By: Diane Nicole Go, GIA Graduate Gemologist
Red is an intense and passionate color, often associated with love, or even power and desire. It’s a prevalent color found in red roses, juicy cherries, or the life-giving blood that flows in our veins.
But when we’re talking about red gemstones, the first thing that comes to mind is a Ruby.
In ancient Sanskrit language, a ruby is called “ratnaraj”, which means “king of precious stones”. That’s because nothing beats the richly colored hues of a Ruby. This gemstone’s sister, the Sapphire, can come in rainbow colors, but only the red variant can be classified as a Ruby. And if the color is not red enough, it falls under the category of a Pink Sapphire.
And what a lovely color this red is! Fine Rubies come in an almost glowing, red color, just like the pulsating color of blood-- hence why the good-quality ones are dubbed as “Pigeon’s Blood Rubies”. Pure red Rubies are also a rare color, as most of them feature an orangy or purplish tinge, much like a sunset-colored sky, or a glass of red wine.
This rare gem— the Ruby— is the birthstone for those born in July and can be given as gifts to celebrate a married couple’s 15th and 40th anniversary.
One of the Big 3 (next to Sapphire and Emerald), Rubies are on a league of their own, because of its rarity and historical significance in both Eastern and Western parts of the world. The Ruby gets its name from the Latin word “ruber”, or “red”— so aptly named for its blood-red color. Its glowing red color was believed to be an inextinguishable flame burning within the stone, which shines through clothing and can boil water.
Across history, Rubies have been used for many things. Ancient Hindus offered fine Rubies to the god Krishna in hopes of being reborn as emperors, while Burmese warriors believed that wearing rubies (not just as an ornament, but by inserting it in their flesh, mind you) in battle made them invincible. On the other hand, people in India believed that rubies allowed them to live in peace with their enemies.
Rubies have even been mentioned several times in the Bible, where it was considered the most precious gem out of the twelve stones created by God. In biblical text, it has been associated with beauty and wisdom. This made Ruby a sought-after gemstone by European royalty and the upper classes, as they believed that it guaranteed them success in love aside from health, wealth and wisdom.
To this day, Ruby is still in demand. A symbol of love and passion, Rubies are often given as romantic gifts because of its lush, red color.
Just like Sapphire, Rubies belong to the mineral species (Aluminum Oxide, to be specific) called Corundum. It’s the more valuable variety, which means that it can command the highest per-carat price of any colored stone. That’s because a Ruby is rare and difficult to come by.
How so? In its purest form, Corundum is colorless. They get their color from trace elements. Chromium, a rare element, gives Ruby its red color, which can range from an orangy red to purplish red. The more chromium present in the stone, the stronger the red color. It can even cause fluorescence in some cases, which adds the “glowing” effect to the Ruby.
The criteria of what makes a Ruby is also quite strict, and this is mostly based on its color. There must be a certain red color and saturation for the Corundum to be classified as a Ruby. If the stone is a very light red, or even a pink color, it counts as a Pink Sapphire.
Rubies can be found in two types of deposits: marble or basalt. The finer ones, such as those from Myanmar or the Himalayas, can be found in marble. These Rubies don’t usually have iron in them, which gives it a lush red color. In addition, some of these Rubies fluoresce under ultraviolet light, which intensifies the color and raises its value. On the other hand, Rubies that form in basalt contain more iron, which results in a less intense, darker color. This masks the fluorescence, which eliminates the “glow” that you commonly see in marble-hosted Rubies.
Due to its formation, a Ruby is never flawless. Stones that look clean may fetch astronomically high prices, but even those aren’t truly “clean”. A Ruby will always have inclusions, or patterns and characteristics inside and outside the stone. Unless these threaten the stone’s durability, it does not strongly affect the Ruby’s value. In fact, some inclusions actually make the Ruby a much rarer piece. Take for example the inclusions that create a thin line in the middle of a cabochon Ruby, just like an eye. That’s a Cat’s Eye Ruby, which commands a high price in the market. If a Ruby has more than one line, which look like rays, you have a Star Ruby, which is a phenomenal and expensive stone.
A Ruby is a powerful stone to hold onto. Its intense red color gives it an equally intense energy that sharpens the mind, aids in concentration, and heightens your awareness. A Ruby can also promote courage and strength, which helps you win in controversies and disputes.
Like all red stones that are linked to the Heart Chakra, a Ruby can be likened to love and romance. It deepens a couple’s relationship by encouraging closeness and commitment. A stone of courtly love, it increases passion and allows you and your partner to share loving energy. It transmutes negativity and past hurt into courage and strength, along with a positive state of mind. A Ruby can even incite protective feelings that encourages you to stand up for the weak and oppressed, be it a loved one or even for yourself.
On another spectrum, a Ruby can also be an aphrodisiac that allows you to experience all forms a sensual love aside from a romantic one. It helps ignite a passionate romance and can even increase sexual energy or help you overcome sexual dysfunction. Just like a Moonstone (link to article), Rubies can also help with fertility, and can be worn during your pregnancy.
Being connected to the Base Chakra, a Ruby is a grounding stone that helps stabilize you. It enhances motivation, which will allow you to set practical goals for yourself. It helps you become practical and realistic when making decisions or planning for the future. Its vibration helps encourage leadership, increased concentration and a sharp intellect. That way, you can unlock your own strength and creative potential.
Wearing a Ruby can be energizing. It helps overcome exhaustion and lethargy, while stimulating circulation and vitality to the whole system. Be careful though: highly sensitive or irritable people may find this gem over-stimulating, so it’s best to wear with caution.
CARE AND CLEANING
On the Mohs Scale of Hardness, a Ruby is ranked at 9. It is a relatively hard stone with excellent toughness. This makes it a good choice for high impact jewelry pieces like rings. When exposed to heat, light or even common chemicals, only an untreated Ruby is stable and will not sustain damage. Most Rubies that have been treated to improve its color and appearance, however, are more delicate. We’re talking about resin or glass filled gems, or even dyed and heat-treated ones, which are all over the market. Damage on the Ruby’s surface may remove its color, or can dislodge the filling, so you need to be careful with your piece.
When in doubt as to whether or not your Ruby has been treated (which happens a lot), it is recommended to clean it with warm soapy water and a mild toothbrush. Ultrasonic and Steam cleaners may be safe for untreated or heat-treated gems, but those that were filled should only be cleaned with a damp cloth.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT RUBY
Rubies, like all other gemstones, are governed by the 4 C’s: Clarity, Cut, Color and Carat. Slight color differences, along with the visibility of its inclusions, can make a big difference in value. Size is also an important factor, with large stones fetching high prices. The color, however, is the main priority, as this is the edge of all Colored Gemstones.
In the world of colored stones, color is king. The finest Rubies feature a pure, vibrant red— often pure— but can occur in a slightly purplish red hue. The more orangy it is, the lower the value. A Ruby cannot be too dark or too light, since this affects the brightness. Light gems, on the other hand, may not even be counted as a Ruby. They could just be Pink Sapphires!
“Pigeon’s Blood”, one of the finest Rubies to exist, is named such because its color can be compared to the first two drops of blood from a freshly killed pigeon. In the perspective of a gemstone, this can refer to the red to slightly purplish color with a soft, glowing, red fluorescence that only very few Rubies can have. Do note that this is just a term used to describe fine-quality Rubies in the market to evoke a visual image. It isn’t a name that laboratories use when certifying gems.
When choosing Rubies, it is important to get a red to purplish red color, or even an orangy red one, depending on your budget. Stay away from the dark ones that look inky black, usually the Thai Rubies, as those aren’t very valuable. Also, be very careful about color-treated Rubies. Some of them have a surface-level coating like dye that can come off easily. Make sure you choose an untreated one, or if you choose a treated Ruby, get one with a lasting color.
Flawless Rubies do not exist, unless they were made in the laboratory. However, its value depends on how visible these patterns and markings are. Stay away from Rubies with large cracks or chips that threaten durability. This will prove to be cumbersome for you in the long run, especially when mounted into jewelry.
However, Rubies with inclusions that affect its transparency and brilliance can also lower the stone’s value. Crystals, liquid and other non-harmful inclusions are acceptable, along with the thin, needle-like inclusions on your stone. These can help soften the color and spread it more evenly, and when arranged in a certain way can form phenomenal effects like a Cat’s Eye or a Star. To properly display this, the Ruby is typically cut into a cabochon.
Since a Ruby is rare and expensive, cutters often try to preserve as much of it as they can. This means that they cut based on the shape of its rough. Oftentimes, a Ruby is cut into fancy shapes like an oval or cushion. While round, triangular, emerald-cut, pear and marquise shapes are also available in the market, these are rare in large sizes.
When looking at the cut, it is important to consider what shape appeals to you. Proportions and symmetry are more subjective in fancy cuts, which is why it is not as important of a criterion. Do consider though that uncommon shapes like round ones will be more expensive compared to an oval, with all other factors kept constant.
Large, fine-quality rubies are rare, but commercial-quality rubies come in a wide range of sizes. The price per carat would go up drastically depending on the size of the stone, but more emphasis is placed on the color and clarity of the gem. Rubies do occur in a wide range of sizes, depending on your preference and budget though, so you do have a lot to choose from.
Although July babies only have one birthstone, a Ruby holds a lot of historical significance. Plus, it is a rare and lovely statement piece that adds a pop of color to your outfit. Rubies are durable gemstones that come in a wide range of price points, making it an accessible piece for anyone and everyone— not just for royalty anymore. From rough bead bracelets to fine rings and necklaces, or even delicate earrings that cascade like drops of blood, a Ruby is a versatile piece brimming with life and countless possibilities.