The gem of love, Ruby is the red member of the Corundum family and is often given as a gift to show the strength of one’s relationship. Its rich, vivid red colours are due to the presence of chromium and its almost identical twin sister, the Sapphire, is similar in all but colour.
Until the early 1800’s, its association with Sapphire lay undiscovered; prior to this period many other gemstones, including Spinel and Garnets, were often misidentified as Ruby.
Most Rubies show purplish red to orangey red hues; however, the overall colour (colour being a combination of hue, shade and saturation) can provide gem dealers with an indication of the stone’s original geographic origin. Burmese Rubies tending to be purplish red in colour, while Thai stones tend to be brownish red.
Ruby shows pleochroism, which means that the colour varies when viewing the gemstone in different directions and many can appear incredibly bright when exposed to the sun (see fluorescence). Inclusions in Rubies are called “silk”, and if sufficiently abundant and precisely arranged this can lead to wonderful asterism; with the correct cutting, Star Rubies can often be created.
Ruby has been a popular gemstone for centuries and has been set in many famous historic pieces of jewellery. Ruby mining can be traced back over 2500 years ago in Sri Lanka. The famous mines in Mogok, Burma were first explored as early as the 6th century AD. Historically, the gem has had many different names around the globe, which highlights how popular it has been with many different civilisations. In Sanskrit, the Ruby was known as “ratnaraj” which stood for “the king of precious gems”, and later “ratnanayaka”; “leader of all precious stones”. The gem was referred to in the Bible as a Carbuncle, although today research has shown that this name was also used for several other red gemstones. Its more recent name, Ruby, is derived from the Latin word “rubers” simply meaning “red”.
As can be imagined, the gem is surrounded by a great deal of folklore and legends. 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.
Pliny the Elder, influenced by the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus (371 – 287BC), 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 2000 years ago, this remains one of the few theories relating to gemstones that he misinterpreted!
In Burma and Thailand 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.
Shortly after Marco Polo documented his travels (in which he recited how Ruby was used by people of the Kahn 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”.
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 has often been said to help stem haemorrhages and cure inflammatory diseases.
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 dollars under the hammer!
Some of the finest Rubies are from Burma, where their colour is said to be comparable to that of “pigeon blood”. Other sources include Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and India.
Ruby is the birthstone for July and is also the anniversary gemstone for both the 15th and 40th year of marriage. 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 jewellery, Rubies are also used extensively in laser technology.