The Sanskrit word for ruby, ratnaraj, literally translates to “the king of precious stones”. Rubies are among the most revered of colored gemstones, prized for their vibrant color and rarity. These characteristics have allowed rubies to command the highest price per carat of any colored gemstone. Considered in many cultures to be deeply symbolic, rubies have remained an important gemstone for centuries.
Ruby is a sister stone to sapphire, in that they are both of the same mineral corundum. Pure corundum is colorless, but when trace elements are present, it takes on different colors to form rubies and sapphires. The trace element chromium causes the red color of rubies, and can also cause fluorescence. Only corundum with an orangey red to purply red hue can be considered a ruby, whereas all other hues of corundum are called a sapphire.
The type of mineral that rubies form in and around has an effect on their color, and thus on their value. When rubies form in volcanic basalt rocks, where iron is typically prevalent, their color will be darker and less vibrant. Rubies that form in marble, where iron is less likely to occur, take on a much brighter color and are usually fluorescent, further increasing their vibrancy. Some of the most sought after rubies, found in places such as Myanmar and Vietnam, formed in marble. High quality rubies are also found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Tanzania.
The most important value-determining characteristic of a ruby is its color. The most desirable color is called “pigeon’s blood” and is a rich, pure red to red with a touch of blue. If a corundum gem is too pink, it is considered a pink sapphire, rather than a ruby. Rubies with fluorescence are desirable because it enhances the red color.
Like emeralds, rubies often have inclusions. These inclusions are considered acceptable, unless they strongly hinder the brilliance and transparency of the ruby. Heat treatments may reduce the appearance of inclusions and improve the red color, so be aware that eye-clean specimens may have undergone this treatment. Large rubies that are free of visible inclusions are quite valuable.
One particularly desirable quality of rubies is hardness. Like sapphires, rubies are a nine on the Mohs hardness scale. This makes them quite popular in engagement rings, because they are more durable than other colored gemstones. If you plan on wearing your engagement ring everyday, and you want something with color, a ruby engagement ring may be the perfect choice.
There isn't a tremendous amount of ruby varieties, as the framework for classification is quite narrow, however, there are a couple of varieties you may come across in jewelry. Certain rubies may display an asterism, creating a star-like effect. The body of the gem has that particular shade of ruby red, but is typically more opaque than traditional rubies. These star rubies are cut en cabochon, rather than faceted, to better enhance the asterism feature. You may also come across gems referred to as ruby crystal. This is lower grade ruby that is filled with many inclusions, but still makes for an interesting gem when used in jewelry. Ruby zoisite, though it contains less corundum, is worth mentioning for its unique appearance. Purply red ruby crystals form in green zoisite to make this compound semi-precious gem that may be polished into a cabochon or beads and used in jewelry.
Rubies have a long history of deep symbolism and reverence that spans cultures and religions. Their red color signified blood, life force, strength, and protection. Ancient Hindus believed that offerings of rubies to the god Krishna would allow them to be reborn as emperors. Rubies make several appearances in the Bible, symbolizing wisdom and beauty. In one of the most important sources of rubies, Myanmar (Burma), warriors inserted the gem under their skin to protect them in battle. In modern metaphysical practices, rubies are used to stimulate the Base Chakra, to increase vitality and passion, and to facilitate sexual energy and love.
It's important to take into consideration all of the quality factors described above when shopping for ruby jewelry. However, perhaps the most important, both aesthetically and from an investment point of view, is color. The price of a ruby jumps dramatically if it is one carat or more, but it is possible to find affordable smaller rubies of exceptional color. Since this gem is quite durable, you can find it in a wide range of settings and it is a great choice for a ring. Often, rubies are paired with diamonds in jewelry. The effect is beautiful, as the diamonds reflect light into the ruby and enhance their sparkle. If you're looking for a gift, ruby is July's birthstone, as well as being the traditional gift of the 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries.
Rubies are timeless, and carry with them the reverence of many cultures over many years. Whether you wear them for their symbolism or their beauty, rubies should be a mainstay in your jewelry collection.