Legend has it the ruby is lit by an inner flame that can’t be extinguished. According to ancient Asian lore, the ruby contained the “spark of life,” and was known as “the lamp stone”–an Emperor of China was even said to have lit his chamber with a ruby that “burned as bright as day.” We covered the basic history of the ruby in “A Drop of Heart’s Blood” last year but there’s plenty more to say about this stone that has been burning just as brightly in our collective imagination since antiquity.
Tiger brooch, 18K gold and enamel with ruby eye, Italian, circa 1960″s Length: 2″ Brian Stewart Gallery.
The ruby is a variety of the mineral known as corundum, the second hardest gemstone after the diamond. Only red corundum is a ruby–any other color is considered a sapphire. The rarest and most valued rubies are found in Burma and are known for their brilliant “pigeon’s blood” red color but valuable rubies are also found in Asia, Australia, Africa, and the United States. The best way to determine the worth of a ruby is by its color (it should be neither too dark nor too light) and its clarity–if it appears “clean” to the naked eye.
Cartier falconer brooch, 18K gold, coral, ruby, and enamel, France, 1930s-1940s. Botier Gallery.
Throughout its storied history, the ruby has been said to posses numerous mystical qualities, including bringing good fortune, protecting against evil, and even curing indigestion. However, as “an eternal flame,” the ruby’s predominant association has naturally always been with love and passion. In addition to being the July birthstone, the ruby is also the traditional gift for the 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries. You can see more of The Manhattan Art & Antique Center’s ruby collection here.