For thousands of years, treasured rubies and sapphires have been revered for their beauty and perceived mystical powers. It was thought that rubies held the key to serenity and peace and could secure eternal love and happiness. The ancient Persians believed that the earth itself rested upon a great sapphire whose reflection caused the sky to be blue. Rubies and sapphires continue to captivate with their unparalleled beauty, and quality stones have become excellent investments. So what are the differences between rubies vs. sapphires? This guide will review these two legendary gemstones and provide a brief history on both.
Judging by their distinct color, it may be hard to believe that red rubies and sapphires are actually the same gemstone, identical in all characteristics except color. Both are corundum and each derives their rich color from tiny amounts of different chemical impurities. These amazing corundum minerals are second only to diamonds in hardness, and in many cases, are a much better value.
Exotic Origins...Rich History
Burma, Ceylon and Kashmir are the legendary names most associated with the world's finest sapphires and rubies, and their history is rich with intrigue. When discovering the history of rubies and sapphires, it’s important to look at their origins. Burma was a bountiful source of both rubies and sapphires for more than 800 years, though the best stones were never allowed to leave the kingdom. Until the middle of the 19th century, the Burmese King commanded that any and all rubies weighing more than five carats would become possession of the Royal Family. Miners, anxious to sell their red gem supply, broke the magnificent rubies into pieces smaller than five carats so as to bypass the King's law. Thus, rubies weighing over five carats are exceptionally rare and precious. In 1962, the borders of Burma were closed and political unrest has all but shut down the mining of these magnificent natural ruby stones. Now the July gemstone is highly sought after by collectors from around the world.
Kashmir, which lies in the Himalayas, is renowned for its rich, cornflower-blue sapphires. The stones were discovered by accident in 1881 when a landslide unearthed a rich cache of sapphire crystals. The pure deep color and velvety appearance of the stones so enamored the Maharajah, he soon took control of the mines and halted trade of all sapphires. By 1887, the initial gemstone mine was exhausted and other mines in the area proved so difficult to reach and the climate so unpredictable and hazardous, that only a precious few stones were ever mined.
Although origin is important, it should not be the determining factor when choosing a stone. Rubies and sapphires hailing from various locations exhibit many different characteristics and each variety has a strong following of admirers. In fact, the Gemological Institute of America does not rate corundum in quality because there is no universal agreement as to which origin or color is best. Rarity, cleanliness and beauty will always determine the relative value of a precious stone.
Rarity, Size, Color, Clarity... Selecting a Stone
Whether you are browsing for estate sapphire rings or antique rubies, choosing a Burmese ruby or sapphire gem is, in part, a matter of taste, but there are several factors that will affect the value and desirability of a stone. As a rule, both rubies and sapphires are at their best when surrounded or paired with quality white diamonds whose fire and white brilliance provide the perfect contrast to the rich colors of the corundum gem.
Prices will vary greatly depending on the size, clarity, origin and relative rarity of the colored stone. Fine red rubies are second in value only to fancy colored diamonds, and their value grows exponentially as their carat weight increases. Indeed, rubies weighing more than 5 carats are extraordinarily rare, and can cost as much as nine times more per carat than a 3- or 4-carat stone.
Larger, quality sapphires, though rare, are slightly more plentiful than their red ruby counterparts. Look for stones that are cut with a large table, or top surface, which makes the colored stone appear larger. A 5-carat fine ruby, cut with a large table, can have the appearance of a 7-carat stone at a fraction of the cost per carat. Remember the price per carat increases exponentially as the stone's size increases.
Look for a clean precious gem with few inclusions. Flawless rubies or sapphires do not exist, though many have the appearance of being so. Clean rubies, in particular, are extremely rare and are the most desirable, and thus the most valuable of the corundums.
Choosing a precious gem based on color is a highly personal matter. While Kashmir sapphires are heralded as the world's finest and exhibit a rich, velvety cornflower hue, many collectors prefer the luminous, lighter blue of the Ceylon sapphire. Experts have argued for centuries over which variation of ruby is truly the best and to no avail, though the deep red color hue known as "pigeon blood" is highly desirable. If the stone's color is rich and even, the perfect hue and intensity of color depends on one's personal taste.
A Limited Supply... A Great Demand
Whether used on an engagement ring, precious gemstone necklace or even antique brooch, sapphires and rubies are among the most sought after gemstones in the world, yet the mines that have provided them for thousands of years have almost been exhausted. Political strife, over-mining and simply the limited supply available from mother nature, have made high quality stones exceptionally rare. There are working mines today producing quality rubies and sapphires, but these are more the exception than the rule. Laboratory-created stones, however, do flourish on the market and collectors must be very careful as these seemingly perfect stones can be very deceiving.
The best stones are those which were found during the heyday of the legendary mines of the East during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These magnificent "second hand" stones are most often found through antique dealers or experienced jewelers specializing in investment-quality gems.
For the investor, sapphires and rubies make excellent long-term investments. Unlike white diamonds, there are no stock piles of rubies and sapphires and there have been no new substantial discoveries in decades. The value of these wonderful stones continues to rise at a steady pace.
So, while sapphires may not change color if a man's wife cheats on him as many once believed, and a fine ruby is not actually fiery coal set in stone, as the Greeks thought, there can be no denying that these stones are, nevertheless, hot.