July Birthstone - Ruby: The A-Z

by Ian St Leon

The King of the gemstones and a gemstone of kings and queens throughout history. This rare precious gem is amongst the most recognisable stones in the ancient and modern world. Its stunning shades of red conjure thoughts of everything from blood, love, passion, protection and wealth.

Let's take a brief journey through the history, explore some of the symbolism and lore, royalty and celebrities who have owned rubies and some exciting facts about these beautiful gems.


The history of rubies is mysterious yet filled with excitement and grandeur. Rubies belong to the corundum family of minerals. When corundum is mixed in the earth with chromium, it turns a red colour, and this is how ruby is created. When corundum is another colour, such as blue or yellow, they are known as sapphires.


Ancient Times

According to some archaeology digs, this precious gemstone has been mined since around 7500 B.C. Burma (now Myanmar) has been a major source of ruby since 600 B.C. and was known to be traded on the silk road in Asia about 200 B.C. Rubies were revered by Pharaohs of ancient Egypt and associated with the Egyptian Goddess of War Sekhmet. The Bible mentions rubies eight times, which is said to be one of the twelve precious stones created by God.

"Wisdom is rarer than Rubies" - Old Testament Bible.

The origin of ruby's name is derived from this period and comes from the Latin word ruber, which means red. The ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, is where ruby was called Ratnaraj, which means "The King of Jewels".

During the 1st Century, A.D Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote of rubies colour as a "gentle fire" and described its hardness and density in his book Natural History.

Many of the stories and folklore surrounding rubies began to grow, especially those associated with love,

passion, anger and adoration. This was also the same for all red jewels during this period.

Achametis, in the 8th century, wrote a book on dreams and discussed the significance of dreams with rubies. If a king were to dream of rubies, it would mean good fortune and great joy, whereas, for people who work on the land, it would indicate a good harvest.

Throughout the Ancient middle age and into the Renaissance era, it was said that if you placed a ruby into the water, it would boil. This piece of lore is derived from the belief that the red in rubies is from a flame, and if placed on wood and later paper, they would catch fire from the embers inside the stone.

Middle Age Era

In the middle ages, rubies remained coveted by royalty from China, Sri Lanka and across Europe for their beauty and as a symbol of wealth and status. Explorers travelling to the East, such as Marco Polo, would during their travels come across rubies. He came across one such ruby owned by the King on the Island of Seilan or modern-day Sri Lanka, of which he wrote.

"And the King of this Island possesses a ruby which is the finest and biggest in the world; I will tell you what it is like. It is about a palm in length and as thick as a man's arm; to look at, it is the most resplendent object upon the earth; it is quite free from flaw and as red as fire".

Marco Polo remarked not only about how splendid this ruby was but also wrote of its value. He recounts the story of Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China, Mongolia and Korea, who offered an entire city for the splendid ruby on the Island of Seilan. 

While later, explorers who discovered rubies during their travel and upon returning home would sell these gems to their respective Kings and Queens.

During conflicts in the Ancient and middle ages, Kings and warriors would carry rubies into battle as

protection and invincibility. Ancient Burmese warriors would place rubies under their skin to protect them from spears, knives, swords, and later guns. In contrast, kings would wear them as part of their helmets during battle as protection.

This legend was bolstered in European mythos by an incident in 1415 when King Henry V of England, wearing the Black Princes Ruby in his helmet, was struck on the head by a battle axe, but he survived and went on to win the battle. This one battle helped to perpetuate this myth about rubies and their extraordinary power to protect and give their owner invincibility in battle.

During the middle ages, this rare gemstone was considered a source of power and acted as a charm or talisman by practitioners of sorcery and magic. Rubies were believed to change colour to black when the owner was in danger.

While Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible believed rubies were good for the heart, brain and vigour of men due to their colour and association with blood. 

Renaissance Era

Then during the Renaissance, rubies were used in much more decorative jewellery for European royalty and nobles, such as tiaras, necklaces and rings. 

As growth in these trade routes flourished, so did the desire for rubies. Explorers like Jean-Baptiste Tavernier found these rubies in the far East. They returned and sold to royalty as they had been in the past.

Rubies flowed into Europe in significant quantities during this period. They were used to create some of the most stunning jewellery, even in comparison to today.

One famous example is the ruby and pearl necklace King Henry VIII wore in his portrait. This led to the increasing popularity of rubies, throughout this period and into modern times.

One story of folklore that came to predominance in the renaissance period is one from Ancient lore, but was rekindled and grew the legend of ruby gemstones and their inner light.

In the 16th century, a merchant lost his ruby; searching his shop, he noticed a strange glow in a darkened room. He entered the room, a peculiar light illuminated from beneath the tablecloth. When he looked, it was the ruby glowing. After it comes into the light again, the ruby turns to its typical red colour.

Historically, rubies, pink tourmaline, spinel and garnets would be referred to as carbuncles as a collective description for all red stones. Over the centuries, some gems were mistaken for rubies, including the Black Prince Ruby, which was in King Henry V's helmet in 1415 but was, in fact, discovered to be spinel in the 1800s.

Modern Era

In modern times, these red gemstones began to be differentiated by their mineral types. Rubies continued to be popular worldwide and used in jewellery for celebrities and nobility. They have also become more commercially available to the broader public.

Ruby's popularity during the 20th century made its way into pop culture. In the 1939 movie the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland, can return home with three heel clicks of her ruby shoes. 

This is not the only time rubies have been featured in a movie. Another example is in the 90s rom-com Pretty Woman when Richard Gere's character presents Julia Robert's character with a pair of ruby and diamond earrings and a matching necklace.

The necklace and earrings were, in fact, not a prop but authentic and valued at the time the movie was produced at US$250,000.

Queen Elizabeth II and the crown own many ruby jewellery pieces. Many members of the Royal Family have worn these beautiful pieces over the years. One of the most famous pieces is the Burmese Ruby Tiara which was commissioned in 1973 and contains 96 rubies that were gifted to then Princess Elizabeth in 1947 as a wedding gift.

The Burmese (now Myanmar) people credited these rubies as providing protection from sickness and evil. Originally these rubies were a part of a necklace.

The rarity of large rubies is what makes these stones so valuable compared to traditional diamonds. In May 2015, a 25.59 carat Mogok 'Pigeon Blood Ruby sold for US$30,000,000.00. A record at the time, and that currently still stands.

The popularity of coloured gemstones in engagement rings has exploded. In the last 20 years, many celebrities and royalty have dazzled with ruby engagement rings to showcase their sense of style and fashion.

Since her engagement in 2003, Australian-born Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, has worn a stunning diamond and ruby accented engagement ring given to her by Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark. The engagement ring symbolises the Denmark flag and features two 0.70 carat rubies. After the birth of her twins in 2011, Princess Mary updated the ring and added two additional diamonds. These and the two rubies are believed to represent the couple's four children together.

In 2009 Victoria Beckham, the wife of David Beckham, added to her collection of engagement rings with a ruby and diamond halo-style engagement. Jessica Simpson, back in 2010, was presented with a ruby and diamond three-stone engagement ring by her husband, Eric Johnson. This ruby is a rarity due to its size being 5.00ct and its intense deep red colouring.

Eva Longoria from the T.V. series Desperate Housewives received a proposal from her now husband, José Bastón, in 2015. She was presented with a stunning engagement ring with a 6-plus carat ruby surrounded by diamonds. This is impressive due to the size, as these sizes are rare and extremely valuable.

American singer Katie Perry in 2019 became engaged to actor Orlando Bloom and received an estimated 4-carat ruby surrounded by diamonds in a vintage-style setting as her engagement ring.

Ruby gemstones represent the birthstone for July and the 15th and the traditional 40th wedding anniversary.

Interesting Facts

  1. Lab-created rubies have been instrumental in scientific advances. In the 1960s, synthetic rubies were used in the creation of the first functional laser, the forerunner to modern-day lasers.
  2. In the Harry Potter Series, Gryffindor’s are represented in the house championship by rubies.
  3. In gemmology, ruby is one of four precious gemstones; the other three are Sapphire, Emerald and Diamond.
  4. Ruby and Sapphire are the second hardest natural gemstones, with a 9 on the Mohs scale, meaning that only Diamonds and lab-grown Moissanite are harder.
  5. When people think of Rubies, they conjure thoughts of far-off lands such as Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand and the African continent. However, Rubies are also found here in Australia.

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