August’s ruby ̶ gem of the month
Ruby, the birthstone of August, is one of the most revered gemstones there is, with historical significance unmatched by many other stones. Part of the reason the ruby is held in such high regard is due to the gem’s desirable properties: colour, lustre, hardness and rarity. Another reason rubies have enjoyed such an exalted reputation is due to the role they have played throughout history since ancient times. To learn about this unique and wondrous stone, read on.
History and legends
Early cultures viewed rubies as ‘the power of life’. The rich red hues of the stone are similar to the colour of blood, and red has historically been the associated colour of intense emotions, such as passion, love, and anger – all components of life.
Rubies have been recorded as powerful stones since the ancient times, with several mentions in the Bible and ancient Roman scholars remarking on the stone’d unique characteristics. The ancient Hindus believed that giving rubies to the god Krishna would allow them to be reborn as royalty, and also that the gemstones would create peace with their enemies. Soldiers in Burma – a major source of rubies – wore the stones to protect themselves in battle, and even went so far as to insert the gems into their flesh. In the West, rubies were also highly valued among Europeans and were worn to promote wealth, love, wisdom and health.
Since 600AD, the main source of rubies has been the Mogok Valley in Myanmar (formerly Burma), though fewer high-quality gems have been found there in recent years. Other areas of Myanmar, including Mong Hsu, are also mined for the rare stone, along with Thailand, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan. Outside Asia, Namibia, Colombia, Scotland, Australia and several other countries also have deposits of rubies.
Rubies come from the mineral corundum, which is also responsible for all colours of the gem sapphire. In fact, rubies are red sapphires because they share identical properties except for colouring. The only reason that rubies are classified on their own and are not considered sapphires is because of their historical significance and rarity.
Rubies can range in colour from reddish-brown to bright red, with transparencies extending from opaque to completely transparent. In terms of hardness, the only gem harder than a ruby is a diamond – which is the hardest natural material found on Earth.
The value of individual rubies is highly dependent upon their physical properties. The stones worth the most exhibit bright red colouring and are called Pigeon’s Blood rubies or Burmese rubies. Transparency is another factor, with opaque or translucent stones fetching far less than their transparent counterparts.
As with other gems, size also makes a difference. Large carat stones, especially if they have the high-quality characteristics just described, can be worth millions of pounds. Like several other gemstones, rubies commonly undergo treatments to enhance their physical properties and increase their value. With rubies, heat is often used to improve colour and remove impurities. In fact, almost all rubies of lower quality are heat treated to increase their worth.