, making it one of the most important gems in the coloured stone market. Fine Ruby glows with intense red in sunlight thanks to red fluorescence, which intensifies its red colour. 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 colour has been enhanced.
Large, natural Rubies of good colour 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 colour 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 colour 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 lustre will be unlocked. The quality of the cut plays the most vital role in judging both the Diamond’s beauty and value, but with coloured gemstones it's the vividness of its body colour that we are most interested in. As Rubies and Blue Sapphires are both primary colours, the purity of their colour 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, Ruby is a tough and durable gemstone, and when set in precious metal it should continue to shine for thousands of years to come. Besides being used in jewellery, Rubies are also used extensively in laser technology. Rubies tend to be cut by lapidarists in the countries in which they're discovered, which can sometimes mean they need to be recut elsewhere in order to create a satisfactory look for jewellery. This is often because the lapidarists in the country of origin will cut the stone for maximum carat weight (to maximise profits), rather than prioritising the beauty of the stone.
Rubies are generally found in smaller carat weights. Finding stones over 5cts is unusual, and finding Rubies over 10cts is incredibly rare. Colour-wise, Ruby transitions seamlessly into Pink Sapphire when it reaches a point where it is considered more pink than red and 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 colour, 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 colour to blood, it was once even thought to help stem bleeding and cure inflammatory diseases.
GEMOLOGICAL PROPERTIES OF RUBY
- Colour Red (brownish red through pinkish red)
- Family Corundum
- Mohs Scale Hardness 9
- Specific Gravity 3.97 - 4.05
- Refractive Index 1.768 - 1.772
- Lustre Adamantine to vitreous
- Crystal System Trigonal
- Transparency Transparent to opaque
- Chemical Formula Al2O3
- Composition Aluminium Oxide
WHERE IS RUBY MINED?
Where do Rubies come from? Well, some of the finest on the planet come from Sri Lanka, which is also a world class source of Sapphire, known as Ceylon Sapphire. Other highly regarded sources include Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and we source a very fine grade of the gemstone from the island of Madagascar, home to so many top grade gemstones. We discuss these three locations in more detail below.
Each Ruby source gives the stone unique locational characteristics, which is why so many gemstone connoisseurs enjoy collecting Ruby from the different countries in which it can be found. There are also deposits in Mozambique, known as Montepuez Ruby, as well as in India, China, Australia and Tanzania, where it is known as Winza Ruby.
VARIETIES OF RUBY
Rubies and Sapphires from Thailand have been sought after by collectors and connoisseurs for hundreds of years, but for a long time Thai Ruby was in the shadow of the Ruby from its next door neighbour, Burma (now known as Myanmar). However, Thai Ruby got its chance to take centre stage in 1962, when a military coup in Burma made the most famous Ruby mines in the world suddenly inaccessible. The popularity and quality of Burmese Ruby meant that quite an industry had been built up around the gem, so when this industry was on the verge of collapse, many of the skilled miners, cutters and dealers hopped over the border to Thailand and continued their trade with Thai Ruby, significantly increasing awareness of the already famous stone.
Up to 90% of the world's Rubies still pass through Thailand, because the skill and expertise for Ruby in the region is unmatched anywhere else. Thai Ruby is famed for its desirable deep red primary hue, but the gems are characterised by a subtle purple secondary hue that sets these stones apart from other sources. These Rubies also exhibit a world-class clarity that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. Thai Ruby can sometimes also be known as Siam Ruby.
Burmese Ruby has been described as the brightest and most desirable Ruby ever discovered, with an unrivalled vivid, vibrant and pure red colour. As a result, it is one of the most respected and revered locations of any gemstone. Rubies have been mined in Myanmar for centuries, and none are finer than those found in the Mogok area where mining is thought to have begun as long ago as the 6th century AD. Very little heavy machinery is used in the process, with most stones being unearthed through hand digging and panning. The gem is generally discovered in small carat weights, and any that are discovered in greater carat weights will sell for millions.
In May 2015, a 25.5ct Burmese Ruby known as the Sunrise Ruby was auctioned at Sotheby's in Geneva for $30 million (about £23 million). This greatly increased the auction record for the sale of a Ruby, which had been set the previous November when the Graff Ruby (also a Burmese Ruby) sold for $8.6 million. The incredibly strong prices were put down to an increased interest and appreciation for coloured gemstones, after decades of Diamond stealing all the attention. Politically, the country is now known as Myanmar, but 'Burmese' is still used as the prefix for Rubies of this provenance. This is similar to how we still use the 'Ceylon' prefix for Sapphires mined in Sri Lanka, even though the island changed its name in 1972.
Traditionally, the very finest Rubies have come from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma, but in 2015 an exciting new discovery of Ruby was made on the island of Madagascar. This is a different source to the stones found on the island in 2005, and is being hailed as one of the most important gemstone discoveries for Madagascar in over 30 years. The gems appear to exhibit a unique glow, and feature a much higher iron content in their makeup than would normally be seen with Ruby. On top of their bold red body colour, they shine bright with a lively, secondary pink hue.
The gem is found in the jungles of the Zahamena National Park, and is mostly mined artisanally with traditional tools. We at Gemporia were able to source the gem very quickly after its discovery purely because of our network of contacts in Madagascar, our relationships with the local miners and their fast, decisive action when the stones first appeared. Whatever your preference in hue, there's no doubt that these are some of the finest Rubies we've seen in our entire history.
About Malagsy 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, though, that Ruby is often fissure-filled to improve its appearance and to help stabilise 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.
Jewellery Cleaning Methods
HOW TO CARE FOR RUBY
As with all jewellery, keep each piece in a separate box our pouch if you can, or in a box that stops items rubbing against or scratching others. Scientifically, only Sapphire and Diamond would be tough enough to scratch Ruby, but it's always best to keep pieces separate. As always, remove jewellery before exercising, doing housework or when using any harsh chemicals like bleach. When not in use, ensure your Rubies are kept away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight too, though don't worry about wearing your jewellery on sunny days - this is just a storage precaution.
WHERE TO BUY RUBY
A jewellery 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 your looking for a dainty everyday Ruby ring in silver for everyday wear, or a whole suite of gold jewellery to wear for all your biggest occasions. Start with the links below - your perfect Ruby is just waiting to be discovered.
All Rings Earrings Necklaces Bracelets Pendants