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The Significance of Birthstones: July and Ruby

July’s birthstone is ruby, a gemstone that has come to represent love, passion, courage and emotion. It’s one of the most popular coloured gemstones and is often used in birthstone jewellery as well as popular pieces such as engagement rings.

Rubies are generally known to be deep red in colour, but they also naturally form in hues from purple and blue to red or orange-red. The finest colour is called ‘pigeon’s blood’ – deep red with a hint of purple. Ruby gets its red colouring from trace amounts of the element chromium found in the gemstone. The more chromium a ruby contains, the stronger its red colour will be.

Formed from corundum, the same mineral that makes up most sapphires, rubies are an especially hard gemstone. They are mostly registered as a 9 on the Mohs scale of hardness, which is just one point below diamond.

Rubies in history

The name ‘ruby’ is derived from the Latin ‘ruber’ which means ‘red’. Rubies have been worn in jewellery throughout history by royalty and nobility all over the world. They’ve been desirable for such a long time due in part to their striking colour, and also because of their relative rarity.

In ancient India, ruby was called the ‘king of precious stones’ because of its rarity, hardness and beauty: it was a symbol of power and youth in Indian culture. Medieval Europeans believed that rubies brought health, wisdom and success, even thinking that it could predict danger or misfortune.

Where are rubies from?

Rubies can be sourced all over the world, but they are most commonly found in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Nepal and Vietnam. Pigeon blood rubies are most commonly found in the Mogok area of Myanmar, but rubies sourced from mines in Mozambique also have a similar colour.

Like many other gemstones, most rubies are mined from stream sediment rather than from inside hard rocks, allowing for excavation of the stone without damaging it. Because rubies are so hard, registering as a 9 on the Mohs scale of hardness, they are generally highly resistant to weathering and so can be found in good condition.

Cleaning ruby jewellery

Rubies are often heat treated to remove purple coloration or inclusions and they are also often subjected to lattice diffusion treatment and dyeing. Despite these cleaning treatments being great for the appearance of a ruby, they can make them more vulnerable to damage during normal wear.

Whether or not your ruby is treated will determine how you should care for it. However, all rubies can be cleaned with a warm soapy water and a soft toothbrush. If your ruby is untreated, ultrasonic cleaning should also be safe, but it’s recommended that this process is carried out by a professional.

Antique ruby jewellery

Rubies have been used consistently in ruby jewellery throughout history, spanning back all the way to ancient history. That means that there are plenty of antique jewellery pieces that feature rubies, especially from the Victorian era onwards.

This stunning mid-century ruby ring features a Burmese ruby set with six round cut diamonds on a 18k white gold setting.

This beautiful Victorian ruby ring circa 1900 makes use of five rubies of increasing carat weights set against yellow gold.

This gorgeous mid-century ruby ring sets diamonds next to a large 2.13 carat ruby, perched on a tapering yellow gold shank.