Red has long been a color linked to intense emotions and passion, and the rich crimson red of the ruby is no exception. Evoking the color of blood – and thus the color of life – rubies were believed to hold power over life and death in ancient cultures. Like most gemstones, the ruby has been connected with a host of myths and legends over the centuries, with associations to traits such as wisdom, peace and invincibility.
Undeniably one of the most culturally rich colored gemstones, the ruby has retained its significance in the modern world as one of the most sought-after gems on the market. Not only is it July’s birthstone, but consumers remain drawn to its incomparable rich red color that still symbolizes passion and romantic love to this day.
Science of the Ruby
The ruby is part of the corundum mineral species, which also includes the sapphire. But how are rubies and sapphires different? Like the sapphire, it is one of the world’s strongest gemstones, graded a 9 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Yet, while a sapphire can come in a range of gemstone colors, a ruby can only be red. Its vibrant red glow is caused by the presence of chromium. Depending on the concentration of chromium, a natural ruby’s color will range from an orangey red to a purplish red, and every hue in between. Historically, the term “pigeon’s blood” has been used to describe the most desirable red hue found in rubies, which is slightly purplish red color with a soft fluorescence.
Due to both its strength and its fluorescence, the ruby has applications outside of the realm of jewelry. For instance, rubies have been used in watchmaking since 1704 as bearings to minimize friction and wear. The diamond is the only natural gemstone harder than a ruby, making small rubies ideal for these scientific applications. Still, the largest and most high-quality examples of this red stone are reserved for the jewelry market, where they command a premium.
Burma, a Southeast Asian nation today known as Myanmar, is an area marked by richness in mineral resources that has long been the source of the highest-quality rubies. Since as early as 600 AD, Burma has been associated with the world’s finest rubies. By edict of the King himself, however, the finest stones were never allowed to leave the kingdom.
Due to increasing political unrest, the country closed itself to the world in 1962, further restricting trade and increasing the rarity of this magnificent precious stone. Though trade restrictions have since waned, the Burmese mines are all but depleted, and Burma rubies remain among the rarest and most sought after colored gemstones on the market.