In ancient times, Romans had a specific name for all bright scarlet stones: Carbuncolorum, which meant ‘small burning coal’ or ‘small ignited coal.’ These stones also included garnet or spinel. At the time, it was difficult to distinguish the different varieties, but particularly shiny stones could be worth a fortune.
In the Middle Ages, the names of these small, fiery objects changed to ‘carboncle,’ ‘coal’ or ‘carbuncles.’ They became very precious possessions and were attributed many virtues, including of soothing anger, protecting dreams and being beneficial to the earth. Ruby stone also haunts legends: it is assumed to be the stone of dragons and chimeras.
Throughout history, ruby quickly became the stone of kings. As early as the 13th century, there is a reference to St. Louis’s ring that had ‘a big ruby in the shape of half an almond’. In the 14th century, there was also mention of Charles V’s beautiful engraved oriental ruby which he used to seal his letters. A hundred years later, Duke of Berry owned a gold ring set with rubies called the Heart of France.
The Capetians Royal Crown was believed to have held a thorn from the Crown of Thorns under a 278-carat carbuncle. In fact, this stone was a spinel. The same applies for the jewel of the Crown of England since 1367. This gem embedded on a Maltese cross in front of the royal headdress is also a magnificent spinel. It can be admired in the Tower of London.
One of the most impressive works visible today is that of Saint-Venceslas, created in 1347 for the coronation of Charles IV, Roman-German emperor. He wanted to rediscover the splendour of France, where he was raised, at his coronation. On his headdress were sapphires, emeralds and pearls set in gold encircling a dazzling 250-carat oriental ruby. Today, this magnificent work can be admired in a hall at St. Guy’s Cathedral in Prague. To access this treasure, the seven keys entrusted to seven senior officials of the state and the Church must be gathered. A duplicate can be admired at Prague Castle.
The oldest mentions of ruby stone, as well as the most impressive stones are found in Orient Lands. It is an important symbol in the Islamic religion. In the Quran, it is noted as being closely bound to the creation of man. Oriental rulers wore rubies as they were symbols of great power: crested turbans of the maharajas, the tops Chinese mandarin’s hats, lavish clothing, jewellery, thrones, and even horse harnesses.
In his travel accounts, Marco Polo mentions Sendemain, the king of Ceylon, who possessed the most beautiful and largest specimen: ‘as long as a palm and as large as a man’s arm’. The king of Siam, on the other hand, possessed a variety capable of illuminating an entire chamber. At around the same period in 13th century Baghdad, Caliph Mostanser Billan of the Abbassids dynasty was forced to give up his treasures to the victorious Turks. Among other wonders, we can admire a golden peacock whose plumage and eyes are enriched with precious stones and a rooster’s comb embedded with rubies.
During this period, diamond began to replace the stone of kings. It was no longer attributed fantastic powers, and it gradually lost its charm. Doctors and philosophers no longer believed in stories of dragons and chimeras, and scientific discoveries replaced ancient superstitions. Nonetheless the stone remained popular thanks to discoveries of explorers. Its deep blood-coloured brilliance is completely free of imperfections.
Around 1800, advances in gemology made it possible to classify ruby among corundums, as well as other precious stones.
In 1852, the English decided to annex a part of Myanmar that included the territory of Pegu, known for its beauty. The West then fantasised of abundance and a jewel boom. This illusion was short-lived as tigers, snakes and other dangers in these hard-to-reach regions prevented intensive extraction.
In 1886, two French chemists decided to collaborate to create a synthetic variety. Edmond Frémy was the first to create a cabochon that could be used in watchmaking. Auguste Verneuil then developed a method of fusing powdered alumina under the flame of a blowtorch. The red colour was obtained by adding chromium oxide. In 1904, the “Verneuil process” was used employed professionally.
Greeks and Romans had mentioned of Sri Lankan rubies in 480 BC. However, the most likely origin is in Myanmar, in the Mogok Valley. Now exhausted, this source was at the origin of some of the most beautiful “Pigeon Blood” varieties in the world, displaying exceptional colouration and transparency. Today, they are mined in the northeast, in Mong Hsu. This country is so closely linked to its extraction that Myanmar monarchs were known as “Lords of Jewels”.
Other deposits are also found in Afghanistan, China, India, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam. Known as the Ratnajar, it is the July birthstone, embodying passion, love and romance. Since ancient times, it has also been associated with many myths: ancient Indians saw it as an eternal inner fire capable of ensuring longevity.
It is one of the rarest and most expensive paragons. Scarlets in particular are extremely difficult to find. When they are very clear, they are sometimes labelled “AAA”. Being described as dichroic, (containing two colours, for example, purple and orange) even the finest varieties contain only around 80% pure scarlet and display a secondary colour such as orange, pink, purple or violet.
A total lack of inclusions is rare: just as with Alexandrite and Emerald, chromium is responsible for a variety of small blemishes. Surprisingly, microscopic titanium inclusions (also called “rutile silks”) can sometimes enhance its play of light, and increase its beauty and value.
The price of ruby stone is estimated according to its size and hue. It is the latter that often increases or decreases the price per carat. A beautiful paragon with a red hue can be of tremendous value. When the colour takes on the orange or purple, it is considered of lower quality, and the price will decrease accordingly. This is why jewellery is found at very different prices, depending on its size.
Its name comes from the Latin ‘Ruber’, the etymological root of ‘Red’. Before the development of scientific gemology in the 18th century, many reddish gems were incorrectly identified. Also known as “Anthrax” among the ancient Greeks, these cabochons were of a beautiful, vibrant and deep scarlet, reminiscent of burning coal when observed under a intense light source.
It is a corundum variety from the oxide group, and is composed of aluminium oxide and oxygen. It has a somewhat transparent or even translucent appearance and a pyramidal shape. It is insoluble when soaked in acid and is the hardest mineral after diamond. A large paragon is exceedingly rare. It is often found in small crystals as chromium hinders its growth. In general, a beautiful ruby is generally considered to be much rarer than a diamond.
Generally, coloured corundums are sapphires. You can find blue, yellow, purple, green or pink varieties. Those that are deep red are referred to as ruby. Its structure is not exactly the same: aluminium is replaced by minute traces of chromium (on average 1/1000) that define its colour intensity. Sometimes iron traces can be found in the mineral.
It is often the colour nuances that determine gems worth. Historically, the lightest gemstones were discarded as they were not considered “mature enough”. The most sought-after hue is a deep red tinged with a hint of blue. This colour is called “pigeon blood.” Inclusions are not appreciated but can be minimised or removed with certain treatments.
There is mention of rubies’ litho therapeutic properties from the 16th century owing to John de Renou, doctor of Henry II, III and IV, and litho therapy enthusiast. He stated in one of his medical works that “ruby is greatly cordial (tonic) and, moreover, powerfully resists rotting and venoms.” Today, elixirs are still credited with invigorating and disinfecting virtues. A life stone, it brings courage and loyalty. It symbolises happiness and blazing fire. It is primarily associated with the fourth chakra, the heart chakra.