Is there anything more striking than a beautiful, red ruby? If you secretly stop and stare at them glimmering in sunlight, we won’t tell. We do it too! Rubies make perfect gifts for July birthdays and wedding jewelry, so learn more about this deep, colorful gemstone.
What is a Ruby?
Representing the color of love and passion, a ruby is a red gemstone that’s said to be one of the rarest among popular colored gemstones, such as sapphires and emeralds. It’s part of the corundum family, a mineral that’s actually colorless in its natural form. Similar to other gems, such as diamonds, rubies are formed under extreme heat and pressure beneath the Earth’s surface. When oxygen and aluminum atoms compress, they become corundum and eventually rubies!
Of all species in the corundum family, rubies are the most valuable due to their rarity. In fact, some of the most expensive stones can cost $1,000,000 per carat! Color has the biggest impact on a ruby’s value. The finest gems range from a pure, vibrant red to a somewhat purplish red color. Rubies that exhibit stronger orange or purplish tones decrease in quality.
So, what causes these variations in color? Certain elements become part of a ruby’s crystals during the growth process. Specifically, the deep red color is a result of chromium in the stone. The more chromium that’s present, the deeper the color. Chromium is also responsible for a ruby’s natural red fluorescence — aka the additional intense color that you see when a ruby sparkles in sunlight. No wonder it’s so eye-catching!
However, it’s important to note that plenty of rubies require extra help to achieve the perfect shade of red. It’s common for these stones to undergo heat treatments, which remove purple hues and leave a purer red color. This procedure may also remove small, needle-like inclusions (aka internal imperfections), which can cause a ruby to appear lighter and less transparent.
Pro Tip: Before purchasing, you can always ask your jeweler what types of treatments, if any, your ruby has received.
Image courtesy of GIA.edu
History of the Ruby
Rubies have existed for centuries and were reportedly traded along China’s North Silk Road as early as 200 BCE! These stones have long been associated with wealth and success, but they have held different meanings in various cultures throughout history. For example, medieval Europeans believed that rubies also ensured good health and wisdom. In ancient India, residents felt they represented power, youthful energy and peace among enemies. Other cultures thought rubies could predict bad luck/danger, calm anger and cure inflammatory diseases.
Myanmar, previously known as Burma, has provided many of the world’s most beautiful rubies since at least 600 CE. Back then, soldiers inserted rubies into their skin, as they believed the stones would protect them during battle. Other notable rubies have hailed from the Himalayas and northern Vietnam. Gems in these locations are typically found in layers of marble and lack iron. This means many of these rubies display an intense red color.
In other areas, rubies are formed in basalt rocks. As a result, these gems possess more iron and therefore exhibit weaker color. Rubies have also originated in Mozambique, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar.
But even though rubies have existed for hundreds of years, they weren’t always classified as part of the corundum family. Until 1800, rubies were often confused for other gemstones, such as tourmaline, garnet and red spinel.
Ruby Fun Facts
Ruby is the July birthstone and official gemstone for celebrating 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries.
The term “ruby” comes from the Latin word, “ruber,” which means “red.” In Sanskrit, an Indo-European language, ruby is referred to as “ratnaraj,” which means “king of gems/precious stones.”
Rubies are incredibly durable, scoring a 9 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Only diamonds score higher with a perfect 10. This makes it possible to wear rubies in all kinds of everyday jewelry, from rings to pendants.
“Pigeon’s blood” is the term used for the finest ruby color: a deep red with a touch of purple.
In 1960, the first laser was built, featuring a ruby’s natural red light. The gems are still used in lasers today as well as other items, such as watches and medical tools.
One of England’s prized possessions, the Black Prince’s Ruby, was once considered one of the largest cut rubies. But it was later determined that the stone was actually a different gem: spinel.
In 1988, a nearly 16-carat ruby from Burma sold for more than $3 million at a Sotheby’s auction, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine art and jewelry. At the time, this marked the highest auction payment for a colored gemstone.
The 125West Ruby currently holds the title of largest ruby. This unpolished, rough-cut stone weighs nearly 18,700 carats, an equivalent of 8.2 pounds!
The Bible includes four ruby references, all of which connect the stone to qualities such as beauty and wisdom.
The oval-shaped DeLong Star Ruby, discovered in Burma in the 1930s, features six rays that create the shape of a star. It was named after special gemstone and mineral collector, Edith Haggin DeLong. Once the stone was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, it was stolen in 1964 during what’s often referred to as the biggest jewelry heist in New York’s history.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” American jeweler Harry Winston used 4,600 rubies to create real ruby slippers.
In 2015, a ring featuring a 25.59-carat ruby, known as the Sunrise Ruby, sold for $1.2 million per carat at a Sotheby’s auction, meaning the anonymous Swiss bidder paid a total of $32.4 million! The platinum ring included a large “pigeon’s blood” ruby, whose origins could be traced back to Myanmar, and two hexagonal diamonds. This not only broke the record for the largest auction payment for a colored gemstone, but the Sunrise Ruby also now holds the record as the world’s most expensive ruby.
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Gage Diamonds is Chicago's premier jewelry showroom and online retailer of engagement rings, wedding bands, and fine jewelry. We offer a selection of dazzling ruby jewelry, from rings to earrings.
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