“The Ruby not only stands in the very foremost class of coloured gems, but it occupies among precious stones in general a position which is unquestionably supreme.”

Edwin Streeter, Precious Stones and Gems (1898)

Etymology

Ruby derives from the Latin ‘ruber’ (red). While many red gems were called ‘Ruby’ until the development of scientific gemology in the 18th century, during antiquity, Ruby, Garnet, Spinel and other red gemstones were collectively called ‘carbunculus’ (‘little coal’ in Latin). Known as ‘anthrax’ (live coal) to the ancient Greeks, these gemstones were beautiful deep red gems that became the color of glowing coal embers of a fire when held up to the sun.

Chemical composition of Ruby

Ruby and Sapphire are color varieties of the mineral Corundum (crystalline aluminum oxide), which derives its name from the Sanskrit word for Rubies and Sapphires, ‘kuruvinda.' Corundum produces ‘allochromatic’ gemstones, meaning that trace amounts of elements such as chromium, iron and titanium as well as color centers are responsible for producing its rainbow of colors. Ruby owes its red colors to chrome, while a brown hue is imparted by the presence of iron. Sapphires also present orange and red hues (such as the Sunset Sapphire), but these hues do not match the color spectrum assigned to Ruby red. Therefore, if Corundum reds are labeled ‘Ruby’, other colors are termed ‘Sapphire,' Even pure Ruby is only 80% red, however, also displays shades of orange, bright pink, purple and violet.

Star Ruby

Star Ruby

Ruby extraction

Rubies from Sri Lanka were used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans from about 480 B.C., making Sri Lanka the most ancient source of this gem, even though the ‘classic’ Ruby originates in the Mogok Valley of central Myanmar. Today, Ruby is also extracted in Möng Hsu in northwest Myanmar. This country, thanks to the presence of classically colored and highly transparent stones, is considered one of the best sources of Rubies in the world, and its name is so intrinsically linked to this gemstone that its kings were known as ‘Ruby Lords.' Other sources of Ruby include Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam.

AAA tanzania ruby

AAA Tanzania Ruby

The history of Ruby

Beloved by the Indians as ‘Ratnaraj’, King of Gems, July’s birthstone represents passion, love and romance. Ancient Indians believed Ruby to possess an internal fire that would endow a long life, while in the middle ages, Rubies, like so many other gems, were believed to possess prophetic powers, deepening in color if bad moons were rising. Worn by the Burmese as a talisman to protect against illness, misfortune or injury, Rubies were once known as ‘blood drops from the heart of mother earth.' In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson penned a poem, describing Ruby as “drops of frozen wine from Eden’s vats that run."

Properties of Ruby

Ruby is one of the most expensive and better-known gemstones, and is far rarer than Diamonds, particularly the most intense and pure red examples. Particularly fine and transparent examples may be classified as AAA quality. As a diochroic (two-colored: purplish red and orangey red) pleochroic gemstone, even the ‘finest’ Ruby is still going to be only around 80 percent pure red, with secondary splashes of orange, pink, purple and violet.

Clear rubies without inclusions are virtually non-existent. As is the case for Alexandrite and Emerald, chrome is responsible for the inclusions in Ruby. While both Ruby and Sapphires are classed as Type II gemstones (gems that typically grow with some minor inclusions in nature that may be eye-visible), Rubies are usually more included and smaller. Fine microscopic rutile inclusions (called ‘silk’) in some Rubies can actually softly distribute light, boosting both beauty and value. Most Rubies look best when exposed to natural or white light, and many display a strong glowing electric red fluorescence.

A ‘waterfall’ of Rubies

A ‘waterfall’ of Rubies

Varieties of Ruby

Clear rubies without inclusions are virtually non-existent. As is the case for Alexandrite and Emerald, chrome is responsible for the inclusions in Ruby. While both Ruby and Sapphires are classified as Type II gemstones (gems that typically grow with some minor inclusions in nature that may be eye-visible), Rubies are usually more included and smaller. Fine microscopic Rutile inclusions (called ‘silk’) in some Rubies can actually softly distribute light, boosting both beauty and value. Most Rubies looks best exposed to natural or white light, and many display a strong glowing electric red fluorescence. Ruby displays a clear and obvious star, with straight and equidistant rays. The standard calls for a six pointed star, but rare examples with twelve rays have also been found. All Star Rubies and Cat's Eye Rubies are cut in cabochon (a convex, highly polished but unfaceted shape), and their optical phenomenon is even more visible when exposed to a single, direct ray of light.

The intense red of malawi ruby

The intense red of Malawi Ruby

Care for Ruby

Ruby may be subjected to normal cleaning, including steam or ultrasound cleaning. This gemstone may have voids, cavities, fissures and/or open fissures, which may increase the gemstone’s sensitivity to damage due to heat or some solvents.