Rubies have been mined for over five thousand years. A myriad of cultures have coveted these jewels and believed that they had the power to heal and protect. It has been associated with royalty and the power of life and death, and has been attributed to prevent blood-loss and strengthen the heart. (McCreight) While most modern societies do not believe in the magical powers of the ruby, it is still regarded as the “Queen of Jewels” or the “King of Precious Stones” and is one of the most expensive precious stones. (Ruby) In fact, a large, dark red ruby with few inclusions can be worth far more than even a diamond. Today synthetic rubies are produced in laboratories and are used for jewelry, watch bearings and laser equipment. (McCreight
Although it has a different name in every language, the English term “ruby” was derived from the Latin term rubeus, meaning red. (Rogers) Rubies are made of aluminum oxide (conundrum in lay terms) and its red color comes from trace elements of chromium oxide. In fact, these traces of chromium oxide are the only thing that differentiates a ruby from a sapphire. All red forms of conundrum are considered rubies, while all other colors-ranging from blue, green, yellow, orange, pink and clear-are termed sapphires. (Zucker) Rubies range in color from light red (just a shade darker than a pink sapphire) to a dark red called “pigeon’s blood” which is considered the best and, therefore, the most expensive. (Rogers) They rate as a nine on Moh’s Hardness Scale, second only to diamonds. Though similar in color to garnets and spinels, a true ruby can be discerned by its hexagonal crystal formations and chemical makeup. In fact, the British Crown Jewels include a spinel called the “Black Prince’s Ruby” that was thought to be a ruby for over two hundred years!
Rubies are mined primarily in Southeast Asia, especially in . Although most Burmese mines have been exhausted since the 1960’s, it is still considered as the native land of rubies. In fact, Stone Age tools dating back five thousand years have been discovered at the mining site in Mogok, , suggesting that even pre-modern humans have prized these red stones. While at the peak of the mining industry in , the King of Burma claimed all rubies over six carats for his own, hence his nickname as the “Lord of Rubies.” (Rogers) Modern mining has not changed much since the time of the Burmese mines. In , miners wade into rivers and streams to sift out rubies with baskets like panning for gold. In Chanthaburi, , families work together to mine rubies without the help of machinery (it could crush or otherwise damage the rubies underground.) Typically, the father mines and his children and wife hoist up rubies using a traditional system of handmade ropes and pulleys. Unfortunately, these mines too are becoming exhausted, and a typical worker at these mines will only unearth one ruby a month that is even over one carat! (Zucker) The only ruby mine in the is in the Cowee Valley of Macon County, North Carolina. However, this mine in particular is not especially productive. (Rogers) Within the past month, there have been new discoveries of rubies in at Andilamena and Vatomandry as well as in ; however, these rubies are more similar in color to a garnet and therefore not worth as much. (Natural)
The mythological lore that surrounds rubies is vast and varied. In some cultures, it is associated with the zodiac sign of Capricorn (goat), in others Taurus (bull). Most cultures consider rubies as the birthstone for July, but throughout the ages, it has been associated with nearly every other month as well. In the , rubies are a traditional gift for fortieth wedding anniversaries. (McCreight) During the Renaissance, rubies were associated with charity (obviously an association started by the aristocracy). (Zucker) According to Christian lore, “It was said to be the most precious of the twelve stones God created when he created all things and this “lord of gems” was placed on Aaron’s neck by God’s command.” Rubies were also thought to bring their wearer serenity and protect against injury. (Natural) Others believed that rubies could ward off misfortune and ill health, reconcile lovers’ quarrels, and bring wealth as long as one possessed it. As a stone of love, rubies were thought to transform women’s appearance with an aura of beauty. Given as a gift, rubies are a symbol of devotion, integrity and success. Though not traditionally given as an engagement ring, a ruby engagement ring expresses passion and a promise of the heart. (Ruby)
It is also said of rubies that the fire inside them will shine through any piece of material that covered it, and if immersed in water, it could transfer this fire to the water and cause it to boil instantly. In , wearers of quality rubies were protected in perfect safety without fear, even in the presence of enemies and bad luck. However, touching it with a poor quality ruby, a garnet or spinel, the so-called “inferior specimens,” could dispel these powers. Similar qualities were reported by Sir John Mandeville, who stated that he could live in peace with all men, without worry of his land being stolen by others or destroyed by tornadoes. Mandeville believed that wearing it on the left side of the body could enhance the protection brought by the ruby. The Burmese believed that implanting a ruby in the skin would also enhance the protection and invulnerability brought to its owner. Another belief in Indian culture is that persons making offerings of rubies to the god Krishna would be reborn either as an emperor or king, depending on the size of the ruby. Rubies were also thought to cure hemorrhaging, blood diseases, inflammatory diseases and to exert a calming influence on patients by removing anger and discord. In the thirteenth century, Sanskrit medical literature said that an elixir made of rubies could cure flatulence and ill humor. In dreams, rubies are said to represent unexpected guests. (Kunz)
In general, it seems that many ancient cultures believed that rubies provided protection and were associated with blood and love. While that may not be the case today, rubies play a large part in the modern world. In fact, the Iranian Bank Melli in Tehran, Iran has over $5 billion dollars in gems (many of them rubies) to back up its currency. Their collection includes a belt buckle of 20 cabochons with many over 10 carats (over 200 carats total!) (Zucker) However the largest ruby known today, the “Edith Haggin de Long Star,” is held in the AmericanMuseum of Natural History, and weighs over one hundred carats. (Rogers) Rubies are also the State Gemstone of Wisconsin. (Ruby) Are the residents of Wisconsin living in “Tornado Alley” taking after Sir John Mandeville and looking to the ruby for protection from tornadoes?
(See Reference Below)
Kunz, George Fredrick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones. Dover Publications, Inc. New York: 1913.
McCreight, Tim. The Complete Metalsmith: An Illustrated Handbook. Davis Publications. Worcester, Massachusetts: 1991.
“Natural Ruby.” Multicolour.com 17 Apr. 2003. .
Rogers, Francis and Alice Beard. 5000 Years of Gems and Jewelry. J. B. Lippincott Company. New York: 1947.
“Ruby.” Royal City Jewelers and Loans. 17 Apr. 2003. .
Zucker, Benjamin. Gems and Jewels: A Connoisseur’s Guide. Thames and Hudson. New York: 1984.