Rubies, with their captivating deep red hue, have long been cherished as one of the most sought-after gemstones in the world. As the birthstone for July, rubies hold a special significance for those born this summer. In this article, we will explore the formation, origin, properties, legends, and lore associated with rubies and delve into the quality and grading of these radiant gemstones.
Rubies belong to the corundum mineral family and are formed deep within the Earth's crust. Their vibrant red color arises from chromium within the crystal structure. Over millions of years, extreme heat and pressure cause the mineral to crystallize, forming these exquisite gemstones.
Famous Ruby Sources and Famous Rubies
Famous Ruby Sources
- Myanmar (Burma): Myanmar is renowned for its exceptional rubies, often called "Burmese rubies." The Mogok Valley in Myanmar has been a primary source of high-quality rubies for centuries. These rubies are characterized by their intense red hue, often described as "pigeon's blood."
- Thailand: Thailand has a long history of ruby mining, with the Chanthaburi and Trat regions being prominent sources. Thai rubies exhibit a rich red color, often with a slight pinkish undertone.
- Sri Lanka (Ceylon): Sri Lanka has been known for its gem-rich lands for centuries. Ceylon rubies are admired for their deep red color with a hint of violet. The gem mines in Ratnapura are particularly famous for their high-quality rubies.
- East Africa: Countries like Tanzania, Mozambique, and Kenya have emerged as notable ruby sources in recent years. Rubies from this region typically exhibit a vibrant red, often with a slightly purplish tint.
- The Sunrise Ruby: This extraordinary Burmese ruby weighing 25.59 carats, set a world record for the most expensive ruby ever sold at an auction. It possesses a mesmerizing deep red color and remarkable clarity.
- The De Long Star Ruby: Weighing an impressive 100.32 carats, this star ruby is renowned for its six-rayed asterism. It is considered one of the finest star rubies in existence. It is housed in the American Museum of Natural History.
Rubies are known for their exceptional hardness, ranking 9 on the Mohs scale, second only to diamonds. They exhibit a range of red hues, from pinkish-red to deep blood-red. The finest rubies possess excellent transparency and vibrant color saturation, often described as "fiery."
Legends and Lore
Rubies have a long history of captivating human imagination, inspiring myths, legends, and rich symbolism throughout various cultures. They have been regarded as powerful talismans, representing passion, protection, and vitality. Here are a few examples of the fascinating legends and famous rubies associated with them:
Rubies in the Bible
- The Bible mentions rubies in several instances, associating them with beauty, wisdom, and high value. In the book of Exodus, the high priest Aaron is described as wearing a breastplate adorned with twelve gemstones, including a ruby: "He shall set the stones in four rows. The first row shall be a ruby, a topaz, and a beryl" (Exodus 28:17). The reference to the ruby in Aaron's breastplate signifies its significance among the precious gems used to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel.
Rubies in Islamic Tradition
- While specific references to rubies in the Islamic tradition are scarce, gemstones, including rubies, hold cultural and symbolic importance in Islamic culture. In Islamic art and architecture, intricate designs often incorporate vibrant gemstones, including rubies, representing luxury and divine beauty.
"Narmer's Ruby" - Ancient Egyptian Legend
- Ancient Egyptian Legend: In ancient Egypt, rubies were believed to bring protection and good fortune. One famous ruby known as the "Narmer's Ruby" was said to have adorned the breastplate of the pharaoh Narmer. Legend has it that this ruby, whose exact origin is unknown, possessed mystical properties and bestowed upon the pharaoh invincibility in battle.
The "Black Prince's Ruby" - British Crown Jewels
- The Black Prince's Ruby is a gorgeous gem, one of the oldest parts of the UK's Crown Jewels. Dating back to the 14th century, it holds a fascinating history. Legend has it that it was a gift from Pedro the Cruel, king of Castile, to Edward the Black Prince after their victorious battle in 1367. This extraordinary red spinel weighs 170 carats and is set above the Cullinan II diamond on the Imperial State Crown. Worn by Henry V at Agincourt and Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, this gem has witnessed historical epic moments. Its unique design includes a small ruby within its polished, pierced form, adding to its allure. The Black Prince's Ruby continues to embody the royal heritage and intrigue surrounding the Crown Jewels, making it an irresistible and treasured gemstone.
The "Rosser Reeves Star Ruby"
- This spectacular star ruby, weighing 138.7 carats, is named after its owner Rosser Reeves, an American advertising executive. It is known for its vivid red color and a distinct star-shaped asterism that glides across its surface when exposed to light. The "Rosser Reeves Star Ruby" is believed to have originated from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), a renowned source of high-quality rubies.
The "Hope Ruby" - Indian Legend
- According to Indian lore, rubies were associated with the god of the Sun, Surya. The gem was believed to possess the power of the Sun's fiery energy. In Indian mythology, the "Hope Ruby" was legendary and said to be blessed by Surya himself. The specific place of origin for the "Hope Ruby" is not mentioned in the legends.
The "Sunrise Ruby" - Mythical Powers
- The Sunrise Ruby is the world's most expensive ruby, the most expensive colored gemstone, and the most costly gem apart from diamonds. Initially unearthed in Myanmar, it derives its name from a poem by the renowned 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi. Even David Bennett, the global chairman of Sotheby's International Jewellery Division, expressed awe, stating that he had never encountered a ruby of such exceptional quality in his four decades in the industry. The Sunrise Ruby made history by selling for an astounding $30.42 million at a Sotheby's auction in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 12, 2015. Heidi Horten, a renowned buyer, recognized the extraordinary value of this gem, surpassing initial estimates of $12 to $18 million. The bidding process, primarily conducted through phone bids, lasted around seven minutes. This remarkable gem's exceptional price exceeded the previous record set by the Graff ruby ring, which sold for $8.6 million in November 2014. The Sunrise Ruby's outstanding value can be attributed to the rising prices of colored gemstones and the allure of public auctions, where demand often rivals that of highly sought-after colored diamonds. Following Heidi Horten's passing, the Sunrise Ruby was subsequently auctioned by Christie's in Geneva on May 10, 2023, fetching a price of $14.7 million.
These legends and famous rubies serve as a testament to the enduring allure and symbolic significance of rubies throughout history. They continue to captivate our imagination and add a touch of magic to these radiant red gemstones.
Quality and Grading
Rubies, one of the world's most exotic gemstones, command high prices in the market. Several factors contribute to determining the quality and price of a ruby.
The color of a ruby is a crucial factor in assessing its value. Even slight color variations can significantly impact its worth. The most coveted ruby color is a pure, vibrant red with a subtle undertone of blue. The stone is considered a pink sapphire if the color leans towards a lighter shade. The ruby's quality diminishes as the hue veers towards orange or purple.
The per-carat price of a ruby can significantly increase as its size grows. Fine-quality natural rubies over one carat are rare, making them highly valuable. On the other hand, commercial-quality rubies are more readily available in a wide range of sizes.
Finding a ruby with inclusions is virtually impossible. The visibility and impact of these inclusions determine the ruby's value. Prominent inclusions that diminish the stone's transparency or brilliance reduce its worth. Ruby inclusions commonly manifest as thin mineral needles, intersecting groups known as silk, tiny crystals, patches of varied color, or even fingerprint-like formations.
- The shape of the ruby crystal plays a role in determining its suitability for specific cuts. The most prevalent shape of a ruby is a flat tabular hexagonal form. Oval and cushion cuts with brilliant-cut crowns and step-cut pavilions are commonly used. Round, triangular, emerald, pear, and marquise rubies exist but are rare in larger sizes.
These factors combine to create various quality grades, providing a standardized system when purchasing rubies and ruby jewelry, although only sometimes followed. Here are the typical quality grades:
Representing the top 1% of rubies in terms of quality, heirloom-grade rubies exhibit a genuinely exceptional deep, rich red color known as "pigeon blood." They have minimal inclusions and display high brilliance.
This grade encompasses the best 10% of natural rubies available. They possess a signature medium dark red shade and exhibit few inclusions.
Better-grade rubies comprise the top 20%-30% of natural rubies. They feature a medium dark red color and display moderate inclusions.
Good-grade rubies represent the next 50%-70% of natural rubies available. They exhibit a medium or the lightest acceptable shade of red, often with moderate to heavy inclusions.
These quality grades provide a framework for assessing the value and desirability of rubies, helping both buyers and sellers in the ruby market.
Rubies, the radiant red gemstones of July, hold a timeless allure that has captivated individuals for centuries. Whether it's their remarkable formation deep within the Earth's crust or their association with passion and power, rubies continue to be cherished and revered as one of the most precious gemstones in the world. From the famous sources in Myanmar to the legends and lore surrounding them, rubies embody a rich history and enduring beauty that make them exceptional gemstones.