Since biblical times, ruby has been one of the most revered and coveted gemstones on Earth. According to the Book of Exodus, July's official birthstone was one of the 12 gem varieties affixed to the Priestly Breastplate worn by Aaron (1396 BC – 1273 BC), elder brother of Moses. Each gem represented one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
In Indian culture, rubies have been mentioned in literature for more than 2,000 years. The Sanskrit word for ruby is "ratnaraj," which means "the king of gemstones." According to The International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA), whenever a particularly beautiful ruby crystal was discovered, the Indian ruler would order high-level dignitaries to meet the precious gemstone and welcome it in appropriate style.
The ICA also noted that in the fascinating world of gemstones, the ruby is the undisputed ruler. This is because it has everything a precious stone should have: magnificent color, excellent hardness, outstanding brilliance and extreme rarity.
The ruby's rich, vibrant red color is an important part of its appeal, as it conveys love, romance and passion. On the mystical side, a ruby is said to promote health, wealth, wisdom, creativity, loyalty and courage.
The International Gem Society, wrote about how the ancient Burmese soldiers took rubies to battle because they believed the blood-red gem bestowed invulnerability. There was one proviso, however. Wearing a ruby as a piece of jewelry wasn’t good enough. The gems had to be physically inserted into their flesh to protect them from physical harm.
Ruby is a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). Gemstone-quality corundum in all shades of red are generally called rubies. Corundum in other colors are called sapphires.
The word “ruby” comes from “ruber,” Latin for red. Pure corundum is colorless, but rubies get their color from slight traces of the element chromium in the gem's chemical composition. Ruby boasts a hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale. Only diamonds are rated higher at 10.0.
The value of a ruby increases based on its color, cut, clarity and carat weight.
Since the late 15th century, Burma, particularly the region around Mogok, has been a vital source for high-quality rubies. The area, known as the “Valley of Rubies,” is regarded as the original source of pigeon’s blood rubies.
While Myanmar (formerly Burma) has earned the reputation for producing the finest rubies, the coveted red gems have also been mined in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the U.S., rubies have been found in Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Credit: Photo by NMNH Photo Services / Smithsonian.