Ruby has been considered one of the most valuable and treasured gems throughout history. It is now the gemstone favoured for 40th wedding anniversaries and the birthstone for July, so what better time to delve into its history…
Rubies are red; the colour of passion, whether love or anger, and they have been connected with these emotions throughout the centuries. The colour is also that of blood, and ancient cultures believed rubies represented the power of life. They are very tough and hard and are therefore associated with endurance and indestructibility (although they are by no means indestructible!).
The name ruby comes to us from the Latin ‘Ruber’ meaning red. A little more romantically, the ancient Sanskrit language dubbed these bright red gemstones ‘Ratnaraj’: The King of precious stones. In ancient times most of the world’s rubies were found in India, and to the Hindu religion they became the most valuable of all gems. They were believed to be borne as fruit from the Kalpa tree, a sacred tree said to fulfil wishes, while offering fine rubies to the god Krishna was held to guarantee reincarnation as an emperor.
The most famous source of rubies is Myanmar (formerly Burma) where the gems have been known since at least 600AD. Centuries ago, Burmese soldiers, believing in the invincibility of rubies would wear them as talismans to protect them from being wounded in battle. For them, wearing the gem was not enough; they would insert them into their flesh to provide the best protection!
The finest rubies can almost seem to glow from within, a property noticed as far back as Roman times, when they were said to hold an inextinguishable flame. This inner heat was believed to be able to melt wax or even boil water. Rubies cannot do either of those things, but the glow can be real. It is due to fluorescence: rubies contain traces of chromium that give them their bright red colour and this element causes a red fluorescence when under ultraviolet light. In stones where there is enough concentration of chromium this means that even ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight can cause the stone to have a subtle glow. Not all rubies will fluoresce though because some will contain traces of iron which suppresses this property.
Today, ruby is still one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. The Sunrise Ruby set a record for coloured gemstones when it sold at auction in 2015 for $30 million; more than $1 million per carat for the 25.59ct stone. Mined in Myanmar, the stone is of the finest red colour and has the advantage of a beautifully even cut that is unusual in rubies which can often be uneven as cutters seek to produce the best balance of colour from the stone.
Although several large, historical ‘rubies’ in Royal collections have been found to be spinel (another beautiful red gemstone frequently confused with ruby prior to the development of gemmological testing and famously present in the British crown jewels under the name of the ‘Black Prince’s ruby’) there are still stunning ruby pieces in the jewellery collections of royals including the British, Portuguese and Danish royal families. In addition to Queen Elizabeth’s ruby suite, the Duchess of Cornwall is a big fan and has two spectacular necklaces while the engagement ring of the Duchess of York was a ruby and diamond cluster.
You don’t need to be royalty to enjoy this beautiful gem. Ruby comes in a variety of hues, from pinkish to purplish or brownish red and an array of shapes, sizes and qualities. You can view a selection of our ruby jewellery on our website or visit us in our showroom to see more. Our showroom is staffed by experienced jewellers and gemmologists who will be pleased to answer any questions you may have and discuss this stunning gemstone with you!