RUBY LEGENDS AND LORE
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The historical mystique and beauty of Rubies is as colorful as the legends and lore that surround this most precious of gems.
The earliest record for the mining of Rubies dates to more than 2,500 years ago in Sri Lanka, "the jewel box of the Indian Ocean," where it is called "rathu kata." Rubies from Sri Lanka first appeared in western jewelry among the Etruscans (600 - 275 BC) and were used by the Greeks and Romans from approximately 480 BC onward.
Prized throughout history, many believed that mystical powers lay hidden within this intensely colored red gemstone. The fiery crimson color of Rubies caused many civilizations to associate them with passion, love and romance. Rubies were also thought to bestow wisdom, health and luck in gambling. According to oriental beliefs, Ruby is the "gem of the sun."
Mentioned in Sanskrit texts, the ancient Hindus were so enchanted by the color of Rubies that they called them "ratnaraj," the king of gems. The ancient Hindus thought that the colors of Rubies were due to an inextinguishable fire that burned inside the gem that would endow its wearer with long life and even cause water to boil!
As in Sanskrit texts, biblical references to Ruby (all red gemstones were also collectively called Carbuncle at this time) refer to it as a most precious gem.
In the King James Version of the Bible, Ruby (and its namesake Carbuncle) is mentioned numerous times:
And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a Sardius, a Topaz, and a Carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
And they set in it four rows of stones: the first row was a Sardius, a Topaz, and a Carbuncle: this was the first row.
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the Sardius, Topaz, and the Diamond, the Beryl, the Onyx, and the Jasper, the Sapphire, the Emerald, and the Carbuncle, and Gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
And I will make thy windows of Agates, and thy gates of Carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
No mention shall be made of Coral, or of Pearls: for the price of wisdom is above Rubies.
She is more precious than Rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
For wisdom is better than Rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
There is gold, and a multitude of Rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than Rubies, their polishing was of Sapphire.
Interestingly, the gems called "Rubies" in the Old Testament may have actually been Spinel or Garnet. Up until the 18th century, when chemical testing was improved, most red gems were called Rubies. In fact, many of the famous Rubies in the crown jewels of Europe have since been identified as Spinel or Garnet. For example, the Black Prince Ruby that rests proudly at the centre of the British Imperial State Crown is actually a red Spinel!
Ancient Sinhalese legends (modern day Sri Lanka) relate the story of the destruction of their demonic King Ravana. They believed that after his demise, his blood turned into Rubies resulting in their intense red color.
For over 2,000 years Sri Lanka has supplied the world with fine Star Rubies. In fact, Sri Lanka was most probably the original source of this gem. The ancient Sinhalese believed that a Star Ruby protected the wearer from witchcraft. It was considered so powerful a talisman that even when the original owner passed the gem onto someone else, they continued to receive its protection.
In Europe, Star Rubies were sometimes called "the three swords" and were said to chase away evil, bring good luck and assist one in finding a fine spouse. Native Americans believed that offerings of a fine Ruby resulted in rebirth as a powerful Chief.
Some cultures believed Ruby's blood-like color would protect the wearer from injury. In fact, ancient Burmese warriors believed that when a Ruby was inserted beneath the skin it generated a mystical force, making them unconquerable in battle. Rubies were once known by the Burmese as "blood drops from the heart of the Mother Earth" and were worn by them as a talisman to protect against illness or misfortune.
Dr. Edward Gübelin's book, "Burma, Land der Pagoden" (Burma, Land of Pagodas), includes a famous Burmese Ruby legend:
"One day, the king of the valley, a grand old eagle, was circling over his kingdom and searching for a worthy prey. As he spread his circles ever wider in the shining blue of the heavens, he suddenly spied on the valley floor a piece of fresh meat of the color of purest blood and more enticing than he had ever seen in all his flights throughout the whole world.
There is the noble food, for which I have been yearning, said the lord in the air, and plunged down on to his chosen prey. But his claws, whose sharpness and strength had hitherto hooked into the thickest skin, could do nothing against this presumed prey, colored like a living heart. He kept on attacking - he, the lord of the valley, accustomed to victory! - But in vain! He began to fear that age had impaired his strength, so he ascended into the air to think it over.
He also sought out other prey in order to test his strength, but left it lying carelessly as soon as he had convinced himself of his undiminished powers, in order to renew his attack on the coveted piece of booty. Finally, it dawned on him: this was no piece of flesh, but a hallowed stone, fashioned out of fire and the blood of Mother Earth. Reverently, the wise old King of the Birds grasped it and carried it to the highest summit of the highest mountain - unattainable to all living beings on this earth. The valley in which he had found the precious stone was Mogok, and the stone the first Ruby in the world".
In the 13th century, the renowned explorer Marco Polo wrote that Kublai Kahn, the Mongol Emperor of China, once offered an entire city for a Ruby the size of a man's finger.
Because of its fluorescent properties, a giant Ruby once lit an entire chamber in a palace of a Chinese emperor! In the Middle Ages, Rubies were thought to contain prophetic powers. It was believed that a Ruby could warn its owner of misfortunes by deepening in color.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, poet, and leader of the transcendentalist movement in the early 19th century, wrote the following poem about Rubies: "They brought me Rubies from the mine, and held them to the sun; I said, "They are drops of frozen wine from Eden's vats that run." I look'd again - I thought them hearts of friends, to friends unknown; Tides that should warm each neighboring life are lock'd in sparkling stone. But fire to thaw that ruddy snow, to break enchanted ice, and give love's scarlet tides to flow, when shall that sun arise?"
JUST THE FACTS
As "allochromatic" (other colored) gems, Ruby's colors are due to trace elements. Apart from their color, Rubies are identical to Sapphires and are comprised of the mineral known as Corundum. The crystalline form of aluminum oxide, the name Corundum is believed to be derived from three ancient Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit words for Rubies and Sapphires, "kurundam," "kurund" or "kuruvinda" respectively.
Did you know that Rubies are rarer than Diamonds? In the last 60 years hardly a month has passed without a new Diamond deposit being discovered. In contrast, Rubies are only found in a handful of mines worldwide.
Did you know that Rubies are more expensive than Diamonds? A 16 carat Ruby that sold at Sotheby's in New York in October 1988 fetched a staggering US$3,630,000! Rubies are one of the worlds most expensive gems, but like all gems, quality determines price.
Second only to Diamonds in hardness, Rubies are one of the toughest gemstones and with no cleavage, breakage rarely occurs. This combined with the fact that Rubies come in many different shapes and sizes, makes them perfect for all types of jewelry.
Color is the most important factor when evaluating Rubies. While cutting and size (fine Rubies over 2 carats are very scarce) is also important, transparency is secondary. Why is this? Colored by chromium and other trace elements, Rubies formed millions of years ago deep within the earth.
As very few Rubies crystallized undisturbed, a whole host of tiny irregularities (inclusions) are a characteristic of their formation. Far from being flaws, inclusions are a fascinating hallmark of authenticity that records a gem's natural relationship with the Earth. In terms of clarity, Rubies tend to be less clean than Sapphires.
While color preferences are subjective, the best Rubies possess an intense, almost electric red effect in daylight due to fluorescence. The ideal Ruby displays an intense, rich crimson without being too light or too dark. But as Rubies come in many different colors and sizes, ultimately your personal preference should be your primary concern. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and will also be tempered by what you can afford.
Microscopic rutile inclusions, commonly known as "silk," are a normal characteristic of Rubies. When evenly distributed, small quantities of "silk" enhance a Ruby's beauty and value by creating a soft uniform distribution of sparkling light.
Asterism or the "star effect" is a reflection effect that appears as two or more intersecting bands of light across the surface of a gem. This rare phenomenon is found in both Rubies and Sapphires. Asterism in Corundum is due to reflections from multitudes of exsolved needle inclusions (silk), which in most varieties consist of rutile.
Burma, by reputation and experience, continues to produce some of the world's finest Rubies. While the original locality for Ruby was most likely Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the classic source is the Mogok Stone Tract in upper Burma. So much so that one of the recognized titles of the Kings of Burma was "Lord of the Rubies."
You may have noticed throughout the book that I call the country "Burma" not Myanmar. In 1989 the charismatic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kui was placed under house arrest and the country was renamed Myanmar. Many democrats oppose the name change and I follow their example.
"Pigeon's Blood" is used to describe a rare and valuable Burmese Ruby. It is considered to be the first two drops of blood from a freshly killed pigon which is red with a touch of purple. Burmese Rubies come from the Mogok Valley in north-central Burma and Möng Hsu in northeast Burma (also spelt Monghsu or Maing Hsu, it is pronounced "Mong-Shoe").
Möng Hsu is 140 miles southeast of Mogok. It is located between the Nam Pang and Salween Rivers. It is closed to foreigners and the road is so bad it takes around 14 hours to travel there from the nearest town of Taunggyi. Typical of many areas in Burma's Shan States, the population of the Möng Hsu area consist of Shans in the valleys with hill tribes (Palaungs at Möng Hsu) living in the mountains.
The Palaungs cultivated tea before the discovery of Ruby. While Ruby mining in Mogok dates to the 6th century, Rubies were not discovered in Möng Hsu until 1991 when a local resident, who used to be a Ruby miner at Mogok, went bathing in the Nam Nga stream and found red gems between his toes and among the pebbles on the river's banks. Thus began Burma's most recent Ruby rush as the town's population quadrupled overnight from approximately 8,000 people to over 30,000 people at the peak
This tapered off by 1993, but since the advent of high temperature treatment Möng Hsu has become increasingly important source of Burmese Ruby.
Ruby mining in Burma was initially restricted to alluvial deposits, but has now also moved to host rock deposits in the surrounding hills. Burma's Rubies occur in a crystalline limestone (marble). Millions of years of weathering freed the Rubies from their host rock, carrying them down from the hills to the valley floors, where they have settled in the bottom of the streams and rivers. It is from these ancient alluvial river gravels (know in Burma as "byon") that the majority of gems have been recovered.
Madagascan Rubies are mined at high altitude in a relatively new deposit found in July 2004, deep within an impenetrable jungle. The only way to reach the Ruby mines near the mining village of Moramanga is by helicopter or a grueling long day's trek (11 hours) on a muddy trail through dense mountainous rainforest from the Madagascan town of Andilamena. However, since mid-2006 these deposits have reportedly been nearing depletion. This increasing scarcity makes these Rubies a must for any jewelry collection.
Apart from Madagascar, we offer Rubies from India, Kenya, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and of course, Thailand. However, strict environmental regulations combined with depletion have resulted in the reduction of Thai gem mining.
The beauty, rarity and historical mystique of Rubies are undeniable. Ruby derives its name from the Latin word for red, "rufus." Ruby is July's birthstone, the gemstone for Capricorns and the traditional 15th and 40th anniversary gift.
With approximately 70% of the world's Sapphire output and 90% of its Ruby production passing though Thailand.
(Source: ICA 2006 World Colored Gemstone Mining Report).