Ruby is a variety of a mineral called corundum, and the name ruby is applied to red, purplish-red, brownish-red and deep pinkish-red corundum stones. If the stones are any other colour - including pink - they are referred to as sapphires. Ruby is a tough and valuable stone that is found primarily in Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vietnam. It's found in other locations too - like Madagascar, Australia and USA - but not in the same quantities. Historically ruby has remained a very important stone, though pretty much all red stones were considered rubies in days past - this included spinel and garnet. In fact, the Black Prince's Ruby, set in the British Imperial State Crown, is actually a spinel. It wasn't until 1783 that it was realised that ruby and spinel were chemically distinct. Today, we have a relatively easy way of telling the two stones apart with the use of a piece of kit called a polariscope. Ruby and spinel handle the light that passes through them differently, and these differences can be seen using the device, so there's no excuse for a competent antique jeweller to be caught out.
Antique Ruby Jewellery Treatments
There are many treatments that may be applied to rubies, the most obvious one being heat treatment, something which the vast majority of commercial rubies nowadays are subject to. However, the history of heating rubies to improve their colour is mentioned in texts as old as 1040 AD, and so it's foolish to assume that an old ruby is an unheated one. Sure the process of heating rubies destined for jewellery en-mass to improve their colour didn't begin until the early 1900s, but it was certainly known and used before then, and so it's always safest to assume the ruby in your jewellery has been heated to improve its colour, unless you have a laboratory certificate confirming otherwise. Other treatments like glass-filling cracks and fissures in rubies are modern developments, and should not be found in antique ruby jewellery unless the stones are later replacements. Jewellers in the UK have a duty to tell you if they are selling you a glass filled ruby stone.
Antique Ruby Rings
Their very obvious beauty aside, rubies are popular stones in rings because they are tough. Diamond has a hardness of 10 on the MOHs scale, and ruby has a hardness of 9. This is not a linear scale and in fact diamond is significantly harder than ruby, but none the less when it comes to hardness, rubies or sapphires are the next best thing after diamond. This makes ruby rings great for every day wear, and though you should always be careful to remove your antique ruby ring during any activity where it may get bashed, it will handle day to day life just fine. Fine rubies, of course, can be just as expensive as diamonds. For example, the 23.10 carat Carmen Lúcia Ruby, mined in Burma in the 1930s and now in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, was likely (we say likely the price as never formally disclosed), purchased for upwards of $20 million in 2004.
The next ruby ring to mention is not antique, but it is vintage! And of course it had to belong the biggest jewellery fanatic of them all: Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor's husband, Richard Burton, gave her a Burmese ruby ring in 1968, in her Christmas stocking. The ruby was set in a gold band and surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, and the piece was a Van Cleef & Arpels creation. The 8.24 carat ruby was, according to Taylor, the most perfect coloured stone she'd ever seen. And in fact this stone had not been heat treated and is a very valuable stone indeed. The ring was auctioned off at Christie's in 2011, reaching a staggering $4,226,500.
Vintage Ruby Pendant Necklaces
In addition to looking fabulous in vintage rings, rubies also make wonderful stones to wear as a pendant necklace. Queen Elizabeth II owns a plethora of fine antique ruby jewellery - a perk of being a queen - but our favourite pieces of ruby jewellery in her collection of antiques are undoubtedly her ruby pendant necklaces. The Baring Necklace in particular is absolutely incredible, and it was commissioned by the Queen in the 1960s when it became clear that the Queen Mother wasn't going to give up the antique ruby necklaces in the royal collection very easily! In fact the Queen Mother clung onto her Crown Ruby Necklace - a piece of jewellery that Prince Albert had made for Queen Victoria - until the very end! Originally set with opals, the necklace was altered by Queen Consort Alexandra at the beginning of the 20th century, who replaced the opals with fine rubies, such was the allure of the red stones (and no doubt the superstition around opals too).
Antique Ruby Bangles
It is a fact appreciated the world over that rubies look particularly pleasing set in gold wrist wear, whether that's in geometric Art Deco bracelets or a colourful Edwardian bangle. Snake jewellery was popular during the Victorian era, and there was definite trend for using rubies as the snake's eyes, and the red stones look particularly striking against the trademark blue enamel that so often decorates these pieces.
Why choose vintage or antique jewellery?
We believe that antique ruby jewellery has a special something that modern jewellery lacks. It's not modern jewellery's fault of course, but when you're brand new the history and the intrigue is just not there. When you hold that vintage ruby item in your hand, be it a ring, a bangle, a brooch or a ruby pendant necklace, you are holding a piece of history. The piece, carefully created almost certainly by hand, will have been owned and loved before, quite probably multiple times. It's been worn, admired and complimented during all sorts of historical occasions including world wars, coronations, jubilees, weddings, parties, birthdays and anniversaries. And no matter what was going on in the world at the time, that piece of antique ruby jewellery has consistently brought joy and happiness to its wearer. It's been treasured and kept safe, and passed down through generations for that very reason.