Like many gems, rubies are known by several names. One of its
earliest titles was ratnaraj, which is Sanskrit for "king of gems."
Another early name was carbuncle. At a time when gems were
classified by colors only, carbuncle was the name given to all red
gems, including rubies. The current word, ruby, is derived from the
Latin word for red.
Rubies have always been among the most highly valued of all
Fine rubies are transparent, with an inner glow. Ancient
peoples attributed the glow to an eternal flame, or the spark of
life. They believed that rubies carried the power of the sun within
them. They wore rubies to attract energy, wealth and power to
themselves. Rubies are also associated with passion and success in
love. Many also believed in the protective powers of rubies,
thinking that wearing a ruby would keep them safe from negativity
(including witches) and repulse all foes. Rather than wearing a ruby
and risk losing its protective powers, some individuals, especially
soldiers, had their gems surgically implanted under their skin.
Rubies today are valuable due to their rarity. The best of them sell
for thousands of dollars a carat. Color is the most prized
characteristic. Faceted stones are often cut to display the best
color, even if that means significantly reducing the number of
carats in the finished gem.
Ruby is the transparent red variety of corundum, nature’s
second-hardest mineral. (Only diamond is harder.) Not only are
rubies hard, they’re also very durable, making them an excellent
choice for all kinds of jewelry. Like most minerals in their pure
state, corundum is colorless. Various chemical impurities create
different colors. Red corundum is ruby; all other colors are called
The red comes from minute amounts of chromium. Colors vary from pale
rose to almost black. “Pigeon-blood red”, a deep purplish-red, is
the most prized shade.
Star rubies contain another impurity, usually rutile crystals, which
create the illusion of a 6-pointed star on the gem’s surface.
Traditionally mined in Myanmar (Burma) since prehistoric times,
rubies marketed today come mostly from India, Sri Lanka and
Thailand. Virtually all rubies are heat-treated to enhance the
Imposters abound. Balas ruby is spinel; Bohemian ruby is rose
quartz; Siberian ruby is tourmaline; and Cape ruby is garnet. The
Black Prince’s Ruby in the British Crown Jewels is spinel. Synthetic
ruby, made since the early 1900s, cannot be distinguished from real
ruby with the naked eye. Much of the synthetic ruby manufactured,
however, is used in watches and precision instruments, including
lasers, rather than for jewelry.
****Sandra I. Smith, Writer ****