Rubies conjure all kinds of exotic and alluring images. The rich, red lustre reminds immediately brings to mind fiery passion and vitality. It’s no wonder that rubies, and ruby jewellery has been sought after for its dazzling beauty.
Known in some quarters as the King of the Gemstones, there’s no denying the ruby’s majesty. Certainly one of the most valuable of the precious gems, it has a gleaming radiance that has made it an essential addition to the finest decorative items throughout history. Second only to diamond, the hardness of a ruby adds to its credence as a mark of quality.
The hardness of ruby can be attributed to corundum. Corundum is one of the Earth’s hardest minerals, and in its pure state has no colour at all. However, iron, titanium, chroma and vanadium leaves trace elements that affect the hue. Sapphire is also part of the Corundum ‘family’. Infact the variations in precious stones caused some confusion until the early 19th century, when the connection between sapphires and rubies was discovered. Until then, many gems that were believed to be rubies were in fact red garnet, or spinels.
The birthplace of rubies
It was always believed that India was the foremost source of rubies, but they can also be found in other regions, and to varying degrees of quality. Among gemstone experts, a ‘Burmese ruby’ is considered to be of the finest quality, bearing an extraordinary sparkle and clarity. But this is something of a misnomer, as a ruby of this standard does not necessarily hail from Burma.
Originally deemed unsuitable for jewellery because of their the mixture of dark purple with a bright red edge, came the rubies of Mong Hsu. Situated in the North East of Myanmar, Mong Hsu is a small town that discovered ruby deposits in the mid-nineties. Although the odd colour of the gems was initially disappointing, it was discovered that heat treatments could bring out the highly prized red hue. Now Mong Hsu is a rich source of rubies for the jewellery market.
Rubies have also been mined in Vietnam, Thailand, Northern Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. More recently, East Africa has been found to have ruby deposits. Specifically, Tanzania and Kenya were found to have rubies, but the colours and purity can be varied, creating a mix of quality. However, since the 1960’s East African rubies have been widely used for jewellery and decoration.
Mythology of the Ruby
Ruby is July’s birthstone, and symbolises power and heat, of fire and passion. It was often worn by royalty as a protective talisman against evil, and was believed to grow darker when evil was near. When ground down, rubies were also used as a cure for indigestion (a very expensive cure!), and were even used as ammunition for blowguns!
Over the centuries, rubies have captured the imagination of people all over the globe. They continue to beguile and enchant, and add a rather special element of glamour to any outfit. Our love affair with rubies is a strong now as it ever was, evoking a feeling of the a more romantic past.