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Ruby Gemstone

The gem of love, Ruby is the red member of  the Corundum family and is often given as a gift to show the strength of one’s relationship. Its rich, vivid red colours are due to the presence  of chromium and its almost identical twin sister, the Sapphire, is similar in all but colour.

Until  the  early  1800’s,  its  association  with Sapphire lay undiscovered; prior to this period many  other  gemstones,  including  Spinel  and Garnets, were often misidentified as Ruby.

Most Rubies show purplish red to orangey red hues; however, the overall colour (colour being  a  combination  of  hue,  shade  and  saturation) can provide gem dealers with an indication of  the stone’s original geographic origin. Burmese Rubies tending to be purplish red in colour, while  Thai stones tend to be brownish red.

Ruby shows pleochroism,  which  means  that  the  colour  varies  when  viewing  the  gemstone  in  different  directions  and  many  can  appear  incredibly bright when exposed to the sun (see  fluorescence).  Inclusions  in  Rubies  are  called  “silk”, and if sufficiently abundant and precisely  arranged  this  can  lead  to  wonderful  asterism;  with the correct cutting, Star Rubies can often  be created.

Ruby has been a popular gemstone for centuries  and has been set in many famous historic pieces  of jewellery. Ruby mining can be traced back over  2500 years ago in Sri Lanka. The famous mines  in Mogok, Burma were first explored as early as  the 6th century AD. Historically, the gem has had  many different names around the globe, which  highlights how popular it has been with many  different civilisations. In Sanskrit, the Ruby was  known as “ratnaraj” which stood for “the king of  precious gems”, and later “ratnanayaka”; “leader  of all precious stones”. The gem was referred  to in the Bible as a Carbuncle, although today  research has shown that this name was also used  for several other red gemstones. Its more recent  name,  Ruby,  is  derived  from  the  Latin  word  “rubers” simply meaning “red”.

As can be imagined, the gem is surrounded by a  great deal of folklore and legends. In the ancient  world  people believed  that  Rubies  could  help  them predict the future and they have been worn  as talismans to protect from illness or misfortune  ever since. It has also been said that the wearer  of  a  Ruby  would  enjoy  romance,  friendship,  energy, courage and peace.

Pliny the Elder, influenced by the writings of the  ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus (371 –  287BC), wrote “In each variety of Ruby there are  so called “male” and “female” stones, of which  the former are the more brilliant, while the latter  have a weaker lustre”. Considering Pliny’s work  took place almost 2000 years ago, this remains  one of the few theories relating to gemstones that  he misinterpreted!

In Burma and Thailand one legend tells of the  ancient Burmese dragon who laid three magical  eggs. From the first egg came forth Pyusawti,  king  of  Burma,  from  the  second  emerged  the  Chinese Emperor and the third egg provided all  of the vivid Rubies in Burma, many of which  local  gem  traders  will  tell  you  are  yet  to  be  discovered.

Shortly after Marco Polo documented his travels  (in which he recited how Ruby was used by people  of the Kahn to protect themselves in battle), Sir  John Mandeville wrote a book of his own global  experiences (compiled circa 1365). Mandeville believed that “once a man had touched the four  corners of his land with his Ruby, then his house,  vineyard and orchard would be protected from  lightning, tempests and poor harvest”.

For many centuries, Ruby has been thought to  remove sadness, prevent nightmares and protect  against many illnesses. With its likeness in colour  to  blood,  it  has  often  been  said  to  help  stem  haemorrhages and cure inflammatory diseases.

It is said that over 95% of Rubies on the market  today have been heat-treated, therefore whenever  buying a Ruby it is best to assume that the gem’s  colour has been enhanced. Large, natural Rubies  of good colour and clarity are so valuable that  they often demand a higher price per carat than  even the most flawless Diamonds. For example,  in  1988  Sotheby’s  auctioned  a  15.97ct  Ruby  which  sold  for  more  than  3.6  million  dollars  under the hammer!

Some of the finest Rubies are from Burma, where  their colour is said to be comparable to that of  “pigeon blood”. Other sources include Thailand,  Vietnam,  Sri  Lanka,  Kenya,  Madagascar,  Tanzania, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and India.

Ruby is the birthstone for July and is also the  anniversary gemstone for both the 15th and 40th  year of marriage. As it has a hardness of 9 on the  Mohs scale, it is a tough and durable gemstone,  and when set in precious metal should continue  to shine for thousands of years to come. Besides  being  used  in  jewellery,  Rubies  are  also  used extensively in laser technology.

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A beautiful Ruby ring from the Tomas Rae collection