Red Hot July

Ruby by Mucha

Ruby, by Alphonse Mucha

July’s traditional birthstone is ruby. That is the name given to red corundum, all other colors of gem quality corundum are called sapphires. Traces of the element chromium (which in its pure state is a silvery metal!) give the ruby its distinctive shade.

Before 1800 most red gems (like garnets and spinels) were considered rubies. It was only then that ‘ruby’ was recognized to be a different species. (I myself am partial to these spurious ‘rubies’ as garnets are amongst my favorite stones!)

The Black Prince's Ruby

The Black Prince's Ruby, which is actually a spinel.

Rubies are the second hardest gem to diamonds, though they can be quite brittle. The place names often used with rubies tend to be descriptions of color and quality rather than actual location of mining.

When I was little and getting bored at antique shows my mother would have me count all the amethysts. (I’ve always loved purple.) One dealer noticed and my mother explained to her the whole keep me busy thing. The woman was very nice and told me a little about gems. I remember that she was the first to tell me that a good ruby should be really red, maybe with a hint of purple or blue, but not pink. (Though pinkish rubies can be cute, like shimmering gumdrops!) That red is the color I’ve heard referred to a pigeon’s blood. It’s an elemental red, looking, not surpisingly, a lot like fresh blood.

Pigeon's Blood Ruby

Pigeon's Blood Ruby example from GemWise

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Filed under Art, Gems, Natural Science

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