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Ruby has been the undisputed queen of gemstones for centuries, much admired for its magnificent rich red hue, outstanding vitreous lustre and excellent hardness. Its captivating colour, ranging from bright raspberry pink to intense blood-red, is that of love, desire, vivacity and power. This gorgeous gem radiates warmth, passion and a strong sense of vitality and for many its luminosity symbolises the sun’s unrelenting energy. Furthermore, Ruby is a rare, valuable and much sought after precious stone which has long been used to create treasured masterpieces and some of most astonishing jewellery ever made.
What is Ruby?
It is a red variety of the corundum family and consists of aluminum oxide and chromium, with fine traces of other elements depending on the deposit it is from. In its pure form corundum is colourless: it is the addition of chromium which not only gives Rubies their eye-catching red tint but is also responsible for their scarcity. The colour for which it is much treasured varies depending on where it is mined and spans from deep pink red to reddish-orange to deep wine colour or event to red with a violet cast.
Seeping into the stone when they were taking shape, chromium would cause a multitude of cracks and fissures inside the crystals, therefore allowing only few of them to form perfect gemstones and to grow to considerable size. Hence, Rubies weighing more than 3 carats are very rare and those with hardly any inclusions are much sought after and achieve top prices (and are often valued more than Diamonds).
Natural Ruby is identified by some as one of four ‘precious’ gemstones (the other three being Emerald, Sapphire and Diamond) known for their rarity, hardness and monetary value (Ruby is considered second only to Diamond).
Ruby usually forms as prismatic tabular, bipyramidal or rhombohedral crystals, though it also has a granular or massive habit.
Characteristics of Ruby
Ruby has always been prized for its exceptional hardness, measuring 9 on the Mohs scale. Among natural gems, only Diamonds and Moissanite are harder, with Diamond topping the scale by measuring 10. This means that a Ruby will remain bright and will retain its outstanding lustre as the gem is harder than most of the abrasive particles in the atmosphere that contribute to its wear. Furthermore, it has excellent toughness and no cleavage (tendency to break when struck), which makes this outstanding gem suitable for rings and mountings subject to daily wear.
Natural rubies tend to have imperfections within them, such as colour impurities or inclusions. Inclusions of very fine Rutile needles give some Rubies their magnificent silky shine, known as the ‘silk’ of the gem. These inclusions not only often help distinguish natural Rubies from manmade gems, but also increase the value and rarity of a stone when oriented in such a way so that the light reflects off the ‘silk’ in a particular way.
The crystallographic arrangement of the ions in the chemical structure of Rubies causes the absorption of yellow-green light, which is re-emitted as red luminescence. This red emissions adds to the gem’s colour and also conveys the stone with its characteristic magnificent lustre. Furthermore, when this arrangement is stimulated with 694-nanometer photons this emission will grow exponentially in intensity creating the effect used, in 1960, by Theodore Maiman to make the first successful laser.
Types of Ruby
The quality and, therefore, value of Rubies are primarily determined by their colour (after colour follows clarity, cut and carat). The brightest and most prized shade of red is known as ‘pigeon blood red’, defined as ‘a pure deep, rich red, without any admixture of blue or yellow’ (William Fernie).
Top luxury category gems are also known as ‘Myanmar or Burmese Rubies’. These are exceptionally vivid crystals which display unique brilliance in any light, be this artificial or natural. Characterised by a rich, full red colour with a delicate bluish hue, these are rare gems which usually, but not exclusively, come from the legendary ‘Magok Stone Tract’ (also known as the ‘Valley or Rubies’) in northern Myanmar. Some gemstone experts use the term ‘Myanmar or Burmese Ruby’ to indicate any ruby of this very specific highly prized colour, regardless of whether the stone is actually of Burmese origin.
Thailand is hugely popular for its ‘Siamese’ coloured gems, with their elegantly muted deep red at time tending towards brown. This colour is considered second in beauty only to the Burmese variety.
The rutile inclusions often found in Rubies may produce captivating chatoyancy or asterism. This happens when the minute inclusions, or ‘silk’, are structurally oriented in a certain manner as to reflect light producing a ‘cat eye’ or a six-spoked luminous star. These Rubies will be cut into cabochons to properly display the optical effects, and when viewed under a single light source the star will seem to glide across the surface of the stone when the latter is rotated. These ‘Star Rubies’ are indeed precious rarities, whose value will depend on the attractiveness of the colour.
Treatment and enhancement of Rubies
Today, almost all Rubies are treated in some form to improve appearance and quality. This is especially true for Rubies at the lower end of the market. It is worth mentioning that stones that are completely untreated but are still of excellent quality will command a large premium.
Some of the treatments are considered acceptable and therefore used in almost all cases. It is quite common, for example, to heat the rough stone prior to cutting it. The heat treatment will typically occur around temperatures of 1800 °C (3300 °F), though some stones undergo a process of low heat when placed over charcoal at a temperature of about 1300 °C (2400 °F). Improvements may include colour alteration (removing the purple tinge or blue patches), healing of the cracks or fractures (sometimes even completely filling them) and improving transparency by dissolving the rutile.
A treatment which has become more frequent in recent years, is that of lead glass filling. This entails filling the fractures inside the ruby with lead glass (or a similar material), which will dramatically improve the stone’s transparency, making previously unsuitable Rubies fit for applications in jewellery. This is a four step process involving: (i) a pre-polish to remove all surface impurities, (ii) cleaning the rough stone with hydrogen fluoride, (iii) heating the stone at a temperature of about 900 °C (1600 °F) to eradicate impurities inside the fractures while still retaining the silk (no fillers are added at this stage), and finally (iv) heating the stone in an electrical oven for an hour coated in different chemical additives. This last stage can be performed three to four times, using different solutions and mixes to fill all fractures and thus dramatically improve the overall transparency of the Ruby.
Synthetic and imitation Rubies
The first synthetic Ruby was created in 1837 by Faudin, using potash alum with a little chromium for pigment, fused at a high temperature. This opened the gateway for several other experimentations to produce high quality man-made gemstones for which there clearly was great demand. It wasn’t until 1903 that Verneuil announced the production of synthetic Rubies on a commercial scale using a flame fusion process. By 1910 his laboratory had expanded to include 30 furnaces which could produce an average of 1000 kilograms (2000lbs) of beautiful gemstones a year. Most synthetic Rubies nowadays are still produced using the flame fusion method due to the lower costs involved.
Synthetic Rubies may appear perfect to the naked eye but magnification is likely to reveal gas bubbles, striae and curves. Generally speaking, the less obvious and fewer in number these imperfections are, the more valuable the Ruby is. If, however, there are no imperfections, the gemstone will be too obviously artificial and therefore lose value.
Other than being used to create fabulous jewellery, synthetic Rubies also have technological uses. Rods of the man-made gem are used to make ruby lasers and masers. The first working ruby laser was built in 1960 and they are still used today.
Imitation stones also find a wide market given the elevated price of actual Rubies. Imitations date back to Roman times and as early as the 17th century techniques to colour crystals red were developed (scarlet wool was burned in a furnace and then placed under a given stone to convey it something resembling a Ruby’s unique tint). Red Spinels (referred to as Balas Ruby), Red Garnets (referred to as Rubellite) or even coloured glass are the materials most frequently used in place of real gems.
Where can Ruby be found?
Much sought after, Rubies are also extremely rare, especially in their finer qualities.
Myanmar has for centuries held the reputation of the world’s most notable supplier of quality Rubies. In the past, the Mogok Valley region in Upper Myanmar produced some of the finest Ruby gems ever mined, though these deposits are now drying up. Other deposits of note are found around the small town of Mong Hsu, in the north-eastern part of the country, which since the 1990s have rapidly become global suppliers of exquisite gems. However, it was originally thought that Rubies found in these mines would prove unsuitable for use in jewellery as the crystals display a darker purple to black core and a brighter red periphery, until it was discovered that once heat treated the dark core could be turned into a gorgeous deep red. More recently, deposits of fabulous gems have also been found in Namya in northern Myanmar.
Rubies are also mined in several other countries across Asia such as Vietnam which beautiful gems displaying a slightly purplish hue. Thailand produces darker red gems, while relatively large crystals are found in India (in the states of Orissa and Mysore). Sri Lanka once produced raspberry coloured Ceylon Rubies, which have now become very rare. Other deposits are located in northern Pakistan (in the Hunza Valley in Kashmir), Cambodia (in the Pailin and Samlout Districts) Nepal, Laos, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
More recently, East Africa established itself as a significant source of gorgeous gems. Rubies were first discovered in Kenya and Tanzania in the 1960s and soon caught the attention of collectors thanks to their intense colour, spanning from light to dark red. Large deposits were unearthed in 2009 in Mozambique, more specifically in the Cabo Delgado district of Montepuez. In Europe, the Republic of Macedonia is the only mainland country to have significant deposits. Here beautiful gems displaying a unique raspberry colour are found around the city of Prilep. More recently, large deposits have also been found under the receding ice shelf of Greenland.
Word famous masterpieces
The world’s most expensive coloured gem (other than a diamond) is the Sunrise Ruby, which in 2015 was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Switzerland for an astounding $30million (USD). It is a 25.6 carat (5.1 g) Burmese ‘pigeon blood’ Ruby, mounted on a ring designed by Cartier on which the Ruby is set between two heptagon shaped diamonds; named after the homonymous poem written by the Sufi poet Rumi in the 13th Century.
Elizabeth Taylor’s amazing jewellery collection featured several Ruby set pieces. This notably included a ring made by Van Cleef and Arpels given to her by Richard Burton in 1968. It featured a 8.24 carat Ruby surrounded by Diamonds set in gold and was notoriously auctioned by Christies’ in 2011 and sold for an astounding $4.2million USD, breaking the ‘price-per-carat’ record for Rubies ($512,925 USD per carat). Her collection also comprised a Ruby necklace (sold for over $3.7million) and a Cartier Ruby and Diamond suite given to her by her third husband (sold for over $5million).
To commemorate the golden Anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, Harry Winston created real Ruby Slippers set with 4,600 Rubies weighing 1,350 carats overall. The shoes took two months to finish, and only the movie’s lead star, Judy Garland, has so far had the honor of wearing the most expensive pair of shoes in the world.
Weighing 196.10 carats, the Hixon Ruby is considered the most perfect large Ruby crystal in the world. In 1978, it was donated to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles by Colonel Frederick Hixon.
The Liberty Bell Ruby is the largest mined Ruby in the world. It was found in east Africa in the 1950s and sculpted into a miniature Liberty Bell in 1976 in celebration of the United Stated bicentennial. The Ruby has a weight of 8,500 carats (about 4lbs) and is set with fifty diamonds (one to represent each US state). The piece was valued at $2million USD and was stolen in a heist in 2011. Sadly, though four men were arrested and indicted in 2014, police have little hope to ever recover the Liberty Bell Ruby.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. holds some of the world’s finest Rubies, such as the Carmen Lucia Ruby ring featuring a stunning 23.1 carats Burmese Ruby, set in a platinum ring with Diamonds. This is a unique gemstone not only because Rubies larger than 20 carats are exceedingly rare, but also because of its richly saturated homogenous red colour and exceptional degree of transparency. Furthermore, the impeccably proportioned cut produces gorgeous vivid reflections, making the ring all the more dazzling. The stone was mined in Burma, more specifically in the fabled Magok region, in the 1930s and was then donated to the Institution by Peter Buck in memory of his late wife Carmen Lúcia.
Also at the Smithsonian is the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby. Weighing 138.7 carats this is one of the world’s largest and finest Star Rubies. This gem originated from Sri Lanka and is much admired for its well defined star pattern and gorgeous colour. In the late 1950s it was purchased by the advertising mogul Rosser Reeves who used to carry it around as a lucky stone, until he donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1965.
The Bohemian Saint Wenceslas Crown holds an unfaceted Ruby of 250 carats. The extravagant crown forms part of the Bohemian Crown Jewells made in 1347 upon commission of the eleventh king of Bohemia & Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and is dedicated to the first patron saint of the country (from which it gets its name). The crown is made of 22 carat gold and decorated with various precious stones and pearls: more precisely 19 Sapphires, 44 Spinels, 1 Ruby, 30 Emeralds and 20 Pearls. The Royal Treasure is not displayed publicly (only a replica is shown in the Prague Castle), it is kept in a chamber within St Vitus Cathedral in Prague. It is said that the entrance to the jewels is locked by seven locks and that no two keys are entrusted to the same person.
Properties of Ruby
Ruby is said to protect its wearer from injuries, to cure blood disorders and help with circulatory problems. Furthermore, from a more psychic perspective, when worn a Ruby can bestow energy, a positive attitude, emotional strength, increased focus and heightened awareness.
A Ruby’s vivid red colour is associated with passion and desire. It is thought by many to be the stone of love, especially faithful passionate commitment. Furthermore, it is thought to have an aphrodisiac effect increasing sexual energy and desire and initiating the sensual pleasures of life. It does so by stirring the blood and stimulating the heart, encouraging us to enjoy our being in the physical world.
Ruby is the traditional birthstone for those born in July.
This magnificent gemstone is associated with the Base or Root Chakra, or Muladhara, located at the base of the spine. This is the chakra which controls the energy for kinesthetic movement and feeling. It is also the chakra concerned with activating the Kundalini: where the power of pure desire, spiritual energy and divine consciousness originates from. When the Base Chakra is out of balance, it causes lethargy, low enthusiasm and low levels of activity. Also, one might feel slightly flighty, distant and disconnected from reality.
Ruby is capable of stimulating the Muladhara and therefore increases vitality as well as the life-force energy (chi) of both the physical body and the spirit. By balancing the Base Chakra, this gorgeous stone helps us physically regain stamina and strength while also rekindling our spiritual energy. This leads to increased concentration, determination, self-confidence, motivation and clarity of mind. Thus one feels more secure and therefore more independent and less timid, all of which will propel them towards achievement and prosperity.
Many cultures across the world and throughout history have revered Ruby as a talisman of passion, prosperity and protection. For many, its luminous hue symbolizes the sun and many legends have claimed that a Ruby could never be concealed as it would shine through even the thickest clothing. Worn as an amulet or talisman it is reputed to drive away frightful dreams and bring its owner inner peace. In the past it has also been used to ward off pestilence and plague, generally keep the body safe and banish sadness and foolish thoughts.
Star Rubies are thought to have the same metaphysical properties as other Rubies, but with a heightened healing and magical energy (it is said to be most powerful at full moon).The star of the Ruby is able to amplify one’s internal fortitude and resources as it reflects and grounds the light of one’s soul. It is particularly helpful for those with a tendency to self-neglect or self-harm, those who are dealing with suppressed anger or who are trying to overcome a sexual dysfunction or the trauma of power abuse.
Ruby in history and across the world
In Sanskrit, a Ruby is called a ‘ratnaraj’, meaning ‘king of precious stones’. In ancient Indian language, the Bible, Sanskrit texts and other historical writings Rubies are referred to as precious gems, indicating a rich history and appreciation of this beautiful gemstone.
Ancient Asian cultures believed Rubies to have great powers. Hindus for example, believed that offering a Ruby to the god Krishna would assure rebirth as an emperor, while Burmese legend narrates of warriors who inserted Rubies under their skin as they believed it would make them invincible.
Rubies became one of the most treasured gems by European royalty and the upper classes. Furthermore, many medieval Europeans believed that if worn, Rubies would assure prosperity, good health, wisdom and a successful love life.
In 1961, a synthetic Ruby was used at the Hughes Research Laboratories to create the world’s first optical laser. This was the first device to work at optical wavelengths, and the prototype laser built by Theodore Maiman in the 60s is still in working order.