Ruby in history has enjoyed a stature that no other gemstone had. For hundreds of years, ruby was regarded as the most valuable gemstone. In ancient Sanskrit scripture, the gem was referred to as ‘ratanraj’ which means ‘king of gems’. India was their classic country of origin and for thousands of years its knowledge was passed from one generation to another through the works of Indian literature.
In India this radiant gem was regarded as sacred. Whenever a new, particularly beautiful crystal of ruby was found, the ruler used to send dignitaries to welcome the stone. It was believed that the stone bestows health, wealth and success on its wearer. Rubies in India were sorted as upper class, middle class and the lower class as per their flawlessness and perfection. Rubies that were inferior in quality would be kept away from the finer ones as it was believed that they would contaminate the finer rubies.
Ruby derives its name from the Latin word ‘ruber’ which means ‘red’. These gems are the red members of Corundum family of stones – the same family as sapphires. Corundum is one of the hardest minerals on earth; they score a 9 on Moh’s scale of hardness, second only to the diamonds. Pure corundum is Aluminum Oxide and is colorless; and it is the presence of chromium in its crystal structure that lends ruby its color.
Ruby is regarded as one of the twelve precious gemstones that were created when God was creating mankind. Rubies are mentioned in ‘Lapidaire en Verse’ of Phillip de Vallois, as the lord of gems was given to Aaron on the command of Jesus Christ. Ruby formed an essential part of Aaron’s breastplate and was a symbol of Judah. In those times rubies were considered much more valuable than diamonds.
Rubies have long been considered a symbol of power. These gems had adorned the crowns of many kings and queens. However, many of the historical rubies including the ‘Black Prince’s ruby’ and the 352 carats Timur Ruby were Red Spinel. Till the beginning of nineteenth century, most of the red gemstones such as red spinel and red garnet were thought to be ruby.
The mining history of ruby goes back to 2500 B.C. Since times immemorial the ruby mines of Burma (Myanmar) have been famous for producing the finest rubies. Especially the Mogok Valley in Upper Burma was known to produce the finest and the most intense colored rubies often described as ‘pigeon blood’. Some of the other sources of ruby are Thailand, Cambodia and Afghanistan.
Sir John Mandeville described the gem in his treatise. He said that one who owns a ruby can be assured of peace and harmony. Even the great French traveler of 17th century, Jean Baptiste Travernier had written extensively about this brilliant gem in his work.
Given its astounding color and mystical appeal, ruby has always had special place in the history and in the hearts of people.