Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum, colored by the element chromium. All other colors of gem-quality corundum are called sapphire, which means color is key for this royal gemstone. Accordingly, the name “ruby” comes from rubeus, the Latin word for red. In ancient Sanskrit, ruby translated to ratnaraj, which meant “king of precious stones.” These fiery gems have been treasured throughout history for their color and vitality. The chromium that gives ruby its red color also causes fluorescence, which makes rubies glow like a fire from within. Paradoxically, chromium is also what makes this gem scarce because it can cause cracks and fissures. Few rubies actually grow large enough to crystallize into fine quality gems, and these can bring even higher prices than diamonds. Burma’s Mogok Valley historically produced the finest ruby material, famous for its deep blood-red color with purplish hues. These Burmese Rubies, also called Pigeon’s Blood Rubies, command a premium over brownish or orange-tinged varieties from other regions. The Mong Hsu region of Myanmar began producing rubies in the 90's after discovering that heat treatment improved the color saturation. Other ruby deposits exist in Vietnam, Thailand, India, parts of the Middle East, East Africa and even the United States. Tough and durable, ruby measures 9 on the Mohs scale. Diamond is the only natural gemstone harder than ruby. Ruby’s strength and red fluorescence make it valuable for applications beyond jewelry. Both natural and synthetic rubies are used in watchmaking, medical instruments and lasers. Due to its deep red color, ruby has long been associated with the life force and vitality of blood. Ancients believed that it amplified energy, heightened awareness, promoted courage and brought success in wealth, love and battle.
Symbolic of passion, protection and prosperity, ruby gemstones have been revered since ancient times. Rubies have been particularly prized in Asian countries. Records suggest that rubies were traded along China’s North Silk Road as early as 200 B.C. Chinese noblemen adorned their armor with rubies because they believed the gem would grant protection. They also buried rubies beneath building foundations to secure good fortune. Ancient Hindus believed they’d be reborn as emperors if they offered rubies to the god Krishna. In Hindu folklore, the glowing fire within rubies burned so hot that they allegedly boiled water. Greek legends similarly claimed that ruby’s warmth could melt wax. In Burma, a significant ruby source since at least 600 AD—warriors believed that rubies made them invincible. They even implanted rubies into their skin to grant protection in battle. Burmese rubies are still some of the most prized of all ruby gems. Many cultures also admired ruby as a symbol of love and passion. Rubies have long been considered the perfect wedding gem. Though ruby has a long history, it wasn’t recognized as a variety of corundum until 1800. Prior to that, red spinel, tourmaline, and garnet were also believed to be ruby. Even the Black Ruby, one of the famed crown jewels of England, was considered one of the largest cut rubies until determined to be spinel. Imitation ruby dates back as far as Roman times, though it wasn’t synthesized until the early 1900s. The red fluorescence power of ruby helped build the first working laser in 1960. Rubies—both natural and synthetic—are still used to make lasers, as well as watches and medical instruments. After classical Burmese mines depleted, the Mong Hsu region of Myanmar started producing rubies in the 1990s. Though these lacked the rich red hue of traditional Burmese Rubies, they were treated with heat to improve saturation and transparency. Heat treated rubies is a common practice nowadays.
Whether you’re showing your love for someone born in July, or celebrating a 15th or 40th wedding anniversary, there’s no better gift than ruby gemstone jewelry. Popular throughout history, ancient people believed these precious gems would rouse the senses, amplify positive energy and guarantee health, wisdom, wealth and success in love. Like diamonds, rubies are evaluated using the 4Cs, plus size and geographic origin. The most important feature of a ruby is its red color, as other hues of this gem species are considered sapphire. The finest ruby is a vibrant purplish red, losing value (and classification as a ruby) as it leans toward brown, orange or even pink. Rubies also require good transparency. Opaque rubies are much less valuable, even if they display cat’s eye or asterism. All natural rubies contain imperfections, like rutile inclusions called “silk.” These can actually increase the value of ruby (when displaying a rare cat’s eye or star effect) and are often used to determine a gem’s authenticity. The Sunrise Ruby is the world’s most expensive gemstone other than a diamond. A 25.6-carat Burmese Pigeon Blood Ruby set between two diamonds weighing 2.5 and 2.7 carats respectively, it sold at auction in 2015 for nearly $30 million, setting a new record price-per-carat. Lower quality rubies are heat treated to improve color saturation and minimize inclusions, making these varieties more affordable. A valuable gift to symbolize passion, protection and prosperity, ruby is the perfect way to express powerful emotions.