For centuries, rubies have been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on earth, prized for their distinguishing rich red hue and luster. Known as “ratnaraj,” or the “king of precious stones” in Sanskrit, rubies have traditionally been associated with love and passion, but also good health, power, prosperity, and wisdom.
With colors ranging from pale pink to a deep red with a hint of blue (known as “pigeon blood”), rubies are mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts, the Bible, and even “The Travels of Marco Polo.” This birthstone for July is used in a wide variety of jewelry items today, and continues to make the bold and colorful statement that has made it coveted throughout the ages. No precious stone commands as much respect, or fetches as high a price, as the ruby.
Basic Ruby Gemology
Rubies are the red variety of the mineral corundum, one of the hardest minerals on earth, second only to diamonds. All other colors of corundum are sapphires, and though rubies and sapphires are identical in all properties except color, rubies have always been classified as an individual gemstone.
Pure corundum is colorless—it is the presence of small amounts of chromium that both gives rubies their color and limits the size of the crystal. The presence of chromium causes many tiny fissures and cracks to form inside the crystal, and only perfect geological conditions can lead to a ruby of more than two or three carats.
Rubies are judged by the classic four Cs of diamond valuation: color, cut, clarity, and carat weight, with color being the most important. The most coveted red is called “pigeon blood,” and though all rubies are red, they are pleochroic in nature, exhibiting more than two colors when viewed from different angles. Secondary hues in rubies can range from orange to purple, violet, and pink.
Most rubies have some inclusions visible to the naked eye, though “eye clean” rubies do exist, and can command extremely high prices. Inclusions of slender, parallel rutile needles can cause a polished ruby to exhibit asterism, and these so-called “star rubies,” if transparent, are highly prized. Unfortunately, the same rutile inclusions responsible for asterism tend to decrease transparency and cause a hazy effect known as silk. Rubies that are dull and opaque can be fairly inexpensive, even when they display asterism.
Rubies are typically mixed-cut, with brilliant-cut crowns and step-cut pavilions. Common shapes include ovals and cushions, though rubies can be round, triangular, pear, and marquise shaped. Rubies that display asterism are typically cut en cabochon to highlight the optical feature.
Until the 19th century, every red gemstone was called a ruby. Spinels can rival the red color of a ruby, and even some garnets were once thought to be rubies. The “Black Prince’s Ruby” and the “Timur Ruby,” both jewels of the English royal crown, were actually discovered to be spinels in the late 1800s.
Gem Treatments for Rubies
Rubies are often heat treated to improve color and clarity. The heating process removes tiny internal flaws and inclusions, and has been used for many hundreds of years. Simple heat treatment is considered to be a stable and permanent enhancement, indistinguishable from natural heating processes, and is widely accepted as long as it is disclosed. For this reason, this kind of enhancement does not typically lower the value of the gemstone.
Truly clean stones that have not been heat treated can command extremely high prices. Other treatments, such as diffusion coloring, or filling imperfections with polymers or lead glass are much less acceptable, and typically devalue the stone. Part of the allure of rubies is the natural inclusions that make each stone personal and unique.
Legends of the Ruby
Throughout history, rubies have always been associated with royalty and wealth, and possessing a ruby was thought to restore vital life forces; increase energy and strength; and even protect the lands and possessions of the owner. When ground into a fine powder, rubies were ingested by some ancient cultures to cure blood diseases, stop bleeding, and treat indigestion.
Rubies also have been considered a stone that can protect soldiers, preventing wounds and making the wearer invulnerable to injury. Burmese warriors believed that the stone offered protection when physically inserted into the flesh, and ‘wearing’ rubies in that way made them formidable opponents indeed.
The rich glow of a ruby has been associated with an inner fire—an idea that led to the belief that when placed in water, rubies would make the water boil. Rubies were also thought to emit a light of their own, and when hidden in a wrapping, would shine through it to reveal its presence.
Sources of Rubies – The Burmese Ruby
Rubies are found throughout the world, with different areas producing different characteristics. The most famous ruby deposits in the world are in the Mogok region of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Rubies from these deposits are famous for their “pigeon blood” color, and are often the standard against which all other rubies are judged.
Though fewer rubies have been found in the Mogok Valley in recent years, the area of Mong Hsu in Myanmar became the world’s main ruby mining area in the 1990s, securing Myanmar’s status as the best ruby producer in the world. Rubies have historically been mined throughout Southeast Asia, though the rubies from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam typically contain more iron than Burmese rubies, and their color is not as highly prized.
Rubies were first synthesized in a laboratory in 1902 by the Verneuil process, named for its creator. Though synthesized rubies are difficult to distinguish from naturally produced gems, any reputable jeweler will be able to provide pertinent information on the origin of most individual stones.
One of the world’s largest rubies was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History by Peter Buck, an American philanthropist and businessman. The Carmen Lúcia ruby is a 23.1 carat Burmese ruby, mined in the 1930s and set in a platinum ring. The stone’s exceptional clarity and richly saturated color make it one of the most prized rubies of all time.
The most expensive ruby in the world is the Sunrise Ruby, named after the poem written by the Sufi poet Rumi. The 25.6 carat Burmese “pigeon blood” ruby is described by the Swiss Gemological Institute as a “unique treasure of nature,” and was sold at auction for a record $30 million in 2015.
How to Sell Your Ruby Jewelry
When it comes to selling previously-owned ruby jewelry, Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers is widely recognized as the best place in the United States to sell high-quality ruby rings, earrings, necklaces, and brooches. To learn more about why we have earned that reputation, please go to our article: How to Sell & Auction Ruby Jewelry.
You can also contact our jewelry buyers for a free consultation and appraisal of your valuable ruby jewelry.