Ruby, king of the precious gems:
For thousands of years, the ruby has been considered king of the gemstones. It has everything a precious stone should have: magnificent colour, excellent hardness and outstanding brilliance. In addition to that, it is an extremely rare gemstone, especially in its finer qualities.
The most important thing about the ruby is its colour. Two magical elements are associated with the symbolism of this colour: fire and blood, implying warmth and life. So ruby-red is not just any colour, it is absolutely undiluted, hot, passionate, powerful colour. Burmese rubies are the rarest gemstone in the world due to their intense red brilliance accentuated by pink. Natural colour gems that are inherently pure and bright are extremely rare. The provenance of the stone is an important consideration in determining the price of a ruby. The most popular are those from Burma, which are distinguished by their brilliant color, silky smoothness, and extremely strong fluorescence.
Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum, one of the hardest minerals on Earth, of which the sapphire is also a variety. Pure corundum is colourless. Traces of elements such as chrome, iron, titanium or vanadium are responsible for the colour. These gemstones have excellent hardness. On the Mohs scale their score of 9 is second only to diamond. Only red corundum is entitled to be called ruby, all other colours are classified as sapphires. The close relationship between ruby and sapphire has been known only since the beginning of the 19th century. Until then, red garnets or spinels were also thought to be rubies (which is why the ‘Black Ruby’ and the ‘Timur Ruby’, two of the British Crown Jewels, were so named, when they are not rubies, but spinels.)
Ruby consists of aluminium oxide and chrome as well as traces of other elements. In really fine colours, and good clarity, it occurs only rarely. Paradoxically, it is actually the colouring element chrome which is responsible for this scarcity.
Millions of years ago, when the gems were being created deep inside the Earth’s core, chrome gave the ruby its wonderful colour. But at the same time it was also responsible for causing a multitude of fissures and cracks inside the crystals. Thus only few ruby crystals were given the conditions in which they could grow undisturbed to considerable sizes and crystallise to form perfect gemstones. For this reason, rubies of more than 3 carats in size are very rare. So it is no wonder that rubies with hardly any inclusions are so valuable that in good colours and larger sizes they achieve top prices, surpassing even diamonds in the same category.
Some rubies display a wonderful silky shine, the so-called ‘silk’ of the ruby. This phenomenon is caused by very fine needles of rutile. Now and then, one of the rare star rubies is found.
Which is the most beautiful ruby? The red of a ruby may involve very different nuances depending on origin. The range of those nuances is wide, and could perhaps be compared to hotel categories, from luxury accommodation down to a plain inn or hostel.
If the gemstone experts refer to a ‘Burmese ruby’, they are talking about the top luxury category. A connoisseur will immediately associate this colour with the legendary ‘Mogok Stone Tract’ and the gemstone centre of Mogok in North Myanmar. Here, the country’s famous ruby deposits lie in a mountain valley surrounded by high peaks. Painstakingly, gemstones of an irresistible luminosity are brought to light in the ‘valley of the rubies’. Unfortunately, really fine qualities are quite rare even here. The colour of a Burmese ruby is regarded as exceptionally vivid. It is said to display its unique brilliance in any light, be it natural or artificial.
Ruby deposits also exist in Vietnam, near the Chinese border. Rubies of Vietnamese origin generally display a slightly purplish hue. Rubies from Thailand, however, often have a darker red which tends towards brown. This ‘Siamese colour’— an elegantly muted deep red—is considered second in beauty only to Burmese colour. Ceylon rubies, which have now become very rare, are mainly light red, like ripe raspberries.
Other ruby deposits are in India, Northern Pakistan in the Hunza Valley, Kashmir, Tadzhikistan, Laos, Nepal and Afghanistan. Kenya and Tanzania surprised the experts by their beautiful, strong colour rubies, which vary from light to dark red. But in the African mines too, fine and clear rubies of good colour, purity and size are very rare. Usually the qualities mined are average.
Colour is a ruby’s most important feature; transparency is of secondary importance. So inclusions do not impair the quality of a ruby unless they decrease the transparency of the stone or are located in the centre of its table. On the contrary: inclusions within a ruby are said to be its ‘fingerprint’, a statement of its individuality and, at the same time, proof of its genuine and natural origin. The cut is essential: only a perfect cut will underline the beauty of this valuable precious stone in a way befitting the ‘king of gemstones’. However, a really perfect ruby is as rare as perfect love.
To arrange an appointment in Hatton Garden to view or discuss gemstones and designs, please call us on 020 7399 2960.
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