Red is the color of love, romance, passion, life, and “ruber” is Latin for “red.” Rubies have long been desired for their color, which, being the color of life-blood, may have led some ancients to believe the stones would protect one from bad health. Like most myths and legends surrounding gems, the ruby’s power to protect from misfortune and ill health can’t be proven, but the ruby is a fascinating jewel nonetheless.
Rubies are sister-gems to sapphires; both are formed in the mineral corundum. All corundum gems are sapphires – except the red ones. Some controversy surrounds corundum of a light raspberry or pinkish hue, with most jewelers (especially in the US) calling those pink sapphires. Rubies have the rare quality of fluorescence, meaning they emit visible light when exposed to radiant energy. This quality, along with its hardness, often helps determine if a ruby is indeed a ruby, and can even help determine where it was mined. For example, Burmese rubies almost glow in sunlight, whereas Thai rubies do not display such fluorescence.
Corundum measures 9 on the Mohs scale, making it one of the hardest materials known to man. Industrially, corundum is used in polishing compounds and sand paper. This hardness means rubies are very durable and an excellent choice for “everyday” jewelry. Like diamonds, rubies can scratch or damage other gems, so care should be taken in storing them.
Rubies are evaluated by the 4 Cs: color, clarity, cut, and carat, with color being arguably the most important trait. The “pigeon’s blood” hue is the most desirable. Rubies get their red color from iron and chromium, which, incidentally, gets its name from the Greek word for color (“chroma”).
Rubies are often found with spinels, which look very much like rubies but are not as hard and do not have the same light effects as rubies. Some very famous “rubies” are actually spinels, including the centerpiece of the British Crown Jewels, the Black Prince’s Ruby. Large rubies, and even spinels, are very rare and can bring a higher price than an equal-sized diamond.
Perhaps because their color is associated with love and romance, rubies are becoming more popular in engagement rings, with celebrities such as Mark Zuckerberg following the trend with this ring he designed for his wife. Rubies and diamonds do look stunning together, as you can see from this ring from Sylvie’s Eternite Couleur Collection.
Diamonds may have their fire, and pearls may have their shimmer, but rubies have their passion. Wear your birthstone proudly, Capricorns!