The king of all gemstones — red, rare and regal. It’s a stone, which has been a favourite of the kings and the queens, and above all of gods. With its magnificent colour and lustre, it is one of the hardest gemstone known to man. In Indian mythology, ruby ranks high as it was used as the central stone for creating crowns of gods and goddesses, and also emperors and empress.
The ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum, one of the hardest minerals on earth, of which the sapphire is also a variety. Pure corundum is colourless. Slight traces of elements such as chrome, iron, titanium or vanadium are responsible for the colour. So only red corundum qualifies as a ruby, while all other colours are classified as sapphires.
There is close relationship between the ruby and the sapphire and the two jewels of the British Crown were named ‘Black Ruby’ and the ‘Timur Ruby’.
The two magical elements associated with the symbolism of this colour are fire and blood, implying warmth and life. “Rubies go very well with diamonds as they enhance the glitter and radiance of the diamonds. Rubies will be the fashion trend for 2016 and women will buy a lot of ruby-studded jewellery,” predicts New York based Indian jewellery designer Piu Jain.
The Burmese ruby that is found in Myanmar has a rich full-bodied red tone with a slight bluish tinge often referred to by jewellers as pigeon-blood-red. The colour of a Burmese ruby is regarded as exceptionally vivid. It is said to display its unique brilliance in any light, be it natural or artificial. Rubies of Vietnamese origin generally display a slightly purplish hue. Rubies from Thailand, another classical supplier, however, often have a darker red with a brown tone. Sri Lankan rubies, which have now become very rare, are mainly light red, like ripe raspberries.
The Thai ruby still has plenty of detractors in the world gem community. “To many old guard dealers, the Burmese are still the best,” said Padam Pungalia, who processes ruby in Jaipur, India.
Often, Thailand surpasses even the best ruby from Myanmar, as it can be remarkably clean and lively. The Burmese ruby often has a hazy, cloudy quality that softens its appearance and makes it less brilliant but the Thai ruby often can be cut in spectacular fancy shapes.
Maria Doulton, a gem and jewellery analyst explained why rubies from Myanmar are considered most precious. “Higher in value than sapphires or emeralds, and often more valuable than diamonds, the most coveted rubies have traditionally emerged from the mines in Upper Burma (Myanmar). Today, these mines are virtually depleted, sending the price of the prized Burmese rubies sky high”.
One of the world’s most famous rubies is the Chhatrapati Manik — an oval Burmese cabochon of the very finest colour, weighing around 20 carats, and is believed to date back 2,000 years. Signifying the sun surrounded by nine other gemstones representing the planets, a ruby was set into the crown of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain in Central India, who ruled the northern Indian kingdom from 380-415 AD. The famous ruby was last seen in London in 1934 as the centrepiece of a diamond tiara, but its current whereabouts are unknown.
Rubies are found in Pakistan in the Hunza Valley; other than that they are found in Laos, Cambodia, Nepal and lately in Afghanistan as well as several African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar.
Cut and carat (weight) are also an important factor in determining the price, and the world’s most expensive ruby is the Sunrise Ruby. “The price of ruby is primarily based on its colour. The brightest and most valuable ‘red’ called blood-red or ‘pigeon blood’, commands a large premium over other rubies of similar quality. Clarity like diamonds is the second important quality so a clear stone will command a premium. Diamonds are graded using criteria that have become known as the four Cs, namely colour, cut, clarity and carat. Similarly, natural rubies can be evaluated using the four Cs together with their size and geographic origin. The ruby should either be set in gold or bronze for best enhancement. Some rubies show a three-point or six-point asterism or ‘star’.