July's Birthstone - The Ruby

Rubies are amongst the most beautiful jewels and one of the "Big Four" of the most precious cardinal gemstones; the others being Sapphire, Diamond and Emerald. Ruby is also the birthstone for July (you lucky people!). Find out what your July ruby birthstone can mean for you.

What is a ruby?

A ruby is a bright red crystalline precious gemstone in shades varying from deep rose pink to a rich crimson, but did you know a ruby is not technically a ruby? Rubies are exactly the same mineral as sapphires, and the name sapphire refers to all other gem-quality coloured variants of the mineral corundum. Rubies are actually red sapphires!

The name Ruby comes from the latin Rubeus, meaning red.

All genuine rubies contain tiny thread like inclusions called needles, which is what helps lapidaries (gem cutters) distinguish the real deal from created rubies. When the needles intersect the effect is known as silk, but in some rubies the effect is more spectacular, revealing a six- or 12-pointed star when polished en cabochon. Known as asterism, the effect has given rise to the name Star Rubies, and Star Rubies can be amongst the most valuable. Rubies are a very durable gemstone suited for all kinds of jewellery applications, but a lot of the rubies you see in jewellery stores may be synthetic. Rubies have been produced in laboratories since 1902 and synthetic rubies are so good it can take an expert to know the difference. The price value, however, is far more distinguishable. Large transparent rubies of a deep red colour can fetch many thousands of dollars per carat, and far more than diamonds!

Tiffany & Co.'s Gregorian Birthstone Poem, published in 1870, has this to say about July's birthstone ...

Those who in July are born;

The glowing ruby shall adorn.

Then they’ll be exempt and free

From love’s doubts and anxiety.

The most valuable ruby gemstones are a transparent deep red to purple-red (a colour referred to as pigeon's blood), and those found in SE Asia are considered the most desirable. You may see many opaque rubies on display, and these are very pretty too.

What does ruby symbolise?

As red as a heart, July's Ruby is associated with heat, radiance, and fire - ideal symbolism for love, passion and the fire within. A gift of ruby to a lover ensures a lasting bond.

The healing powers of rubies

In early medieval times apothecaries recommended consuming powdered ruby to treat conditions of the liver, but this was in a time before rubies had been classified as the mineral corundum and almost any red gemstone, like red spinel or garnet, might have been considered ruby. (True rubies are rather rare and very hard!).

Wearing ruby is said increase blood flow and strengthen the circulatory system. It can also improve energy and focus. For women, wearing ruby can ease the pain of menstruation and the discomforts of menopause.

Emotionally, ruby can help the wearer overcome feelings of anger or anguish, and enhances confidence and bravery.

Ruby superstitions and beliefs

Rubies have had many magical properties attributed to them throughout time and in different cultures. For instance, did you know that wearing rubies provides protection from the plague? It was also thought that rubies would warn when danger was near by becoming a darker shade of red, and for those of us for whom birthstones are a reminder of growing older every birthday, it's said that stroking a ruby across your skin can restore youthfulness.

Many cultures have believed rubies to be a hot gem filled with fire, capable of bringing water to the boil or melting wax.

Simply owning a gem as valuable as a ruby acts like a wealth magnet, drawing more riches to the owner. Wear your ruby on your left, close to your heart, and no one will be able to take your wealth away from you.

Red is a considered a lucky colour in China so rubies were often buried under the foundations of buildings to ensure good fortune for those within.

In ancient times Burmese soldiers would insert rubies under their skin to make them invincible in battle. They didn't want to run the risk of them becoming dislodged, taking their protective powers with them.

Rubies in history

Rubies have been prized by humans for well over 2000 years. They're referenced in the Bible and have adorned the crowns and garments of royalty in many cultures. Rubies were traded along the eastern 'Silk Road' between Europe and Asia as far back as 200 BCE.

The Imperial State Crown of England in the British Crown jewels is adorned with many large and precious gemstones, the most prominent of which is the "Black Prince's Ruby". Weighing 34 grams, the uncut gemstone was given by Don Pedro of Castile to 'the Black Prince' Edward Woodstock (the son of King Edward II of England), as payment for his assistance in taking Granada from Prince Abu Sa'id in 1367. As gemstone classifications were developed in the 19th century, it was discovered that the Black Prince's Ruby is not a ruby at all. In fact it's a red spinel (one of the birthstones for August), giving rise to its new nickname: The Great Imposter. Nevertheless, as the largest known uncut spinel in the world the gem still deserves its place on the heads of royalty!

"There's no place like home.... There's no place like home". Who could forget the words Dorothy spoke as she clicked the heels of her ruby slippers together in The Wizard of Oz? The rubies in her slippers were the protection from evil that she needed in order to be magically transported back to Kansas, but the slippers in the movie weren't really made of ruby of course. Rubies simply don't grow that big so Dorothy's ruby slippers were adorned with around 2300 red sequins each instead!

Did you know, the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz were originally meant to be silver, but screenwriter Noel Langley decided to change them to ruby to take full advantage of the new Technicolor film process!

So just how big do rubies grow? The largest ruby ever known was mined near Mount Kilimanjaro in east Africa in the 1950s. Weighing in at a whopping 8,500 carats, the bluish-red opaque ruby was carved into the shape of the Liberty Bell held within the wings of an eagle and set with 50 diamonds to represent the states of America. The Liberty Bell Ruby, valued at over $2million US, was stolen from a jeweller's in November 2011 and has never been recovered, despite four people being arrested and charged with the theft.

Is the Ruby your birthstone?

If you were born in July all the healing and protective powers of your ruby birthday will be especially enhanced for you, but traditionally it is the colour of the birthstone that truly matters. Invest in, or request, a gift of ruby jewellery or any red gemstone to be your own special talisman, and remember, those born in July are organised hard-working perfectionists, and very emotional and fun-loving! Does that sound like you?

Image attributions:

Raw ruby crystal in corundum: Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Star Ruby: By Aisha Brown [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers by Chris Evans from same, United States (Ruby Red Slippers Uploaded by SunOfErat) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Next week: "Gemology: Gemstones beginning with P..."

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