Rubies are regarded as one of the four most precious gems along with diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. They are featured in some of the most illustrious jewelry designs today as well as historical jewel and precious object designs. Red-colored members of the corundum family of gemstones, rubies have a long history in the art world as they have been prized as dazzling stones since ancient humans began the practice of crafting and wearing jewels. Myanmar (Burma–especially its Mogok Valley) has been an important source of rubies for centuries, but these precious stones have also been mined in India, Afghanistan, and Tanzania to name a few nations where rubies are found. Most recently, these gems have even been unearthed in Greenland!
To be deemed a ruby, corundum must be red. If a shade is too pink, the stone will be termed a pink sapphire. It is common, however, to find rubies that contain hues of purple and even orange hinted at within their red saturation. Historically, the most celebrated rubies have been called ‘pigeons blood’ rubies for their deep bright red hue. While their red color has been prized among jewelry designers and jewel lovers for centuries, their toughness also makes rubies an excellent art medium; on the Mohs scale of hardness, rubies score a nine. Inclusions are part and parcel for rubies; they all have them so their value is typically assigned in accordance with their color and cut along with their carat weight.
Not surprisingly, rubies have been combined with other precious elements in the creation of many historical objects of value. Anciently, the ruby was associated with traits like courage and devotion. It has also been linked to wisdom and was commonly used to adorn royal jewels and objets d’art like crowns, scepters, and other illustrious jewels. The gems had long been traded and carried from their origins to far-flung places where royals and other aristocrats paid large sums for them; in fact, archaeologists believe rubies were traded along the ancient Silk Road as early as 200 BC.
Rubies feature prominently in the most celebrated crown jewels of the world; Elizabeth I wore them designed in a secret locket ring that commemorated her mother (the Chequers Locket Ring), Victoria wore square rubies crossed on a field of sapphires in her coronation ring, and rubies have been featured prominently on the crowns of the Romanovs, Plantagenet’s, and other historical royals of the world. More recently, noted jewelry designers and artisans like Carl Faberge, Rene Lalique, and Louis Comfort Tiffany employed rubies in their valuable designs. Today, rubies continue to be featured in the most expensive and prized jewel designs around the world.