July Birthstone: Ruby
What comes to mind when you look at a ruby? Is it passion and sensuality? Power and vitality? Or clarity and protection?
One of the rarest gemstones in the world, Ruby’s deep fiery embers have captivated royalty and divinity for thousands of years, and today is one of the most sought after gemstones for an eye-catching engagement ring.
Those born in July are also blessed to have Ruby as their birthstone, the perfect accompaniment to the scorching sunlight and the energetic sense of summer.
Interestingly, Rubies and Sapphires are both within the same family of gemstones, the Corundum and they have the same chemical makeup. As both of these gemstones are precious gemstones, they are grouped together within the Lillicoco University Gemstone Guide, which explores their chemical composition, where they are mined, and a helpful purchasing guide. This Lillicoco university page also briefly explores their historical significance, so we decided to unpack this further within our July birthstone guide. So, if you are looking for a July birthstone gift, read on to find out more about the majesty of Rubies.
History of Ruby Jewellery
Like most gemstones, Rubies have been subject to endless fascination. It’s stellar and striking appearance has garnered a myriad of mythological lore, making it one of the most prized gemstones in the world.
Rubies come in a variety of hues, from red-wine hues to fuschia pinks, and it is these different hues that have contributed to its popularity and multiplicity of meanings. Red and pink are the colours of intense emotions, from love to passion, anger and even danger. Red is also a visceral colour of life, the colour of the very blood that runs through our veins. So, it probably won’t be a surprise that these associations have perpetuated the importance of Rubies.
Natural Ruby Crystal from Tanzania, Source - Wikimedia Commons.
Rubies are mined and found throughout the world, but especially in South Asia, specifically in Myanmar, Thailand and regions of India. Rubies were especially pertinent to the ancient civilisations that occupied these territories, and especially held power within both ancient Hinduism and ancient India.
In fact, you can find out more about the history of India and Indian jewellery here in an installment of our Jewellery Around the World series.
According to legend and historians, there was an ancient Hindu belief that if you gave Rubies to the God Krishna, you would be granted rebirth as Emporers. Rubies were therefore clearly associated with power, advancement and wealth. In fact, as Rubies were widely circulated amongst these early civilisations, they were grouped into different castes (not dissimilar to European sumptuary legislation laws!):
- Brahmin - these were Rubies that were a light rose colour with exceptional transparency and radiance, suitable for philosophers and thinkers.
- Kshatriya - these Rubies were blood-red, suitable for rulers.
- Vaishya - these Rubies are crimson red, suitable for merchants.
- Shudra - these Rubies are reddish with a blue tint, suitable for the lower classes.
North Indian Gold, Diamond, Ruby and Pearl Forehead Ornament, c.18th Century, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Rubies were part of Indian identity due to their innate spiritual and talismanic qualities. It was also believed they were intriniscally connected to Indian deities.
Indian Gold Diamond Sapphire Ruby and Imitation Emerald Necklace, c.18th-19th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Mari Mala, published in 1881, speaks of the Kalpa tree, a tree made of precious gemstones that was a gift to the Gods, bearing Rubies as fruit. What’s more, it is believed that ancient Indian warriors not only wore Rubies to battle, but actually inserted them into their bodies to make them invincible. Rubies were also widely coveted by Indian and Myanmar rulers. In fact, according to legend, the Burmese Emporer Moghul Aurangzeb had an illustrious Peacock throne which had a large Ruby heart.
Painting of the Legendary Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort, c.1850, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Rubies today are still widely used within traditional Indian jewellery because of these powerful and weighty associations.
In the west, these associations with spirituality, success and wealth were also pertinent. In ancient western civilisations, when Paganism was rife, allegedly there were beliefs that Rubies were a stone of personal protection and could aid you in the matters of the heart. In addition, it was seen as an aphrodiasic, possessing sexual energy as well as protective. One of the discerning characteristics of high-quality Rubies are their “inner glow”, which in ancient times held the belief that a Ruby placed within water could generate heat and cause the water to boil.
Austro-Hungarian Ruby Enamel Diamond Pink Tourmaline Mermaid Pendant, c.1850-1900, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Like most gemstones in jewellery history, they were not subjected to amicable trading. Rubies were so special and captivating that many in the world wanted them. In the 11th and 12th centuries, European troops looted the riches of the Arabic world, acquiring many Rubies that were used in Gothic jewellery. What’s more, in Medieval Europe, Rubies were one of the few gemstones that were symbolic of the Passion of Christ, and were also associated with necromancy helping people to foresee adversities and misfortune.
Spanish and Indian Ruby Enamel Pearl Gold Infant of Christ Pendant, c.1680-1700, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
As mentioned above, Rubies were believe to possess sexual energy as well as protective energy. These two forces combined led to the Medieval belief that Rubies could help protect those from venereal diseases. In fact, it is believed that Rubies were worn by the medieval prostitutes of Les Halles in Paris. This could just be myth, as Rubies were likely reserved for the jewellery of royalty and liturgy, yet it is still incredibly interesting and enlightening about their use and meaning.
As Rubies are one of world’s rarest gemstones, they were reserved for the jewellery of royalty and liturgy. Although up until the 18th century, it was a general belief that every bright red gemstone was a Ruby.
Spanish Gold Enamel Ruby Pearl Rock Crystal Reliquary Pendant, c.17th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It wasn’t until the Georgian period and the sophistication of mineralogy that many Rubies were actually Spinels and Garnets. This fed into Ruby’s rarity, making it incredibly expensive and difficult to obtain. With this in mind, many Georgians and Victorians chose to covet Garnets or simulated Ruby Paste gemstones.
Spanish Pelican Pendant with a Simulated Cabochon Ruby, c.1550-1575, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
This is why in the 19th century, there was interest in creating synthetic gemstones, and Ruby was one of the first to be made. Victorian colonialism and bloodshed brought Rubies to western markets.
Like Emeralds and Sapphires, Rubies were a favourite for Art Deco jewellery. The inner fire captured the vivacity of this period, and its colour and hue inspired many bolder, larger than life designs.
The World’s Most Famous Rubies and Ruby Jewellery
Crown of Saint Wenceslas, Source - Wikimedia Commons
British Imperial State Crown, Source - Ruby Sapphire
Elizabeth Taylor in her Ruby Suite, Source - AnOther Magazine
Affordable and Alternative July Birthstone Gifts
Of course, not of all us have the spending power of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, so if you are looking for both affordable and alternative July birthstone gifts, then here we have collated our list below:
The January birthstone, Garnets are an immensely popular gemstone in antique jewellery due to their blood-red embers and Gothic wow-factor. Of course, Garnets are softer than Rubies, but they are still widely suitable for everyday jewellery.
Edwardian Garnet Pearl Pendant, Source - Lillicoco
Evident from the Black Prince Ruby, Spinels are a great alternative for Rubies due to their clear similarities. Spinels do come in a variety of colours, yet they are are widely popular in their bright red hues. In addition, natural Spinels are actually found within the same mines as Rubies - so it’s basically the same thing right?
Plus, synthetic Spinels are inexpensive, making them a great choice for july birthstone that is both cheap and cheerful.
Myanmar Red Spinel, Source - GIA
Like Spinel, Tourmaline is mined and made in a variety of colours, yet they are known especially for their red and pink variations. In fact, red Tourmaline is actually sold as “rubellite”.
Red Tourmaline, Source - The Brazilian Connection
Red and pink tourmaline has been found significantly in Maine and California in the US, and can be enhanced through colour treatment and radiation.
Difference between a Ruby and Pink Sapphire
As shown in our gemstone guide, Rubies and Sapphires are both from the same corundum family, with the key differentiation being the colour. For a Ruby to be a Ruby, it has to be red, yet any other colour is a labelled as a variant of Sapphire. However, what divides gemologists today is then, what is the difference between a Ruby and a Pink Sapphire?
Ruby vs Pink Sapphire, Source - Navneet Gems
Interestingly, there is no general agreement, other than Rubies have to be overtly red in tone. In fact, in the history of colour and design, before the 20th century, pink was just known as a “light red”, so pink Sapphires as a separate entity may not have existed.If you are looking for antique July Birhstone jewellery, or you just want to find a one of a kind ruby piece, we have a glittering display! Click here to see our glorious antique vintage Ruby jewellery.