GEMS July Birthstone: Ruby
11 Minute Read
What is the July Birthstone?
The July birthstone is ruby - the red variety of the gem species, corundum. Corundum is the same group that includes sapphires and emeralds. In fact, the term "ruby" is actually a reference to color, rather than a gemstone species, because rubies are simply sapphires whose dominant color is red. Ruby's comes from the Latin word for red, "ruber."
Sometimes called "The King of Colored Stones," the ruby has been a favorite of royalty and warriors throughout time. Currently, this vibrant red gemstone is most closely associated with love, passion, and romance. While there are affordable options to be found, the largest and most beautifully colored rubies can be very expensive; the best rubies may be sold for the highest cost-per-carat costs of any colored gemstone.
Historically, rubies have played an important role. They are mentioned explicitly in the Bible four times, were valued by royal families across the globe, worn by warriors for protection and added strength, and were credited with having profound healing properties.
In addition to being the birthstone for July, rubies are also traditionally presented as gifts honoring a monumental 40th wedding anniversary.
What Color is the July Birthstone?
Rubies are famous for their radiant red color and those with the richest shades are the most prized. Like all colored gems, the color of rubies is evaluated based on three factors: their exact hue, tone, and saturation. The highest-quality rubies have a red hue, medium to medium-dark tone, and vivid saturation. It is acceptable for rubies to express some purple, pink, or orange undertones. The very best color of rubies is commonly referred to by the trade name "pigeon's blood". This rare and highly sought-after color is a mixture of a predominately red hue modified by purple tones.
Corundum crystals are inherently a colorless gemstone species. In order for them to take on a red hue, the element chromium must be present in trace amounts. Higher levels of chromium translate to stronger color expression. Also, increased concentrations of this element cause rubies to fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light. If enough chromium is present, this fluorescence is noticeable in daylight, causing some gems to take on a pronounced glow. This characteristic glow is often deemed a beautiful and valuable trait.
Often, the value of individual rubies is mostly determined by its color, as it is the famous bright red color to which people are so strongly attracted. However, stones weighing over one carat are relatively rare. Thus, large crystals are greatly valued, and prices increase dramatically as carat weights grow.
The color red is an important one to humanity. Red is the color of blood; as such, the ruby has long symbolized life, vitality, and youth. Warriors wore rubies into battle hoping that the red gem would give them strength and offer protection. Additionally, if injured during combat, they hoped that the stone would transfer the power reflected by their red hue into themselves to promote healing and recovery. Also, ordinary citizens who suffered from inflammatory illnesses or other blood disorders held rubies close to themselves hoping that the positive power of the stone would ease their suffering, perhaps even curing their various afflictions.
Royalty from many cultures across the globe also proudly collected and wore rubies to reflect their elite social status. The rarity and lavishness of natural ruby gemstones made them a symbolof wealth and power. Throughout Europe and Asia, monarchs and royalty adorned themselves with rubies in elaborate crowns, as has always been considered a stone of kings. Additionally, some cultures believed that their Gods desired rubies as strongly as men did. Specifically, the ancient Hindus held the belief that those who made an offering of rubies to the god Krishna would be rewarded by being reincarnated as emperors.
Moreover, red is associated with passion and love, and this makes them a favored choice of gift for a loved one. However, just as there is a flip side to every coin, red is also associated with intensity and rage. Not surprisingly, rubies were also worn by Medieval Europeans to discourage anger and temper their emotions, thereby reducing the rash behavior that accompanies fury.
If you feel that that is a lot of meaning to associate with the July birthstone, you are right! Fortunately, this means that there are a million reasons for you to cite as an excuse to give a gift of a ruby to yourself or others.
Where Does Ruby Come From?
Rubies are found primarily in two types of environments: metamorphic limestone deposits (like marble) or basaltic rock. The majority of rubies on the market come from East Asia. Typically, the rubies which originated from marble are more likely to have the desirable fluorescent glow described above. While there are many such deposits worldwide, many of the most famous gems are recovered from Myanmar (formerly Burma), the Himalayas, and northern Vietnam. Burmese rubies in particular are quite scarce and will fetch a high price for their rarity and unparalleled beauty.
Alternatively, rubies that grow in basaltic rock often have relatively high levels of iron present in their crystal lattice. Iron inhibits the fluorescence sometimes seen in marble-hosted rubies. However, it promotes a lovely, deep red color. As a result, basaltic stones are often a shade or two darker than their marble-grown counterparts.
The exact chemistry of individual rubies can sometimes be used to identify the region from which it came. The GIA offers an optional origin analysis for rubies that may indicate where they come from. While the origin of most rubies does not affect their value (as value is mostly dependent on color and carat weight), this may not always be true for the highest-quality, investment-grade stones. Should one of these rare specimens be found to have come from one of the more famous locations, like Myanmar, their value may increase.
Fortunately, rubies (along with all other colors of corundum) are second only to diamonds in terms of durability. They score a 9 out of 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, meaning that they are exceedingly resistant to both breakage and scratching. In fact, the ancient Greek scholar Pliny extolled the exceptional durability of rubies in his famous work Natural History back in the first century CE.
The inherent strength of the ruby crystal means that it can be set in all types of jewelry, including rings, and worn with confidence on a daily basis. Rubies are a great choice for engagement rings. You can expect to enjoy your ruby jewelry for years. Because of this, there is plenty of beautiful vintage and antique ruby jewelry to be found in addition to new designs.
Thanks to the resilience of the ruby crystal, you should feel free to seek out all types of ruby jewelry - rings, necklaces, earrings, and more.
Unlike some of the other birthstones, rubies are relatively rare, especially in sizes over one carat. This means that it may be more difficult to find well-matched ruby pairs and sets. If you do, they may be more expensive than similar jewelry featuring other gemstones. When looking for jewelry that has multiple rubies, the most important factor to consider is color. Seek out stones that are similar in color, tone, and saturation. Even if the outlines of individual stones are slightly different from each other, it is how their color compares to each other that people will notice more than anything else.
How to Buy Ruby Jewelry
A ruby's clarity is determined by the number of inclusions it has, which are small imperfections picked up by the gem while it forms. The July birthstone may exhibit perfect, eye-clean clarity resulting in faultless transparency. These clear gemstones are graded VVS (very very small inclusions) to some VS (very small inclusions) graded rubies. Some VS and SI (small inclusions) graded rubies will have visible inclusions, and the number of visible inclusions will factor into determining their value. When deciding between stones that do not have perfect transparency, you generally want to pick the options which have less-distracting features. This usually means inclusions that have lighter colors and are located off-center towards one of the sides of the gem.
Although inclusions usually have a negative impact on the value and appearance of a gemstone, sometimes rubies can display a "star stone" effect, also referred to as asterism, when the mineral rutile is included in the stone. When cut in a cabochon shape, these remarkable rubies will reflect light to create a shining star in the center of the gem.
Rubies are usually cut in their country of origin, which is referred to as "native cut." They can be recut into any fancy gem cut - with the most common cuts being cushion and oval cuts - but the stone will lose some carat weight which makes this an unusual practice. These cuts best resemble the natural crystal shape of ruby gemstones, so the least carat weight is lost when they are cut. Emerald cuts are the most highly valued cut, as their large window can showcase your ruby's rich, deep color.
Finally, the issue of synthetic rubies in jewelry should be addressed. Lab-grown rubies have been around for over a hundred years, and they have the exact same chemical composition and appearance as natural ruby gemstones. Currently, there are several different types of manmade stones, the best of which can be indistinguishable except under the close scrutiny of a gemologist. These gems will come at a much better price than natural rubies, meaning you have access to large, higher-quality stones with good color and clarity. If you are looking for a big stone, or want jewelry that features lots of individual stones, synthetic rubies might be your best option. Lab-made rubies are also an ethical option, as rubies from Myanmar have been linked to ethnic conflicts in the region.
Frequently Asked Questions about Rubies
Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.
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