The price of wisdom is above rubies, says Job in the Bible, implying that rubies were highly prized in his time. Indeed, the respect and appreciation for rubies has always transcended all geographical boundaries and social class.
The gold coronation ring of the English kings contains a large, tablet-cut ruby on which the figure of St. George's cross is engraved. Around the ruby are set 26 diamonds. Rubies are generously represented in crowns and scepters in the royal jewels of many nations.
Large, gem quality rubies have always been very rare. The huge gems described in medieval romances and oriental literature were most likely exaggerated by the imaginations of ruby admirers and creative authors or were actually garnets or spinels.
Ruby and sapphire are the two varieties of the mineral corundum. Their exceptional hardness is surpassed only by diamonds. Red corundum is called ruby, and all other colors are called sapphire. The cut-off between ruby and pink sapphire on one end and plum sapphire on the other has long been a subject of controversy. Of course, gem dealers want the gem they're selling to be classified as a ruby because the name alone increases its value.
A few rubies have distinguished themselves because of their size or extraordinary beauty and are being guarded for posterity. The Louvre in Paris houses the Anne of Brittany Ruby, a 105-carat polished but irregular gem. The 167-carat Edwardes Ruby was donated to the British Museum of Natural History in 1887 by John Ruskin. This 167-carat gem was named in honor of Major-General Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes (1819-68) who saved British rule in India during the years of the Indian Mutiny. Two star rubies are displayed in American museums. The Smithsonian displays the 137-carat Rosser Reeves Ruby, and The American Museum of Natural History has the 100-carat Edith Haggin de Long Ruby.
The different geographical sources of ruby are known for characteristic colors and qualities, although they all produce a variety of gem material. Burma is famous for producing the greatest amount of top quality ruby-a fine, clear, deep red. Thailand is known for dark red to brownish-red stones. Typical Ceylon (Sri Lanka) rubies are medium light in tone. And Africa is known for small, sheet-like, purplish-red material. Burma is the most important source of ruby today. Other producers are the island of Sri Lanka-(formerly Ceylon), the countries of Thailand, Kampuchea (Cambodia), India and Australia, various localities in Africa and our own state of North Carolina.
Mining for rubies is done by primitive methods, much as it was centuries ago. Miners stake out an area and dig down about 15 feet to unearth the gem-bearing gravel. They sift the gravel through wire screens, then continue with a panning method similar to that used for gold.
A synthetic ruby is nearly identical to the natural gem in physical appearance, chemical composition and optical properties and can easily be confused with genuine ruby by unknowledgeable buyers. Only a trained geologist can tell the difference by locating telltale inclusions in the stone.
Some rubies display a luminous star when viewed in the right light. This is caused by the orientation of intersecting needles within the stone. The light reflecting off them forms a star. Stars may be seen on certain translucent stones that have been cut in a dome shape.
A Classic Gem
Ruby's dramatic color and regal heritage make it the choice of the most discriminating jewelry lovers. Fine, large rubies may be worth more than diamonds of comparable size. They make elegant rings and pendants. Smaller stones are also set in these pieces as well as brooches, bracelets, and earrings. Small rubies are popular for use in anniversary rings, to wear alone, or in the company of diamonds. Rubies are stunning against a backdrop of white, black, royal blue or emerald green.
Making a Wise Purchase
Since subtle differences in quality can make large differences in beauty (and price), it is important to select your jewelry from a professional who can guide you honestly and ethically in your purchase. Our firm is a member of the American Gem Society. As a condition of membership, we are re-examined each year to meet the Society's high standards for knowledge, professionalism and integrity. The AGS symbol is the hallmark of consumer protection within the jewelry profession - as it has been for over 50 years. Many gems are processed to enhance their natural beauty. Ask your American Gem Society jeweler to discuss which techniques might apply to the gem of your choice.