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July Birthstone - Ruby

July’s birthstone, the ruby , is said to symbolize great passion and courage. From ancient tradition to Dorothy’s famous slippers, this blood red stone has been captivating people for thousands of years.

Ruby rings.
Ruby rings.

The name ruby is derived from the Latin word “rebrum”, meaning “red”. Fine rubies are the most valuable of all precious stones and are actively mined in Afghanistan, Australia, Burma, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, United States (North Carolina), and Vietnam.

An Oriental History of the Ruby

The ruby has long been one of the most important stones in the Orient and East Asian cultures. Traditionally worn as a talisman in India, Burma, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), China, Japan, and many other areas, the ruby has been rumored to protect the wearer from enemy attacks, as well as identifying poison. Rubies have also been rumored in Asian cultures to attract happiness, good fortune, a long life, and good health.

Rubies are described by Ancient Asian tradition to be “A drop of the heart’s blood of Mother Earth”. In ancient China, rank was determined by the color of the stone in a man’s ring. A red gemstone indicated that the wearer was of the highest nobility.

Another famous Ancient Eastern tradition states, “Ruby gives its wearer force of a lion, fearlessness of an eagle and wisdom of a snake. It gives charms of love and passion. Ruby should not be shown to children and buffalos: the child may be frightened by its fiery color and the buffalo will get madly furious.”

How the Ruby Came to Exist: The Story of Lal

According to Ancient Burmese tradition, a majestic and strong eagle named “Lal” (the name for “ruby” in Persian, Turkish, and many other Asian cultures). This beautiful creature flew high above the world, and not a single creature would dare to bother him.

Every year, Lal’s height of flight would slowly diminish; he would still fly high above the mountain, but it continued to get lower and lower to the ground, until one day, he was unable to fly at all.

An eagle-owl approached Lal and said offered to share his food with the famed eagle, under the condition that Lal did not harm his nestlings. Lal contemplated this tempting offer, but concluded that “There is a time to be born and a time to die”.

Gathering all the strength he could muster, Lal soared high into the sky, before folding in his wings. It is said that every animal looked on as this once majestic creature fell to the earth and crashed into the rocks. The blood from Lal stained the ground red and transformed into bright red stones that we know today as rubies.

Vintage diamond and ruby ring.
Vintage diamond and ruby ring.

A Hindu History of the Ruby

The first historical depictions of the ruby comes from Ancient Indian scriptures, dated to the 6th century BC. The writings have referred to the ruby as “ratnaraj” (“king of gems”) and stated that it guaranteed safety in battle. Other names for the stone include “ratnanayadka” (“leader of gems”) and “padmaraga” (“red as lotus”).

In India, a believer who presented rubies to the god, Krishna, was assured to be reborn as an emperor in his or her next life. Hindus considered light colored rubies to be appropriate for women and dark stones for men.

A Christian History of the Ruby

One of the oldest stones perceived to have great value, the ruby is mentioned numerous times in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, more often than any other gemstone. It was said to be the most precious of the twelve stones God created when he created all things, and this “lord of gems” was placed on Aaron’s neck by God’s command. The book of Job also states, “No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.”

The gemstone was also mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah in his famous prophesy. Founder of the Protestant Church, Martin Luther, was said to have won a ruby betrothal ring.

A Roman History of the Ruby

The Romans viewed rubies as being one of the most sacred of all stones. Rubies, especially star rubies, were seen as being the most powerful stones used with both protecting the wearer from evil and attracting favors with authorities.

It was also commonly believed that the ruby would foretell danger by losing its brilliancy and having its color fade.

A History of Rubies in the Middle Ages

Many events of the Middle Ages brought about a hectic demand for supernatural signs used to foretell and prevent danger and despair. The ruby was seen as being one of the strongest indicators of danger.

Chevaliere Jean de Mandeville, a fourteenth century writer of information relating to gemstones, wrote that the ruby could, “acquire and maintains the power of rulers, it procures peace and agreements, it makes man devoted to God, it appeases anger and maintains seductions, it makes the person wearing them safe from all dangers.”

1940's retro rose gold ruby and diamond pendant earrings.
1940's retro gold ruby and diamond pendant earrings.

In the year 1600, one German author documented this phenomena while traveling with his wife. He wrote, “I observed by the way that a very fine ruby (which she had given me) lost repeatedly and each time almost completely its splendid color and assumed a blackish hue.”

The author continued to explain that the foretold danger was explained with the death of his wife, and he states that after her death, the stone regained all of its color and brilliancy.

Another famous tale of a ruby detecting tragedy comes directly from Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. It is said that she had a ring capable of detecting danger when the stone would change color.

Healing Properties of Rubies

Aside from reporting danger, rubies were said to protect the wearer from poison, the plague, fever, to secure love and friendship, and to preserve health and vitality. It was also commonly used to treat disorders of the liver and spleen and to drive away evil dreams and spirits.

Rubies were perceived as having the ability to increase cheerfulness and enhance intuition. It has been seen as a stone capable of treating and preventing various pains and diseases including anemia, menstruation, rheumatism, arthritis, spasms, epilepsy, paralysis, psoriasis, flatulence, gall bladder problems, nervous system disorders, and other blood diseases. It has also been known to have the ability to enhance general blood circulation. Many European healers that when pulverized into a powder, ingesting the gemstone could effectively destroy blood clots.

More Mystical Properties of Rubies

Other than the properties already mentioned (protection from danger, prophesy, and physical healing powers), the ruby has had a wide list of important responsibilities throughout different cultures.

Rubies were seen to bring out vigor amongst the meek, its vivid red color was known to encourage the drive and confidence of the person wearing the gemstone. It was seen as promoting a more sound business mind when worn by a person for whom business success did not come naturally.

The ruby has also been perceived as being capable of evoking intense sexual arousal. It was long believed that mixing the powder from a ruby with red wine would bring about unquenchable desire from the one who drinks the wine. Many belly dancers were also known to wear naval rings adorned with rubies.

Art deco ruby and diamond ring.
Art deco ruby and diamond ring.

The value of these stones is so varied, that there are even events recorded where rubies were placed underneath buildings in order to strengthen their foundation.

How The Origin of a Ruby Effects Its Color

Burmese rubies are seen as being the most valuable of all rubies. This is because of their deep red tint, described as “pigeon blood”. A stone certified as originating in Burma with no heat treatment is going to be the most valuable ruby on the market.

Vietnamese rubies come out of the ground with a slight purplish tint to accompany the red color. Stones from Siam appear orange-red, stones from Thailand appear red-brown, Ceylon rubies are said to be the color of a raspberry, and African stones range from light to dark red.

Stones Often Passed as Rubies

Several stones containing the word “ruby” are actually not rubies at all. The following list are all names that are used to describe Pyrope Garnet: Adelaide Ruby, American Ruby, Arizona Ruby, Australian Ruby, Bohemian Ruby, California Ruby, Cape Ruby, Colorado Ruby, Elie Ruby, Montana Ruby, and Rocky Mountain Ruby.

Other red stones have been called “rubies” by dealers, but should not be confused with an actual ruby: Alabandine Ruby (Almandine Garnet), Ancono Ruby (Rose Quartz), Balas Ruby (Pink/Red Spinel), Brazilian Ruby (Pink Topaz), Copper Ruby or Ruby Copper (Cuprite), Garnet Ruby or Ruby Garnet (Red Garnet), Geneva Ruby (Synthetic Ruby), Ruby Jack (Red Sphalerite), Ruby Spinel or Spinel Ruby (Red Spinel), Siberian Ruby (Red Tourmaline), and Verneul Ruby (Synthetic Ruby).

Fun Facts About Rubies

  • Ruby is the second hardest gemstone to diamonds
  • Because of it’s hardness, rubies are often used as jewels in watches
  • Ruby was one of the first gemstones to ever be synthesized
  • Ruby is the most valuable member of the corundum family of stones (which includes sapphire)
  • Internally flawless rubies of a large size are even more rare than diamonds of the same size and quality
  • The king of Burma (now Myanmar) was known as the ‘Lord of Rubies’, as he claimed all the rubies over 6 carats as his own.
  • One of the most famous rubies in history, the Black Prince’s Ruby, set in the royal crown of England and once believed to be the largest cut ruby in the world, was eventually discovered to actually be red spinel.
  • The world’s largest ruby is owned by a Chinese jewelry company. It weighs 8184 g (40,920 Carat) and measures 5.11 x 5.43 x 5.70 inches.
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