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Ruby: History, symbolism and more

What is Ruby

Known for its fiery appeal, the name Ruby evolves from the Latin word for red, “Rubeus”. Ruby is a precious gemstone symbolizes courage, passion and vitality. Just like sapphire, ruby belongs to the corundum mineral family, which in its natural state is colorless, while sapphire gets its blue from iron, ruby gets its red from the trace element chromium, sapphire of fancy colour are the results of different compositions of elements combinations within the gems. With a Mohs hardness of 9 out of 10, ruby (and sapphire) is one of the most durable gemstones available for jewellery making, along with its mesmerizing allure, ruby is one of the most sought-after precious stones in the market and has been for years. Moreover, to further strengthen its status, Ruby is at the helm of the world’s most expensive colored gemstone: it received the title in 2015, when the 25 carat Sunrise Ruby sold for an astonishing US$30.42 million at a Sotheby’s auction to an anonymous buyer.

Ancient Symbolism: The King of Gems

Documented in various ancient literatures like the Puranas, the Bible and Pliny’s Natural History, ruby played a prominent role in ancient cultures as a talisman and symbol of courage, passion and more, in fact, its name in Sanskrit, ratnaraj, translates to the “king of precious stones”. Legends and lore revealed that the fiery stone was associated with vitality, power and authority, ancient Hindus offered fine rubies in rituals wishing for a rebirth as an emperor. It was also believed to have supernatural healing and protective power, some warriors from ancient times even went so far to insert ruby under their skin, believing it would make them invincible in battles.

Modern symbolism

The origin of birthstones can be traced as far back as the Breastplate of Aaron from the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Also known as the Priestly Breastplate, it was a sacred ornament adorned with 12 different gemstones, each representing a tribe, it was worn by the High Priest of the Israelites over the chest with the Ephod as a gesture to take the 12 tribes of Israel before God in rituals. The correlation between gemstones and cultural concepts continued to evolved throughout the centuries, it wasn’t until the 1912, the National Association of Jewellers in America defined the list of birthstones as we know it today and ruby was assigned to the birthstone for the month of July, and naturally ruby is associated with the zodiac signs Cancer and Leo. Since red is the official colour for 15th an 40th anniversary, it is only fitting that ruby is the gemstone for the two milestone anniversaries. Ruby also represents the lasting flame of passion between the couple.

Red spinel vs Ruby

Before 1783, the year where mineralogist Jean-Baptiste L. Romé de L’Isle differentiated red spinel from red corundum, all red spinels were considered as ruby, in fact, one of the world’s most famous and historic rubies are actually spinels. It is due to the fact that red spinel and ruby bare little differences to the naked eyes, and are often found in the same mines. But with a goniometer, Romé de L’Isle discovered that the angles of the crystals from the same family were always the same, and was able to tell between the two similar red minerals, since the angels between their faces were different. Today, we know that spinel and corundum are different in many ways in terms of its chemical makeup.

Crystal systemTrigonalCubic
ColourLight red to purplish redVarious colour eg. red, pink, blue, purple, green
Mohs hardness97.5-8
Refractive index1.762 to 1.7701.719

World’s Famous rubies

  • Sunrise Ruby
  • 125West Ruby
  • Black Prince Ruby on the Imperial State Crown (a spinel)
  • DeLong Star Ruby

Our Fine Ruby Jewellery