Diamonds may be forever. But perhaps no gemstone has been revered and even worshipped more than rubies. We don’t simply mean that they’re worshipped by the women who receive them as gifts and wear them to cocktail parties – although that’s probably true as well. And we’re also not referring to the many women who still worship the movie classic “The Wizard of Oz,” which featured Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. We’re referring to the cultural and religious importance of this stunning red treasure; rubies have borne major significance in cultures and civilizations throughout history.
Today, ruby rings make a stunning fashion statement, topped only by the sparkle and elegance of the ruby and diamond ring often worn at the altar by a new bride. But long ago, rubies were believed to hold the power of life itself.
The history of the ruby is fascinating – so let’s take a look at that first, before we discuss how to select and buy a gorgeous, modern-day ruby ring.
The Background of Rubies
Rubies are mentioned more often in the Bible than diamonds, with Job saying: “The price of wisdom is above rubies” and Proverbs asking us: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Other citations specifically mentioning rubies appear in chapters as diverse as Ezekiel and Revelations.
We learn much about the way in which this precious red gemstone was once viewed in Eastern civilizations from archeologists who have studied the Hindu world. For example, they’ve learned from Sanskrit writings that the name for ruby in Indian cultures was “ratnaraj,” meaning “the king of precious stones.” The Hindus valued rubies above all other stones for more than its striking look; the gemstones were believed to have their own caste system, with rubies considered to be “red as the lotus” viewed as Brahmins and conveying complete safety to anyone who owned one. It was important, however, that these special stones not touch any other, lesser stones – because that simple touch would contaminate a ruby and eliminate much of its power. And the Hindu text “Haiti Smriti” tells how valuable rubies were in beliefs involving reincarnation: “He who worships Krishna with rubies will be reborn as a powerful emperor. If with a small ruby, he will be born a king.”
Several cultures throughout history have viewed rubies as having unique medical properties; they thought that the stones were effective in curing everything from indigestion and bleeding to serious diseases, if ground into powder and swallowed. Others were convinced that anyone wearing a ruby would be kept healthy, both mentally and physically, while the stone would also drive away evil thoughts and impulses. Many viewed the precious stones not only as a symbol of wealth, but as a precursor to accumulating even more wealth as well as providing protection of the owner’s property and jewels. The stone was also often believed to be a talisman, providing protection against all dangers and allowing the wearer to peacefully live alongside all peoples – as long as the ruby was worn on the left side of the body, the side closest to the heart. (Rubies were also thought to have an important connection to blood, because of their color.)
One example of this use of ruby as talisman was later seen in the nation of Burma (now known as Myanmar and one of the world’s major sources of the gemstone), where soldiers were issued rubies to carry into battle. The Burmese believed that if a ruby was inserted into a soldier’s flesh on the left side of the body he would become invulnerable, because the stone became part of his body and provided protection against spears and swords. Apparently, however, the soldiers weren’t wearing rubies during the Anglo-Burmese wars of the 19th century when the nation lost its independence to Britain.
During medieval times rubies retained their aura as a powerful gem, with many Europeans wearing them because they believed the stone would bring them wealth, health and love. Royalty were particularly taken with the gemstones; king, queens and princesses all regularly sported exquisite ruby jewelry during the period. It was often said that a ruby ring could resolve any lover’s quarrel.
Many still think, even today, that the ruby’s striking color and reflection of red light carries a great deal of meaning for a wearer’s mental health and passion. Those beliefs are somewhat backed by science; spectrum analysis has shown that rays with a red color convey both warmth and energy, while hypnotic researchers claim that red light is able to stimulate depressed patients. And people who place credence in astral signs will tell you that a ruby brings peace and contentment, aids circulation, helps with self-actualization, leads to more passionate lovemaking – and when placed under a pillow can even prevent bad dreams.
As with most precious gemstone with interesting back stories, rubies still remain a favorite of the rich, famous and royal. And they have become more popular than ever among consumers for that very reason. For instance, many women immediately wanted a ruby and diamond ring for their engagement, after Prince Andrew famously presented one to Fergie in 1986.
The Basic Facts About Rubies
Some of the mystery that surrounds the exotic red ruby stems from its origin in the Far East. The gemstones are primarily mined in Myanmar (previously known as Burma), and to a lesser degree in Thailand, Laos, India, Vietnam, Nepal and Afghanistan. Some also have been mined in distant nations like Australia, Namibia, Brazil and Scotland; a few have been found in states across America and large ruby deposits have recently been discovered in Greenland. In addition to mystery, rubies convey emotional feelings such as romance, passion and happiness – making them ideal choices for ruby engagement rings or ruby wedding rings.
The very best rubies come from Upper Myanmar’s Mogok Valley, although those deposits have been largely exhausted. The Mong Hsu region of Myanmar is now the major source for the gemstone. The most desirable rubies are called “pigeon’s blood” (also known as “star rubies”) because of their color: primarily red, sometimes with slight purple or pink tinges, strong color saturation, and a glowing fluorescent red appearance – supposedly similar to the first two drops of blood taken from a pigeon which has just been killed. There are, of course, more technical industry terms to describe a ruby’s color, the most important quality in valuing the gemstone. More about this shortly, when we consider the ways to determine the worth of rubies.
Many people don’t know this, but the ruby and the equally beautiful sapphire are actually the same stone. They both are technically known as corundum; if a stone has red as its primary color, it’s a ruby – if any other color is predominant, the gemstone is called a sapphire. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that all rubies look the same. Their red hue and saturation can differ and they can have many different secondary hues like pink, orange, violet and purple, but they are different from pink, purple and orange sapphires in which those colors are primary. Stones from some corundum deposits can have very distinctive colors and still be considered rubies; those mined in Macedonia have an unusual raspberry color, while some from Sri Lanka are extremely light and often called pink sapphires if they don’t meet minimum standards for color saturation.
Purchasing And Valuing Rubies
The finest rubies with perfect, vibrant color and no visible inclusions can bring the highest prices of any gemstone, even more than diamonds. Ruby is also one of the stones for which the per-carat price increases with the size of the gem. The “average” price of a one-carat ruby is somewhere around $1,000, but high-quality rubies sell for much more than that. Naturally, the prices you’ll pay for ruby engagement rings and ruby wedding rings with quality stones are quite a bit higher because of the cost of the precious metal in which they’re set, as well as the value of any accent stones used.
As with diamonds, the “4 C’s” (color, carat, cut, clarity) are used to value rubies. The most important “C” by far is color, since a ruby isn’t even a ruby if the color isn’t right. The most sought-after stones are a consistent blood red, with purple as a secondary color. On the other hand, those which are very light, or so red that they’re nearly opaque, are nearly worthless. We’ve already mentioned that large rubies can be extremely expensive with the per-carat price rising rapidly; that’s because large cuts of the gemstone are so rare. Cut has a major impact on the price of a ruby, since the fire and depth of the stone are greatly enhanced by the quality of its cut. Clarity certainly matters, but isn’t quite as crucial as it is with diamonds because most rubies have natural inclusions, and it’s quite rare to find specimens without them. As long as the inclusions aren’t large (and the stone isn’t blemished), clarity is a lesser concern when buying rubies.
One other important note about the stones used in ruby rings: most of them have been enhanced in some way. If they have been heat treated to boost their color and overall appearance, they will be labeled with an “E” or “H” and the treatment will have only a minimal impact on the value of the gemstone. However, if the stone in a ruby engagement ring is labeled “F” it means that its surface has been filled with foreign material to prevent fracturing, and a label of “U” means the ruby has had its color enhanced by surface diffusion. Both definitely lower the gemstone’s value, and those stones more care in everyday wear and cleaning. Avoid stones labeled “D” (dyed) or “R” (irradiated) – both lower the value of a ruby considerably.
When purchasing a ruby ring, be sure the stone has been certified by a reputable laboratory and that you’re buying from a trusted seller. There are many synthetic rubies on the market, and not all are clearly labeled as laboratory-created. Some unscrupulous vendors will try to pass them off as genuine stones.
Types of Rings
Ruby rings have been worn for many centuries, often more by men than by women. Men’s ruby rings date back at least to the days of Chinese Mandarin rulers; an official’s importance was symbolized by the deepness of the stone’s color. Today, men’s ruby rings are still big-sellers, in styles ranging from class rings and stylish signet rings, to attractive (but still masculine) ruby wedding rings with stones often placed symmetrically around the band.
You’re more likely, though, to see women wearing ruby rings today. Ruby cocktail rings, many of them vintage or antique, make stunning statements and have been a staple in jewelry collections for centuries. Another variation often seen is the ruby heart ring, the perfect choice as a promise ring, a Valentine’s Day gift or just an expression of love; a ruby heart ring combines the “color of love and passion” with the cut which best expresses the sentiment.
The emergence of the ruby as the center stone in a ruby engagement ring has provided a major boost to sales of the gemstone in recent years. The previously-mentioned ruby diamond ring presented by Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson (meant to “match” the color of her hair) really started the craze. But a growing interest in alternatives to traditional diamond solitaires has contributed greatly to sales of ruby engagement rings. They’re usually matched with yellow or rose gold settings, in order to match the rich color of the gold with the equally-rich red of a ruby. White gold and platinum are also chosen by some brides for their ruby engagement ring as well, but more commonly for a ruby diamond ring because the white band tends to enhance the sparkle of the diamonds. Rubies are also extremely popular choices as accent stones for engagement rings featuring diamonds as center stones.
Perhaps the most-commonly seen utilization of rubies in bridal jewelry is for ruby wedding rings and eternity bands. The flash yet somewhat understated style of beautiful rubies works perfectly for smaller stones placed around a yellow gold band, while combining rubies and diamonds in a white gold or platinum setting creates a stunning look – either standing on its own or worn next to a beautiful engagement ruby and diamond ring.