For thousands of years, the ruby has been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on Earth. It has everything a precious stone should have: magnificent colour, excellent hardness and outstanding brilliance. In addition to that, it is an extremely rare gemstone, especially in its finer qualities.
For a long time India was regarded as the ruby’s classical country of origin. In the major works of Indian literature, a rich store of knowledge about gemstones has been handed down over a period of more than two thousand years. The term ‘corundum’, which we use today, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘kuruvinda’. The Sanskrit word for ruby is ‘ratnaraj’, which means something like ‘king of the gemstones’. And it was a royal welcome indeed which used to be prepared for it. Whenever a particularly beautiful ruby crystal was found, the ruler sent high dignitaries out to meet the precious gemstone and welcome it in appropriate style. Today, rubies still decorate the insignia of many royal households.
Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum, one of the hardest minerals on Earth, of which the sapphire is also a variety. Pure corundum is colourless. Slight traces of elements such as chrome, iron, titanium or vanadium are responsible for the colour. These gemstones have excellent hardness. On the Mohs scale their score of 9 is second only to that of the diamond. Only red corundum is entitled to be called ruby, all other colours being classified as sapphires. The close relationship between the ruby and the sapphire has only been known since the beginning of the 19th century. Up to that time, red garnets or spinels were also thought to be rubies. (That, indeed, is why the ‘Black Ruby’ and the ‘Timur Ruby’, two of the British Crown Jewels, were so named, when they are not actually rubies at all, but spinels.)
Ruby, this magnificent red variety from the multi-coloured corundum family, consists of aluminium oxide and chrome as well as very fine traces of other elements - depending on which deposit it was from. In really fine colours and good clarity, however, this gemstone occurs only very rarely in the world’s mines. Somewhat paradoxically, it is actually the colouring element chrome which is responsible for this scarcity. True enough, millions of years ago, when the gemstones were being created deep inside the core of the Earth, chrome was the element which gave the ruby its wonderful colour. But at the same time it was also responsible for causing a multitude of fissures and cracks inside the crystals. Thus only very few ruby crystals were given the good conditions in which they could grow undisturbed to considerable sizes and crystallise to form perfect gemstones. For this reason, rubies of more than 3 carats in size are very rare. So it is no wonder that rubies with hardly any inclusions are so valuable that in good colours and larger sizes they achieve top prices at auctions, surpassing even those paid for diamonds in the same category.
Some rubies display a wonderful silky shine, the so-called ‘silk’ of the ruby. This phenomenon is caused by very fine needles of rutile. And now and then one of the rare star rubies is found. Here too, the mineral rutile is involved: having formed a star-shaped deposit within the ruby, it causes a captivating light effect known by the experts as asterism. If rubies of this kind are cut as half-dome shaped cabochons, the result is a six-spoked star which seems to glide magically across the surface of the stone when the latter is moved. Star rubies are precious rarities. Their value depends on the beauty and attractiveness of the colour and, though only to a lesser extent, on their transparency. Fine star rubies, however, should always display rays which are fully formed all the way to the imaginary horizontal line which runs through the middle of the stone, and the star itself should be situated right in the centre.
Ruby-red means passion
Red for ruby. Ruby-red. The most important thing about this precious stone is its colour. It was not for no reason that the name ‘ruby’ was derived from the Latin word ‘rubens’, meaning ‘red’. The red of the ruby is incomparable: warm and fiery. Two magical elements are associated with the symbolism of this colour: fire and blood, implying warmth and life for mankind. So ruby-red is not just any old colour, no, it is absolutely undiluted, hot, passionate, powerful colour. Like no other gemstone, the ruby is the perfect way to express powerful feelings. Instead of symbolising a calm, controlled affection, a ring set with a precious ruby bears witness to that passionate, unbridled love that people can feel for each other.
Colour above (almost) everything
As we have said, colour is a ruby’s most important feature. Its transparency is only of secondary importance. So inclusions do not impair the quality of a ruby unless they decrease the transparency of the stone or are located right in the centre of its table. On the contrary: inclusions within a ruby could be said to be its ‘fingerprint’, a statement of its individuality and, at the same time, proof of its genuineness and natural origin. The cut is essential: only a perfect cut will underline the beauty of this valuable and precious stone in a way befitting the ‘king of the gemstones’. However, a really perfect ruby is as rare as perfect love. If you do come across it, it will cost a small fortune. But when you have found ‘your’ ruby, don’t hesitate: hang on to it!