Since their discovery, gemstones have been prized for their durability and the stunning beauty. Historically, exceptional examples of rubies, sapphires and emeralds have been the preserve of royalty and today the most famous stones, treasures for generations, can still be found within the crown jewels of the world. They have long been perceived as symbols of wealth and divinity and a vast number of myths have become associated with them. The cultures believe certain stones to be the tears of Gods that could be possessed by the rich and powerful.
People now realise that Ruby and Sapphire belong to the same mineral family as ‘curundum’, a discovery not made until the 18th century. The distinction between the two can sometimes be tricky. Pink stones (coloured by chromium) are technically ruby, but if the colour is not red enough they are described as pink sapphires.
All other colours of corundum are call sapphire and sapphires are found in all colours of the rainbow. The most valuable is the rare hue of pinkish orange, known as Padaradscha. This striking colour easily exceed ruby in price has so far only be found in Sri Lankan mines. Despite this, the most popular colour sapphire remains the deep royal blue… produced by the presence of iron and titanium.
Within the coloured stone market the ruby is the most highly prized. A deep red colour, containing blue overtones known as “ pigeon blood” red, fetches the highest prices. Rubies naturally tend to be small stones because the chromium present impairs the crystal’s growth. This means crystals found over a certain size command a very high market price.
The name ruby originates from the Latin “ruber” meaning red. The Sanskrit name for them is “ratnaraj”, which means “king of precious stones”.
Rubies are found in many locations around the world but the most important current sources are Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The gem gravels in Sri Lanka have been mined for rubies since as early as eighth century BC. Here the rubies are found in river beds as water-worn pebbles. This process of natural transport also means all stones found are a very high quality with any low quality material being destroyed by the rivers.
Royal influence over fashion is as old as royalty itself in this influence remains today. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, had a love of blue sapphires, which was reflected in her jewellery. The iconic ring Prince Charles gave to her as her engagement ring is a piece that shows the timeless beauty of blue sapphires. The classic design of the ring achieves elegance through simplicity.
It is formed of a large oval, deep coloured blue, a sapphire were diamond surround. When in 2010, Prince William presented the same ring to Kate Middleton , the public’s love for coloured stones was re-ignited.
Emeralds are the most prized member of the mineral family, called “Beryl”. It’s striking green colour is strangely caused by the same element is a red in ruby… chromium.
The environments in which emeralds form are typically geologically active. This means emeralds commonly contain many small fractures or ‘inclusions’, making clean material is rare and very expensive. These inclusions are not considered flaws with the stones but marks that prove they are genuine.
Emeralds were the first stones to be mined to use in jewellery: this was done by the ancient Egyptians who fashioned them into beads. They were so highly prized that only the Pharaohs were believed worthy of wearing them. Anyone else found wearing an emerald was sentenced to death.
The Egyptian source was in a very hard-to-reach area in the deep desert. This difficult terrain did not stop them accessing the area known as Cleopatra’s Mines. It is believed this was also the source of the Romans during their occupation of Egypt. During the Roman’s control of this vast source, the popularity of emerald grew and spread across Europe.
The Emerald trade changed dramatically in the 1500s. When Spanish invaders encountered Colombia, the crystals found were bigger than any ever seen before. Following this discovery the importance of emerald in the global market was greatly enhanced. They became more favoured by royalty and the wealthy than diamonds, sapphires and even ruby, being second only to pearls. Later it became established as the world’s third most treasured gem but grew again in popularity in 1852 when Napoleon III made green the imperial colour. Today the Colombian source is still the most important, continuing to produce stones of dramatic size.
The cultural importance of rubies, sapphires and emeralds dates back to the most ancient civilisations. The allure of their vibrant colours and unrivalled shine has brought joy to people for more than 3000 years, since the first gold gemstone jewellery was made, and there is no reason why their timeless beauty will not continue to be appreciated for thousands of years to come.