The red hot ruby…could there be any better gemstone for a July birthday? Not only is ruby the birthstone for July but it is also the gemstone for the 15th and 40th anniversaries.
Ruby is the most valuable variety of the corundum mineral species, which also includes sapphire. Rubies can command the highest per carat price of any colored stone. This makes ruby one of the most important gems in the colored stone market.
Cartier ruby bead and diamond Boule ring, photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
In its purest form, the mineral corundum is colorless. Trace elements that become part of the mineral’s crystal structure cause variations in its color. Chromium is the trace element that causes ruby’s red, which ranges from an orangy red to a purplish red.
The strength of ruby’s red depends on how much chromium is present, the more chromium, the stronger the red color. Chromium can also cause fluorescence, which adds to the intensity of the red color.
The most renowned rubies, like those from Myanmar, the Himalayas, and northern Vietnam, typically form in marble. They’re found in layers that are distributed irregularly within the surrounding marble. Marble forms as part of the metamorphic (rock-altering) process, when heat and pressure from mountain formation act on existing limestone deposits.
Marble has low iron content, so the rubies that originate in marble (called “marble-hosted” by gemologists) lack iron. Because of this, many have an intense red color.
The color red exists deep in our psyche and triggers our most intense emotions like love and anger, passion and fury. It is often associated with objects of power and desire, like fast cars and red roses. Early cultures treasured rubies for their similarity to the redness of the blood that flowed through their veins, and believed that rubies held the power of life.
In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called ratnaraj, or “king of precious stones.” In the Bible, only wisdom and virtuous women are “more precious than rubies.” The name ruby comes from the Latin word ruber, which means “red.”
For more than 800 years, the finest rubies in the world were mined in the Mogok Valley in Upper Myanmar (Burma). The Mogok Valley was named by rice farmers who left for their paddies at dawn and returned at dusk, Mogok is derived from “Mo-chouk,” meaning “evening time.” The earliest historical records of Mogok’s rubies date back to 1597 AD when the King of Burma secured the ruby mines from the local Shan ruler, however Burma has been a notable source of rubies at least since 600 AD. The historic ruby mines reached their peak after the British annexed Upper Burma in 1886, at which time the mines were leased to the British firm Burma Ruby Mines, Ltd. With the nationalization of all industries in 1963 by the Burmese government, all private businesses were forbidden, including gem mining and selling.
Rubies from the Mogok Stone Tract tend to fluoresce more than any others, with the “pigeon’s blood” variety being the highest quality rubies. The name comes from the ancient Burmese tradition of making animal sacrifices to the nats, a grotesque ritual from which the red hue refers to the blood from the beak of a sacrificed pigeon. According to Richard W. Hughes, such a hue “results from a mixture of the slightly bluish red body color and the purer red fluorescent emission. It is this red fluorescence which is the key, for it tends to cover up the dark areas of the stone. The best Burmese stones actually glow red and appear as though Mother Nature brushed a broad swath of fluorescent red paint across the face of the stone.” (Richard W Hughes. Ruby and Sapphire. RWH Publishing. Colorado. 1997.)
Today, supply for the ruby market is changing with some sourcing coming from Mozambique and Madagascar. Read about that here.
Desire for ruby is just as great today as it always has been. As a symbol of passion, ruby makes an ideal romantic gift. Consumers have always been drawn to the lush color.
Here are some famous rubies
The Richard Burton ruby. It was sold in 2011 for $4.2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
The 8.24 carat ruby is judged by experts as “pigeon blood color, and Burmese in origin. Taylor called it the perfect color. The ring was designed and fabricated by Van Cleef & Arpels by Richard Burton. He gave it to her at Christmas, 1968.
The Carmen Lúcia ruby, photo courtesy of the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has received one of the world’s largest and finest ruby gemstones. The spectacular 23.1-carat Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds, was donated by businessman and philanthropist Peter Buck in memory of his wife Carmen Lúcia. The Carmen Lúcia Ruby will be on view indefinitely in the museum’s National Gem Collection, part of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.
This extraordinary gemstone displays a richly saturated homogenous red color combined with an exceptional degree of transparency. In addition to the pleasant shape, the finely proportioned cut provides many vivid red color reflections. The stone was mined from the fabled Mogok region of Burma in the 1930s. While sapphire, emerald and diamond gems weighing hundreds of carats exist, high quality Burmese rubies larger than 20 carats are exceedingly rare.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, Harry Winston created real ruby slippers set with 4,600 rubies, 1350 carats of rubies and 50 carats of diamonds. Photo courtesy Harry Winston via GIA.