Rubies are the birthstone of July.
And what a special stone it is.
One of the most precious jewels, the ruby is sometimes described as the king of gems. Signifying love, it’s also said to represent health and wisdom and is meant to bring good fortune. Although some will say you’ll need considerable good fortune to own a ruby in the first place.
If you’re thinking about buying one for yourself, or as a special gift, here’s some facts about the ruby that you might find interesting.
Red is the colour
The name ‘ruby’ is derived from the word ‘ruber’, the Latin for red. But it’s come to represent a colour too – ruby red is a medium dark-shade of pink-red.
There’s even a book and film called “Ruby red”, part of a trilogy that includes Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green written by German writer, Kerstin Kier.
One of the big four
It’s one of the five traditional gems that traditional jewellers refer to as the cardinal gems:
amethyst (purple), diamond (white) sapphire (blue) emerald (green) ruby (red).
(Although nowadays it’s more usual to talk of a big four, amethyst having been relegated due to its relative cheapness.)
The colour is caused by chromium, a trace element that ranges from orangey to purply red. And the strength of the ruby’s red depends on how much chromium is present – the more the colour the stronger the colour.
It’s also the rarest of the gemstones, with a value to match.
First discovered over 2,000 years ago in India, rubies have a fascinating history.
Ancient warriors used to set them in their flesh, believing that they offered protection in battle. They’ve also been mentioned in the bible, and worn by royalty throughout human history. In medieval times, Europeans thought that they bought wealth, wisdom and success.
Queen Elizabeth wears them on some special occasions on her Burmese Ruby Tiara, given to her as a wedding gift from the people of Burma.
Rubies are simply wizard
In popular culture, rubies feature in the slippers worn by Dorothy in the wizard of Oz.
(In the novel on which the film was based, Dorothy wore white slippers, but the colour was changed to red to take advantage of the new Technicolor film process.)
In 1989, to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary, Harry Winston created a real pair of ruby slippers adorned with 1,350 carats of rubies and 50 carats of diamonds – valued at three million dollars and the most expensive shoes in the world.
A long time in the making
Natural rubies are created over 20 to 30 million years by tectonic movements in the earth’s crusts. They’re made up of a mineral called corundum, with the ruby forming from a small impurity of chromic oxide.
Incidentally, corundum is the same mineral that sapphires are made from, but the blue colour is caused by titanium and iron impurities.
The great imposter
There’s another mineral that is so similar to ruby that people have been confused by it for over 1,000 years. It’s called spinel, so valuable in its own right, you’ll even find it in the crown jewels.
For example, the Black Prince’s Ruby is one of the most famous.
King Henry V had it set in his helmet when he defeated the French at the battle of Agincourt. And it is set inside the Imperial State Crown made for the coronation of King George V1 in 1937.
But it’s actually neither black nor ruby.
Named after black Prince Edward in the 14th century, the gem is a large spinel.
Traditionally rubies have been mined
For centuries rubies have been mined, with Myanmar (Burma) the main source, but they’ve also been found all over the world.
That includes, for example, Thailand, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Australia, Brazil, India and even Scotland plus some US states like North and South Carolina, plus Montana and Wyoming. (But the Republic of North Macedonia is the only country they can be found in mainland Europe.)
It may be an impressive list, but don’t be fooled into thinking ruby is easy to find. It’s a very rare mineral in the natural world which explains its high price.
Simulated or synthetic rubies have been in production since about 1850.
Sometimes described as garnet doublets, synthetic rubies are made when a piece of garnet is fused with coloured glass. The method was perfected around the late 1800s, and examples on display at the Paris World Fair in 1900.
But although synthetic rubies may look flawless, and the best spinel may be worth an enormous amount, the limited supply of rubies mean that the real thing tends to have the most value.
The 4 Cs
Similar to a diamond, the value of a ruby is determined by the 4 Cs: colour, cut, clarity, and carat weight.
The brightest and most valuable shade is blood red that commands a large premium over other rubies of similar quality.
Next to consider is clarity, the clearer the stone the better.
However, be careful.
All natural rubies have imperfections in them, including colour impurities and inclusions.
Synthetic rubies that are created in a laboratory under controlled and monitored conditions don’t have them.
There are also ways to improve their colour and durability, such as heat treatment, irradiation and fracture filing. So remember to ask what treatments your ruby has had if you buy one.
Big is beautiful.
Rubies over one carat are very rare – and the price goes up significantly with size.
For example, a commercial quality 5-carat ruby sells for ten times more than a commercial quality 1-carat ruby. And a fine quality 5-carat ruby sells for around 25 times more than a fine quality 1-carat ruby.
A cut above the rest
The shape of the cut will highlight a certain aspect of the ruby. Most have oval or cushion shapes. Round or pear shapes will enhance the light and brilliance of the ruby but cost more.
How to know it’s the real thing
Until recently all red gemstones were referred to as rubies. But it’s not just the greater density and hardness that differentiate a real ruby from spinel. A ruby, unlike a spinel, will display different colours when viewed from different directions.
If you want to know whether it’s synthetic or natural you need to look at its structure under a microscope, to examine the lines formed during the gem’s growth.
If they’re lab created they’ll have the formation of bubbles, because of chemical traces. Minimal internal flaws suggest a synthetic ruby too.
Ask for a certificate of authenticity
However as the process of creating lab grown rubies has improved, the best way to ensure a gem is real to request a certificate of authenticity.
Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in a ruby, a spinel, or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s worthwhile seeking the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for advice.
So if you’re looking for necklaces, bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings or anything else, if you want something truly special John can help you find it.