Part of a series of articles about birthstones.
The month of July conjures up the idea of simmering days, the freedom of summer vacation, and patriotism in the U.S. with 4th of July celebrations culminating in spectacular firework displays countrywide. Appropriately, the July birthstone is the fiery red ruby, which symbolizes life, courage, passion, and protection.
Legends around rubies can be traced back centuries and from various cultures. Hindu culture considered the ruby the “king of gemstones” due to its distinctive color, exceptional hardness, and superior light performance. In India, rubies enable their owners to live in peace with their enemies, and soldiers in Burma (Myanmar) wore rubies not only on their armor but imbedded in their skin because it was believed to make them invincible in battle. Ancient Chinese customs included burying rubies in the foundation of a building or home to ensure good fortune.
The light of the ruby was considered an inextinguishable flame within the stone that could illuminate a room or boil water. The red color was associated with the color of blood, symbolizing the power of life itself, leading to the legend of the ruby’s healing powers. In medieval Europe, many believed that rubies guaranteed health, wealth, wisdom and love, and were highly prized by European royalty. In addition, western cultures believed that wearing a birthstone during its designated birth month enhanced the stone’s mystic powers.
In 1912 the ruby was chosen as the July birthstone, possibly influenced by the color similarity to spectrum of the red flora of this mid-summer month: tomatoes, watermelon, and berries. The presence of the chemical chromium in the mineral corundum is what gives the ruby its range of color from a pink to blood-red tones and is the defining difference between a ruby and a sapphire as both are from the same mineral. Chromium is also the source of the ruby’s glowing fire or fluorescence; however, this chemical can cause cracks and fissures, making naturally large rubies rare and extremely valuable.
Color is very important in the life and legend of a ruby. The most valuable rubies are found in Myanmar and Thailand. The red color, described as “pigeon’s blood,” is found in Myanmar. Thailand rubies have a deeper, slightly more burgundy-red color. Other sources of rubies include the United States, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Australia, Brazil, and Cambodia. The world’s most expensive ruby is the 25.6 carats Burmese Pigeon Blood Ruby-The Sunrise Ruby. In 2015, this ruby sold at auction for $30 million, setting a record for price per carat and value of a gemstone other than a diamond.
The first synthetic gemstone created was a ruby. Through heat and other treatments a ruby’s natural inclusions or fractures can be filled and color enhanced, creating a richly colored and flawless looking ruby. However, these synthetic rubies are less valuable and require some additional care.
Rubies area also one of the hardest gemstones, rating a 9 on the Mohs scale. They are not easily scratched and can handle ultrasonic cleanings using the proper solution. They can also withstand high temperatures and common chemicals as long as they are not fracture-filled or dyed. A synthetic heat treated ruby is also safe to put into ultrasonic cleaners because they won’t reverse any treatment or damage the gemstone, but if the ruby is fracture filled, heat and vibration can cause damage and it should only be cleaned with a damp cloth.
The historical significance of the ruby and the passion, protection, and goodwill that it represents are fitting for July’s birthstone.
Traci Duva is a Senior Risk Consultant & Fine Art Specialist with Chubb Personal Risk Services.