For most of the recorded history of gems, rubies have been regarded as the most valuable gemstones. Roman historian Pliny, the Elder described these gems as ‘Gems of gems …. Surpassing all other stones in Virtue.’ In ancient times, rubies were regarded even more beautiful and valuable than diamonds.
India is believed to be their place of origin. In ancient Indian scriptures the gem was referred to as ‘ratanraj’ or ‘the king of gems’. Whenever a particularly brilliant variety of these gems was discovered, the king used to send a group of noblemen and dignitaries to offer a royal welcome to the gemstone. In India depending on their fineness and color these gemstones were classified as upper class, middle class and lower class. Only the royalties and the noblemen were allowed to own the upper class rubies. Upper class rubies would not even be allowed to come in contact with the lower class rubies as it was feared that the latter would contaminate the former. Lighter rubies were worn by women and darker rubies were worn by men.
These gemstones offer the finest and the most vivid color from the gemstone family. Owing to their mesmerizing hue and brilliance, rubies were regarded as the gem of love, passion, power, courage, wisdom.
Ruby is also one of the twelve gemstones on Aaron’s breastplate and was a symbol of Judah. Many knights used to wear ruby during battles as these gems were believed to bestow courage and bravery on its wearer. Charles IV of Luxembourg used to wear a ruby in his crown. The ruby was a huge 250 carats, the largest gem quality ruby known. He believed that the ruby brought wisdom and helped him make right decisions.
Ruby mining dates back to at least 2500 years. For thousands of years Burma (Myanmar) has been producing the finest rubies. The Burmese rubies are celebrated for their pigeon blood red rubies. Ruby deposits were also found in neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China.
In ancient China, the rank of the people was determined by the color of ruby that they wore. Chinese text described the gem used to light royal chambers. Greek legends speak of some huge rubies that were given to Heraclea by the female stork to light her room.
Rubies have awed men for many years. However, until early nineteenth century most of the red gemstones including the spinels and red garnets were misinterpreted as rubies. Even the 352 carat Timur Ruby in the British royal jewelry is a red spinel.
Many historical travelers such as Marco Polo and Jean Baptiste Travernier have written elaborately about these gems in their travelogues.
Early Burmese people believed that if embedded in flesh, ruby would make an individual prone to any kind of damage. It is said that the first wife of King Henry VIII foretold her death from the darkening of her ruby.
Ruby is the birthstone for July. The gemstone is believed to guard its wearer from any kind of misfortune.
These gems with their virtues, brilliance, many years of history, myths and lore continue to lure men and maintains its stature as one of the most beautiful gems.