Rubies – the RED? birthstone of July
I have a confession to make. As a geologist, some part of my psyche mandates that I love rocks. ALL rocks, ALL minerals. In kindergarten I was a magpie, attracted to rocks, gemstones and generally anything colorful and shiny. (My collection of shiny pennies and pebbles was something to behold!) And as a child I hated rubies. It all started (as so many things do) with childhood expectations: Like the one that says you will get on a bicycle and, like magic, ride down the street with the other kids. Not me. I failed bike riding! All my attempts to learn to ride a bike ended with me (and my bike), against a tree, in a ditch and twice, I ran over cute boys. To be perfectly fair my bicycle skills are fine, it’s my attention to where I am pedaling that tends to create issues…. Or maybe, the happily ignorant expectation that THIS year your aunt will give you something other than an itchy sweater for Christmas, sadly a pattern that has held for 30 years.
But I digress: Why I hated rubies. I was told that rubies are red and everyone knows that. Ruby Red – it’s a color and I was a child who knew my colors: red was the deep red-brown or red-purple of garnets. Or the bright crimson red in vogue for Christmas décor. Or the lustrous perfect deep red of red spinel. (Red spinel is commonly mistaken for ruby, and when clear and dark enough valuable in its own right.) The first ruby I saw was a cloudy, mid-pink specimen. I was highly disappointed, and disapproved of the color label with all the pickiness that a kindergartner can muster and wondered why I had gotten such a lackluster birthstone. Rubies are ‘the king of gemstones’? I was not impressed.
As an adult and a geologist, I know that rubies are one of the wonders of the mineral world. Almost the same composition as sapphire, they have a trace contamination of chromium that creates the red. (Blue sapphires have iron and titanium.) Most naturally occurring rubies (I don’t have time to talk about synthetic rubies today) are varying shades of dark pink and opaque with tiny fissures and inclusions. If a ruby is too light in color they are considered to be ‘pink sapphires’. Some rubies are opaque with inclusions of titanium, creating colorful ‘star rubies’. They have a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, allowing them to be polished to an incredibly high gloss, and a mineral structure that creates bright reflections of color through the gem.
Most rubies are mined in Myanmar (Burmese rubies) and Thailand but they are also found in other parts of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The most valuable are known as ‘pigeon’s blood rubies’. Mostly from Myanmar, these exceptionally rare gems are a deep clear crimson.
Good, clear, dark red rubies are rarer than diamonds!
One day, shortly after I had started geology classes, an old friend asked why I didn’t like rubies. I explained my expectations and my considered opinion that it didn’t deserve to be in the ranks of birthstones (especially as my birthstone!). She laughed and asked me to wait a moment. She trotted out of the room and I could hear her crashing and banging as she looked through drawers in her bedroom.
When she came out, she plunked a ring down in front of me and said, “Look.”
It was a gold ring set with a small but perfectly clear, dark red ruby and a tiny circle of microscopic diamonds. I picked up the ring and held it up to the light from the window. In the sun, the color wasn’t a true red but a dark reddish pink. Ruby and diamonds together glowed, almost as if lit from within. Then I understood: a good ruby has a color and fire that makes garnets and other, softer gems look fake and cheap, even if it isn’t quite ‘red’.
Astonished I asked, “Where did you get this?”
She smiled and said, “Thailand. A long time ago.”
Most rubies that are available and that most people can afford are a little cloudy and varying shades of pink. Certainly, the rubies I sell now are definitely in the “dark pink” color range, but they are still beautiful and unique. When I am setting gemstones, I take a ruby out to the sunshine and admire the shine and incandescence of even a pinkish ruby. I understand now; they definitely deserve their title of ‘the king of gemstones’!
Note: the pictures are all rubies I have and can set. Please contact me if you saw one you liked!