#6479 GIA certified ruby.
Antique Jewelry Ruby 1 - post 173
July Birthstone - Ruby. Celebrating antique ruby jewels and jewelry.
Every Friday night, traditional Jewish men utter a prayer, praising their wives before making a blessing over the wine. The wife is so highly esteemed and valued, that she is considered to have a "Price Above Rubies". Rubies are assumed to have a greater value than anything else on earth, besides one's wife of course. Once again, we learn that there is much to learn from the past.
Rubies, those adored gems, held in highest esteem for thousands of years. The Mughals and Persians (who plundered the Mughals) engraved rubies with texts from the Koran and with the names of their rulers.
A saga of plunder, murder and mayhem is told in the anals of one of the most famous gems in history, the Black Prince's Ruby, a known story dating to the 14th century. Abū Sa'īd, Prince of Granada was murdered by the Castillian (Spanish) king, busy reconquering the area from the Moors. The egg-sized gem (supposedly about 170 carats) was taken at this point and then, in lieu of pay, passed to the hands of the Black Prince for war services rendered to the same Castillians. Over the years, the stone was lost, stolen, found, reclaimed and finally, it sits in the front of the British Imperial State Crown. Now for the irony: modern technology has shown that the famous Crown Jewel is in fact not a ruby at all, but a spinel, closely related, but not quite the same blood.
#5179. Believed to be rubies, the GIA showed them to be spinel.
While gem mythology extols rubies from far and wide, the most desireable rubies to this day, are considered those mined in Burma (Myanmar). For about 50 years, there were strong sanctions on that country and that included a ban on importing these wonderful stones. In 2016, President Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar and conferred 'favored trading nation status' on them. However, since then, the situation has deteriorated due to persecution of the Rohingya and individual Burmese have had sanctions imposed on them.
#4764. Earrings from Burma/Myanmar.
If Myanmar is the undisputed source for the best rubies, Rubies of various qualities can be found in many other countries, from Thailand and Africa to the USA.
What constitutes a ruby? As we learned a few weeks ago, rubies, like sapphires, are part of the corundum family. Interestingly, sapphires may be bright pink and there is debate and lack of objectivity in defining when a pink stone is a sapphire and when a ruby. (see our post on sapphires).
I've learned that gems previously appraised as rubies 'became' sapphires when the criteria for distinguishing between the two seemed to change.
Moving the goalposts mid-game is only the beginning of the problem. There are a few other issues to think about, as described below.
There are many fake rubies out there and the buyer, especially if not an expert has to be very, very careful about buying rubies. Here is a short (incomplete) list of potential minefields:
1. Synthetic stones: there is a vast range of these stones, dating back centuries. Paste, today highly regarded is a form of immitation stone. Actual synthetic rubies have been made since the 1870's. Right up to the first half of the 1900's, synthetic stones were used in 'good' jewelry and was often at least as valued by the population as the 'real' thing. Today, we are a little fussy about the technicality of stones being 'real' - maybe a little too fussy and we should put back some reality into our perspective.
2. Stones that are only partially ruby and largely filled with glass or other materials. What amounts to a scam involving large, supposedly reputable department stores who sell these value-less concoctions as the real thing for huge amounts of money. As far as I know, there are still no laws preventing such activity and misrepresentation in the USA. In other countries, they are more purists and such glass-filled substances are legally not considered rubies by anyone, including the law.
3. Other red stones sold as rubies. The obvious ones would be spinel, garnets and tourmalines, in particular lovely pink tourmalines, called Rubellite for obvious reasons (they look like rubies). I have had antique-dealers swear that the stone was a ruby, when clearly it was a garnet, even to my relatively naieve eye. Spinels - another substitute. Actually, a good spinel could have a greater value than most rubies, so each case has to be considered on it's own merits.
4. foiling: old jewelry was typically foiled in order to enhance the colour. In fact, this is the case with the Black Prince's Ruby and noone is going to remove the stone from it's setting for fear of damaging it.
5. Heat treatment has been used to enhance the color of rubies for centuries. It is so pervasive that it is considered the norm and does not negatively impact the price/value of a ruby. In fact, the opposite is true: if a ruby is certified as having no treatment, the value goes up considerably.
#6490 Necklace and earrings with both rubies and spinels.
Rubies are often used facet cut, like diamonds or, en cabochon - like a round dome. They were particularly popular during the Art Deco period, when strong contrasting colours were used, as well as during the Retro period, in smaller scale as detail to larger pieces. Rubies found in very old or ancient jewelry are often not cut at all, but left in their original, rough shape and perhaps, just polished. To this day, eastern cultures are often more focused on the size of a ruby, rather than the symmetry of its cut. In the West, as time went by, technology improved as well as the science behind cutting of gemstones. Today, a rough gem will be appraised to calculate the best-looking stone that it can produce. Gems are set singly, offset by other gems or used as detail for complex designs. Every type of setting is possible. Today, we aim for well-matched stones in color and cut.
#4790. Invisibly set rubies.
Rubies range in colour from pale pink, through bright pinks and deep red. The range of prices matches the spectrum of colours. The most famous, desireable rubies are called 'Pigeon Blood', with a deep almost burned orange red tone, that is most sought-after by many Far Eastern lovers of this stone. Many Americans and other 'westerners' lust after shades of pink. Ultimately, taste is personal and you can decide on the piece and colour that most appeals to you. Over the last few years, many gems graded as rubies have been redefined as pink sapphires. The difference is in the eye of the beholder and their subjective opinion. The distinction is hazy.
Rubies may be faceted or cut en cabochon, which means, like a smoothe, round dome. Cats Eye rubies or Star rubies are always cut in this (cabochon) way.
#6888. Georgian ring.
Myths concerning rubies abound and the magical powers ascribed to these gems is wide and varied. Every culture has its superstitions and mythical attributes for rubies. There is a belief that wearing a ruby on the left hand brings good fortune to the wearer. Combined with another belief that the red glow of the ruby originates in an internal flame that cannot be extinguished, it is a perfect symbol of everlasting love. Rubies are therefore a fabulous option for engagement or wedding rings. They are the 2nd hardest gemstones (corundum, which also include sapphires). Many wide wedding bands, made early in the 20th century feature ruby details. A ruby engagement ring to match, especially one made during the Deco period can look quite stunning.
In the East, Navaratna jewelry is extremely popular. It consists of a particular series of 9 gems that provide amuletic powers, protections and blessings to the wearer. In Navaratna jewelry, the ruby, representing the sun and the center of the solar system, is always placed in the center of the jewel.
#6811 Navaratna ring with ruby in the center.
Our next post on Rubies will have a lot of important information and advice about chosing and buying your antique ruby jewelry.