If a gemstone can be defined as “romantic” then the birthstone for those born in July has romance and history in spades. Like a classic long-stemmed red rose, the ruby gemstone has long been associated with passionate love. The name ruby comes from the Latin word “ruber” which means red. Rubies have always been a highly prized gemstone and a perfect ruby is rarer and can be more costly than a comparable diamond. Large, fine quality rubies are extremely rare and very valuable. These richly hued gems can command a higher price-per-carat than most any other colored gemstone.
The ruby scientifically belongs in the mineral species corundum and grows as crystals within metamorphic rock. Corundum is the 2nd hardest mineral next to a diamond. It comes in a wide variety of colors and is known as sapphire in every other color except red, which is designated as ruby. This red color which defines ruby, owes its color to traces of the element chromium. The more chromium, the stronger the red.
Rubies can be found in different geologic settings. Some rubies are formed in metamorphic rock like amphibole and marble. The most renowned rubies have typically formed in marble, which is created by heat and pressure acting on limestone. Called “marble-hosted” by gemologists, these rubies will lack iron and have a higher concentration of chromium. Because of this, these rubies may fluoresce red under ultraviolet light, which can intensify their color.
Rubies can also be transported to the earth’s surface by igneous rocks like basalt, which forms when molten rock cools and solidifies. Basalt-hosted rubies can contain iron, which makes them darker and less intense in their color. Higher iron content can also mask red fluorescence, eliminating that extra glow of red color.
The most desired and expensive color of ruby is a deep, pure, vivid red. Rubies can show a little pinkish, purplish or even have a little orangey red. Gem and jewelry experts are quick to make distinctions between ruby and pink, purple or orange sapphires. Ruby and sapphires have the same chemical composition and the same mineral structure, but trace amounts of impurities will determine if the corundum gem will be a beautiful blue sapphire or a rich red ruby. Basically, rubies and sapphires are like siblings….the same, but different. That difference can be somewhat confusing in what these gems are called. Depending on grading by chemical makeup or color, that difference can show up in the market culture or in the geographic location of a gemstone. Gems that range in the colors of pink, purple or orange are considered sapphires in the United States, but these very same gemstones could be classified and sold as ruby in some other countries. An important fact to keep in mind if you are purchasing rubies from an outside, international source.
It is also wise to note that some gemstones are given ruby-like names because of their ruby-like red color, but in fact they are not rubies at all. These include “Rubellite” which is actually a red tourmaline, “Rubolite” which is a red opal, “Rubicelle” which is a red spinel and “Rubace” which is red-stained quartz.
Today, most rubies come from Myanmar and Madagascar. The name Burma is practically synonymous with fine quality ruby. Today Burma is known as Myanmar after political changes renamed the country. Other significant places of production include Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Tajikistan and Tanzania.
In 1902 a French chemist named Auguste Verneuil successfully developed a flame-fusion process for synthesizing rubies. Today, synthetics are so perfectly made that it can be a difficult challenge for a gemologist to distinguish them from natural rubies. Synthetic rubies can be created using a number of methods including, flux, hydrothermal and czochralski pulling. Natural rubies, like emeralds, almost always have telltale inclusions. These inclusions often provide the only way to confirm whether a ruby is natural or synthetic.
HEALING AND MYSTICAL PROPERTIES
Long associated with royalty, rubies were believed to protect and have magical powers that could guard against evil. Ancient Sanskrit texts honor ruby with the word “ratnaraj” meaning “King of precious stones”. Thirteenth-century medical literature from India purported that crushing rubies into power and holding this powder on the tongue could work as a cure for indigestion or digestive disorders. Warriors in Burma inserted rubies under their skin so they would not be wounded in battle and ancient tribes used rubies as bullets for blow guns in fighting wars. People once believed rubies could ensure a peaceful life. Wearing ruby was thought to bring health, wealth, wisdom and love. People believed that if you wore a ruby in a ring on your left hand or in a brooch on your left side, it would give you the magical ability to live in peace among your enemies.
HARDNESS & TOUGHNESS
Hardness: 9 on Mohs scale
Toughness: Usually excellent, but stones with certain treatments, large fractures or inclusions can be less durable.
Heat: High heat can cause a change in color or clarity; it can also damage or destroy fracture and cavity fillings.
Light: Generally stable, but heat from bright lights can cause oil treatments to leak or dry out.
Chemicals: Can harm filings and remove oil; soldering flux containing boron and firecoat, made with boric acid powder, will etch the surface of even untreated stones.
Most rubies on the market today have received some form of treatment. These treatments include heat treatment, glass filling, clarity enhancement or beryllium treatment. Treatments can have a dramatic effect on a gems appearance and final gem price. Treatments improve the color and clarity of rubies, which makes them more appealing in appearance on the final market. A treated ruby is not necessarily a bad thing! Less than 1% of natural rubies actually make it to final market without any treatment. It is very possible for the average person to never see a natural, untreated ruby in their lifetime. They are that rare, which is why they are so valuable.
Heat Treated Rubies: Placed in a crucible and heated to extreme temperatures of around 1800 degrees, the super heating process can dissolve any rutile inclusions inside the stone, thus improving the color and clarity of the red color.
Flux Heated Rubies: During the heating process, the ruby will be coated in a flux material which can melt and penetrate any cracks or fissures in the stone. Filling these imperfections improves the clarity of the gem, but will decrease its value due to the presence of foreign material.
Beryllium Treatments on rubies will create a more intense color by adding Beryllium to the crucible when heating, which diffuses the crystal lattice.
Glass Filled Rubies: The most common seen treatment on the market today for rubies. Low grade rubies which are full of cracks and fissures are bleached and then heat treated with the addition of liquid glass. This glass penetrates the ruby and will improve the clarity by reducing the number of visible cracks on the surface. This treatment is not very stable and temperature changes, such as with jewelry repair work, or ultrasonic cleaning or shock to the gem, can cause the lead glass to fall out of the stone.
CARE AND CLEANING
Ultrasonic cleaning: Usually safe, but never for fracture or cavity filled stones.
Steam cleaning: Usually safe, but never for fracture or cavity filled stones.
Warm, soapy water: Safe, but avoid strong detergents and vigorous scrubbing on oiled stones.
ALTERNATIVE GEMSTONES: Almandine Garnet, Pyrope Garnet, Rhodolite Garnet, Spinel, Topaz, Tourmaline
EXAMPLES OF JEWELRY WITH RUBY GEMS
Edwardian era Ruby and Diamond Ring
A Victorian cuff bracelet featuring five guilloche enameled plaques in cobalt blue, each with a radiant red old-mine Burmese ruby - four oval rubies and one central emerald-cut ruby weighing 16.00 carats total - each of which is framed by a sparkling diamond-set foliate motif border crafted in silver over rich, hand-engraved rose gold. Sold by Lang Antiques
Duchess of Angouleme Bracelets:
These bracelets are stunning! I was able to view them in person on a trip to Paris when we visited the Louvre Museum. Upon acceding to the throne in 1814, Louis XVIII had at his disposal the Crown jewels, an essential symbol of the monarchy. During the Hundred Days, when he went into exile, he took the jewels with him, and upon his return to power in 1815, he ordered the former empress's parure to be demounted so as to adapt the pieces to current fashion. Thus the rubies and diamonds of Marie-Louise were reset by Paul-Nicolas Menière following the designs of his son-in-law, Evrard Bapst, in memory of Marie-Antoinette, for Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, the daughter of Marie Antoinette, previously called Madame Royale, who became Duchess of Angoulême by her marriage in 1799 to her first cousin, Louis-Antoine d'Artois, the eldest son of the Count of Artois (the future Charles X).
Edwardian Era Ruby and Diamond Ring
FAMOUS RUBY JEWELS
Diamond and Ruby Necklace and Earrings owned by Elizabeth Taylor - given to her by her husband, Mike Todd and designed by Cartier.
Elizabeth Taylor’s ruby and diamond ring was a sought after piece in Christie’s auction of “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: The Legendary Jewels”. The 8.24 carat ruby is judged by experts as “pigeon blood color, and Burmese in origin. She called it the perfect color. The ring was designed and fabricated by Van Cleef & Arpels at the order of Taylor's husband, Richard Burton. He gave it to her at Christmas, 1968.
Christie's described the piece in their pre-auction literature as...
A RUBY AND DIAMOND RING, BY VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
Set with an oval-cut ruby, weighing approximately 8.24 carats, within a circular-cut diamond surround, the shoulders decorated with circular-cut diamonds, mounted in 18k gold, circa 1968, with French assay mark
With maker's mark for Van Cleef & Arpels
With report CS 44952 dated 23 May 2011 from the American Gemological Laboratories stating that it is the opinion of the Laboratory that the origin of this ruby would be classified as Burma (Myanmar). Heat enhancement: None
Accompanied by an additional letter from the American Gemological Laboratories attesting to the rarity and prestige of this ruby
Christie's estimated the sale price to be between $1,000,000 and- $1,500,000. The actual sale price was $4,226,500
Sarah Fergusons oval Burmese ruby surrounded by 10 diamonds from Garrard Jewelers, Britain
Ruby and Diamond engagement ring worn by Eva Longoria.
Sources: Gemological Institute of America (GIA), American Gem Society, Pinterest, Gemrockauctions, Wikipedia, Lang Antiques, Bonhams, Louvre
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