By Katie McMath
As the days get warmer and we enter July, ruby lovers rejoice! This month’s birthstone is not only vivid in color but fluorescent, making it glow from within like the sun. Ancient Greeks believed rubies could melt wax, while Hindu myth said they could boil water. This might sound farfetched until you learn that the first laser in 1960 was made with ruby. Theodore Maiman discovered that chromium, the element which grants rubies their color and fluorescence, becomes energized when hit with a flash of white light. This sends forth a highly concentrated red light beam, known as a laser. This is why we typically think of lasers as red! Rubies are still used today in lasers, watch-making and medical instruments. They are a 9 on Mohs’ hardness scale, making them one of the hardest stones. (Diamonds are a 10.) In short, this gem has far more to offer than beauty.
In fact rubies have been considered one of the most valuable stones for over a dozen centuries. In Hindu tradition they are valued above all other gems, called Ratna Raj or ‘Queen of Precious Stones’ in Sanskrit. Many believed offering rubies to the god Krishna could help them be reborn as emperors in the next life. It’s likely that the most famous gem in Hindu myth, the magical Syamantaka, worn by Krishna, was a ruby.
The history of rubies often blurs myth and fact. Red stones have been historically referred to as rubies regardless of their makeup. For example the Black Prince Ruby which completes the British Imperial State Crown is a red spinel. The same can be said of the Timur Ruby. Even the Latin word for red, ruber, reveals the link between color and stone.
In reality rubies are a variety of corundum, the same mineral as sapphire. The only difference is the presence of chromium which makes rubies range from deep burgundy or wine-colored, to hot pink, to vivid scarlet.
Another myth revolves around location. Mogok, or the Ruby Valley, in Northern Burma was once claimed to be the sole source of rubies. Writers described the valley as rich with rubies since the dawn of time. Every ancient example was thought to have come from this one valley. In fact about 80% of ancient and contemporary rubies hail from Mogok, not a percentage to be scoffed at.
It is said that one Burmese king ordered workers in the Mogok mine to give him the largest rubies they found, and paid them with the smallest. This gave miners incentive to crush up beautiful gems so they wouldn’t have to part with them. If this story holds any weight it offers another explanation as to why large rubies are so rare. In 2015 The Sunrise Ruby, weighing 25.5 carats, made history when it sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $30.3 million. More recently, a Harry Winston ring with a 22.86 carat Burmese ruby and two half moon diamonds sold for 7.1 million at Christie’s Auction House.
Burmese rubies are famous for their almost indescribable red hue, which is simultaneously bright, dark, and vivid. This is called “pigeon’s blood.” The dramatic 1955 novel The Valley of the Rubies used this term again and again, calling it “some mystic incantation; some magic password…”
A stone so strongly linked to magic, royalty, and technology must be good luck. Its lively color can be likened to fire, blood, or life force itself, making rubies a passionate and vital stone. They are thought in Burma to increase courage and even bestow invincibility. Their use in lasers and medicine proves that they are highly energetic and durable.
However the Queen of Stones is not only reserved for royalty or high-end technology. Small rubies abound all over the world. They are even mined in Wyoming, Montana, and North Carolina, as well as Western and Eastern Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Many have made their way to Eve’s gallery and been incorporated into stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces.
The “Hard Candy” necklace from Eve’s Just Desserts series looks good enough to eat! Plentiful deep red cabochon rubies are accented with 14 karat gold details, including an intricately carved clasp with a single diamond. This beautiful piece is $2,950.00.
Also from the Just Desserts series is Eve’s whimsical “Who Plucked the Cherries Out?” ring, featuring five rubies tucked into the crust of a sterling silver pie. The metal crisscrosses in an openwork pattern, implying missing cherries. This sweet ring, released during the celebratory mood of Eve Alfillé Gallery’s 30th year of business, is $580. It could make the perfect gift for your July-born loved one, especially if she has a sweet tooth.
Eve’s “Fiery Acanthus” ring features gently curved acanthus leaf forms, representative in the Mediterranean of enduring life and immortality. Their presence reminds one of Burmese lore that rubies grant courage and even eternal life. The central ruby is faceted to bring out its depth, weighing 1.08 carats. It shines, sanguine and bold. Four pale green irradiated diamonds balance their ruby neighbor, offering moments of calm around the fire. This gorgeous piece from Eve’s Acanthus series is $5,630.00
Enjoy the heat of the summer, as life is in full bloom around you, and take inspiration from this month’s high-spirited birthstone. Be courageous and beautiful like the dazzling ruby.