Ruby Engagement Rings
A Ruby Engagement Ring Guide
The ruby is considered one of the four precious stones, together with the sapphire, the emerald and the diamond. The colour red symbolizes love, passion and vitality. Together with the hardness and brilliance of this rare gemstone, this makes ruby engagement rings a popular choice.
This article will give some background to the ruby gemstone and then walk you through the various considerations you should keep in mind when buying your ruby engagement ring.
What is a Ruby?
Rubies are a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminum oxide). The striking red colour comes from the presence of the element chromium. All other coloured varieties of corundum (blue, white, green, pink etc.) are classed as sapphires.
Rubies are extremely durable. They have a hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Diamonds and moisannite are the only natural gems that are harder. (Diamond is the hardest, with a Mohs hardness of 10.0.)
Interestingly, rubies tend to vary significantly in colour, depending on where they have originated from. The Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Myanmar (formerly Burma) was for centuries the world’s main source for rubies. The highly sought-after pigeon’s blood rubies originally came from this area, but few good quality diamonds are found there any more.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, North East Myanmar became the world’s main ruby mining area. The rubies found here tend to be purple to black inside, with a bright red periphery. Heat treatment is required to transform the dark core to deep red.
Rubies of a slightly purple hue have been discovered in Vietnam. Rubies from Thailand, on the other hand, tend towards brown, the so-called Siamese Rubies. Ceylon rubies are a light raspberry red and are extremely rare.
Rubies have been discovered in many other countries, including Northern Pakistan, Kashmir, Tadzhikistan, Laos, Nepal, Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Tanzania and the United States. Most recently, large ruby deposits have been found under the receding ice shelf of Greenland.
India is regarded as the classical country of origin of the ruby. A rich knowledge of gemstones has existed there for thousands of years and rubies have always been particularly valued: the Sanskrit word for ruby is ratnaraj, which translates as king of the gemstones. Ancient Hindus believed that those who offered a ruby to honour Krishna were assured rebirth as an emperor in a future life.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Burmese warriors were convinced that rubies would make them invincible in battle and inserted them under their skin to make them part of their bodies.
According to the thirteenth century writings of Marco Polo, Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China, offered the King of Ceylon a city in exchange for a magnificent, flawless ruby, “as thick as a man’s arm”.
Continuing this appreciation for rubies, medieval Europeans believed that rubies assured good health, while protecting against wicked thoughts and amorous desires.
It was also believed that the ruby held the power to warn its owner of coming misfortunes. Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII, is said to have predicted her downfall in seeing the darkening of her ruby.
Ruby Engagement Ring Meaning
Ruby engagement rings have been used by the wealthy since the middle ages, often paired with diamonds in elaborate settings. The intense red colour of the ruby is associated with desire, and it is thought by some to be a stone of love with an aphrodisiac effect.
Rubies are attributed with the ability to protect their wearers from injury and to provide their wearers with energy, emotional strength, positive attitude, heightened awareness and focus.
The glowing ruby shall adorn,
Those who in July are born;
Then they’ll be exempt and free
From love’s doubt and anxiety.
Ruby is the traditional birthstone for July, the tropical zodiac sign for Capricorn (or alternatively Cancer or Leo) and the birthday (day of the week) stone for Tuesday.
Rubies are also used to celebrate 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries. If you ultimately decide against a ruby engagement ring, you could consider a ruby ring to celebrate one of these milestones!
Several celebrities have been seen with ruby engagement rings over the past few years.
The ruby is a stone of love and it is the most romantic gem and it’s very rare and very, very special.”
Eric Lane presented Jessica Simpson with a vintage-style ruby engagement ring in 2010. It is a Tiffany and Co. design from 1910 and features an oversized central round ruby with two pear-shaped diamonds on a gold band.
Mark Zuckerburg gave Priscilla Chan a simple and modest ruby ring that he had designed himself.
Although not an engagement ring, the magnificent ruby ring given to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton deserves a mention here. Van Cleef & Arpels made the ring with an 8.24 carat pigeon-blood ruby surrounded by diamonds. It sold for $4.2 million in 2011.
Because of their rarity, there are very few large famous rubies. Here is a selection of the finest rubies in the world, some privately owned and others on display in museums:
The Hope Ruby
The Hope Ruby is a breathtaking pigeon’s blood cushion-shaped ruby ring weighing 32.08 carats. The philanthropist Lily Saffra sold the Hope Ruby in auction in 2012 for $6.74 million, the highest ever price for a ruby sold at auction. The proceeds were distributed to various charities.
The Edwardes Ruby is a Burmese ruby that weighs 167 carats. It was named for Major General Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes, who helped save British rule during the years of mutiny in India. Ruskin, a leading art critic of the Victorian era, donated this ruby to the British Museum of Natural History in London in 1887.
Rosser Reeves Ruby
The Rosser Reeves Ruby originated in Sri Lanka and is one of the world’s largest star rubies, weighing 138.7 carats. It is renowned for its magnificent colour and well-defined star pattern. Rosser Reeves donated the ruby, which he used to carry around for good luck, to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 1965.
Another star ruby, the DeLong Ruby weighs 100 carats and can be found in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The ruby was discovered in Burma in the 1930s and donated to the museum in 1937. In 1964, the DeLong star ruby was stolen in a jewelry heist and only returned upon the payment of a $25,000 ransom several months later.
Other famous large rubies, such as the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby in the British Crown Jewels are actually spinels, which were thought to be rubies until the beginning of the 19th century.
Evaluation of Rubies
Unlike for diamonds, there is no universally accepted grading system for rubies or other coloured gemstones, which are still graded using the naked eye. However, it is still helpful to consider the ‘four Cs’ (colour, cut , clarity and carats) of diamond grading when evaluating the quality of a ruby.
In the evaluation of rubies, as with all coloured gemstones, purity and beauty of colour is the primary determinant of quality.
If I decide to make a coat red in the show, it’s not just red, I think: is it communist red? Is it cherry cordial? Is it ruby red? Or is it apple red? Or the big red balloon red?
Everyone knows that rubies are red. In fact, their name comes from ruber, the Latin for red. You may, however, be surprised at the range of reds that rubies are found in. They can be anything from light pink to a deep blood red and may have a brownish or even purplish tinge.
In the United States, a specified minimum colour saturation must be met for a stone to be called a ruby; otherwise the stone will be called a pink sapphire. This distinction can be difficult and subjective leading to some trade organizations adopting the broader definition for ruby, which encompasses its lighter shades, including pink.
Colour is referred to as ‘hue’ when describing transparent gemstones. Hue is divided into primary, secondary, and sometimes tertiary hues. In rubies, the primary hue must be red. However, secondary hues of orange, purple, violet and pink are possible.
The most valuable colour in rubies is pigeon’s blood, an intense blood red colour. Pigeon’s blood rubies of this colour command a large premium over other rubies of similar quality. Nowadays, the term Burmese ruby is used to describe a ruby of this colour, regardless of the country of origin of the ruby.
Clarity is important in the evaluation of rubies with clearer stones tending to command a premium. However, a totally flawless ruby may indicate that the stone has been treated. Silk, a network of fine needle-like inclusions, is commonly seen in natural rubies. Heat treatment partially dissolves this silk, increasing the clarity of rubies. The presence of silk or other inclusions therefore suggests the gem has not been treated.
Inclusions also point to the natural origin of a ruby as synthetic rubies (see below) have very few imperfections. Gemologists actually use the inclusions found in natural rubies to distinguish them from synthetic or simulant rubies. So sometimes inclusions, provided they do not affect the transparency of the stone, provide a ‘fingerprint’ for a ruby – a statement of its individuality.
Some gemstones contain inclusions that are structured so that the stone displays an asterism or star when light is reflected in a certain way. Such stones are cut en cabochon (shaped and polished as opposed to faceted) to display the effect to the full. Rubies are amongst the rarest of the star stones and so tend to be among the most valuable. The Greeks greatly valued asteria in gemstones and regarded them as powerful love charms.
The cut of a gemstone does not refer to its geometrical shape (round, princess, emerald) but rather to its overall symmetry, proportioning and polish of its facets. Deep-cut stones will look smaller than expected but show off more colour. Shallow stones will look large for their weight and have a less intense colour.
Large rubies are much harder to find than the equivalent size of other precious gemstones, including diamonds, and rubies of more than 3 carats are already extremely rare. As a result, rubies’ value increases with size more than any other gemstone and large good-quality rubies can easily rival diamonds in price.
Almost all rubies have been treated in some form and therefore treatments tend to be considered acceptable. Heat treatment is the most common practice and most lower quality rubies go through this process. Intense heating causes the diffusion of colour causing elements, thereby improving colour intensity. Heating is also used to remove purple or brown tinges.
Another relatively common treatment for rubies is fracture filling, whereby fractures inside the ruby are filled with lead glass. This greatly improves the transparency of the stone.
High quality rubies that are completely untreated are rare and command a large premium.
The first synthetic rubies were made in 1837 and, by the beginning of the 20th century, synthetic rubies were being produced on a commercial scale. These laboratory created gemstones are not imitations. They have been manufactured in laboratories to possess identical chemical and physical characteristics to the naturally occurring variety.
Synthetic rubies tend to have very few imperfections and a more vivid colour as impurities are not present in the laboratory. Dopants are added to some manufactured rubies so they can be identified as synthetic, but most need gemological testing to determine their origin. A created ruby will cost you the fraction of the price of a natural ruby and can be a beautiful option.
Ruby Engagement Ring Style
As with diamond engagement rings, there are endless styles to choose from when buying a ruby engagement ring. The key considerations are the shape of the ruby and the metal and style of the setting.
When deciding on the shape of a ruby, the preliminary analysis of the rough ruby is very important and several possible shapes are usually considered. Rough ruby is very expensive and so cutters work hard to conserve weight. Other factors taken into account include the original shape of the stone, location of internal inclusions, and popularity of certain shapes among consumers.
The most common shape is a flat tabular hexagonal shape. However, to accommodate elongated crystal shapes, many rubies are fashioned into ovals or cushions. Round, emerald-cut, heart, pear and marquise rubies are also available, but hard to find in larger sizes and high quality. Slight premiums are paid for round stones, while discounts apply for pears and marquises.
Traditionally, gold has been used in settings for ruby rings. A reason for this is that many rubies have a purple hue and yellow gold neutralizes the blue tones, giving the appearance of a pure red stone in the setting. If looking at antique ruby rings or vintage ruby rings, you will often find rubies set in yellow gold. Modern ruby engagement rings often use fashionable white gold or platinum as a setting.
One of my previous posts, All About Engagement Rings – Part II, takes a detailed look at the various setting styles available for engagement rings. All of these can be considered for ruby engagement rings too. You can choose a simple solitaire setting to showcase your beautiful ruby, surround your ruby with diamonds for added sparkle, or combine the two styles like the ring on the right.
Mohs Hardness: 6.5 - 7.5
Garnet comes in various colours, but is best known as a deep ruby-like red. Garnet rings look particularly good with a vintage-style setting. A garnet ring will be reasonably hard wearing and so is a good choice for an engagement ring.
Mohs Hardness: 7.5 - 8
Spinel also comes in various colours. Transparent red spinels are remarkably similar to rubies in appearance and are in fact called spinel-rubies. Spinels are very hard and durable and so work very well for engagement rings.
Mohs Hardness: 7 - 7.5
Rubellite comes in varying shades of red and pink and is a member of the colourful tourmaline family. It is another hard and durable gemstone that is suitable for engagement rings.
Thank you for reading this post! I hope it has provided you with lots of useful information and helped prepare you for buying a ruby engagement ring. Please sign up to my email list if you would like to receive notification of future posts as I publish them. I have lots of interesting and informative articles planned to help you choose your perfect engagement ring!