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Rubies: The Mysteries and the Myths

This 23.1carat Burmese ruby was donated to the Smithsonian Museum by Peter Buck, in honor of his wife, Carmen Lúcia and dubbed The Carmen Lúcia Ruby.
Photo Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Once upon a time, many moons ago, diamonds didn’t rule supreme in the jewelry world – there was a more colorful King of the Hill – the ruby. Many know the ruby to be the birthstone for July (our owner WendyKate’s birthstone, in fact), but long before it was appointed to that post, it held myths and mysteries for many.

Rubies: The Mysteries and the Myths

For the ancients, the ruby was known as “The King of the Gems”, representing the sun. Others thought it symbolized integrity, devotion, happiness, healing, courage, romance, generosity, inspiration, and prosperity. Many warriors of ancient times would implant rubies under the skin, asserting that they would bring valor in battle. Others thought that rubies could act as a talisman and would warn its owner against danger and disaster. Ground to a fine powder and placed on the tongue, it was believed by some ancient cultures to cure blood diseases, stop bleeding, ensure good health, bring peace, and treat indigestion.

Sarah Ferguson and her ruby engagement ring, given to her by Prince Andrew.
Photo credit: Pinterest

Later, nobility utilized rubies to symbolize wealth and royalty (most notably wealth). You’ll see rubies present in coronation garb, as well as in other royal adornments. Let’s not forget Elizabeth the First and her secret ring (you can read all about that here) and more recently, Fergie (the woman who married Prince Andrew, the current Queen’s second son – not the one from the Black Eyed Peas that’s married to Josh Duhamel) received one as an engagement ring from her beloved.

Elizabeth Taylor Ruby Necklace and Earrings Set
Elizabeth Taylor shown wearing her ruby necklace and earrings set, designed by Cartier and given to her by her husband Mike Todd.

Many a hollywood movie star has draped themselves in rubies, but none like Elizabeth Taylor. While she was known for having an amazing jewel collection, consisting of varied gemstones, one of her most valuable was the ruby necklace and earrings set seen above. But my favorite of her collection is the ruby and diamond ring shown below. After her death, the ring went up for auction via Christie’s and sold for a record-breaking (at the time) $4.2 million (the record broken was price per carat for a ruby sold at auction).

Liz Taylor’s 8.24ct ruby ring from Van Cleef & Arpels was a Christmas gift from Richard Burton in 1968.

As the second hardest natural mineral, beat out only by the diamond, the ruby consists of corundum (yes, the same mineral as sapphires, but more on that in a blog post to come), enhanced by the presence of chromium. The “blood-red” or “pigeon’s blood” rubies (vivid medium-dark toned red) are the most valuable and therefore thought to be the most desirable. For decades, the best rubies were mined in Burma (Myanmar today) until deposits of ruby formations were found in places like Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tanzania, Mozambique, Australia and even the US.

The Fai Dee Red Emperor Necklace Rubies and Diamonds
The Fai Dee Red Emperor Necklace, consisting of sixty Burmese rubies, totaling 104.51 carats (along with 59.05 carats of diamonds), which sold at auction in April of 2014.

Today a ruby of good color and clarity can far out-price a diamond of the same size and quality. Rubies exhibiting excellent clarity are becoming very difficult to find. Especially since there are regulations here in the US that don’t allow the sale and import of Burmese Rubies into the country (they can be re-sold if they are already within the US borders, however). But be warned, a totally “clean” ruby is likely one that has been treated. You see, rubies naturally have small inclusions – even the best ones. If you don’t see them with at least 10x magnification, you’re likely viewing a modified stone. Rubies can be filled (meaning the inclusions are filled (most commonly with lead glass) or heated to make them appear to be more clear.

ruby ring
Example of a ruby ring from the Age of Greatness of Sweden.
Photo credit: Skokloster Castle via Wikimedia Commons.

For more stories, mysteries and myths about rubies, since we’ve only scratched the surface here, you might want to check out this book, Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay. It talks about all of the gemstones and their secrets. Or you could consider Ruby Gemstones – A Collection of Historical Articles on the Origins, Structure and Properties of the Ruby, which is more of a reference text. 

Queen Elizabeth Ruby Tiara
Queen Elizabeth in a Ruby Tiara she commissioned with rubies that were a wedding present from the people of Burma (now Myanmar).

Do you own any rubies? Show us some pictures or tell us about them! WendyKate has one that was handed down to her by her grandmother, who was also born in July. We love the family stories the best and we can’t wait to hear yours.


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