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, 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 example from GemWise
Citrine, tiger’s eye, and topaz have all attributed to November birthdays. And while I’m not big on limiting myself to any single type of stone (even though my birthstone is opal, which I adore), it’s always fun to dabble in the stones of the season! Especially when they come in such wonderful rich colors. Here are some of my favorite November gems.
And here’s another. In 1900, the artist Alphonse Mucha created a series images inspired by different gem stones (he’d already done the times of day and flowers) and one of the ones he created was Topaz.
Topaz, by Alphonse Mucha
By this time he was already a well established artist. He’d taken Paris by storm at the very end of 1894 with a poster he knocked out in a few weeks for a Sarah Bernhardt play. The poster was such a hit (presumably the play was as well) and he designed several other posters for her. His flowing lines and pastel colors were strikingly different from the bolder colors of many advertisements of the time. (With the flowing hair and sort of vaguely classical/medieval outfits I tend to think of him as a distant cousin to the much less stylized but also ‘flowy’ Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.) In the year of the creation of the Precious Stones series the style he’d created, which had once been called Style Mucha, became known as Art Nouveau.
Supposedly he tried to distance himself from being labeled Art Nouveau after the style took off on it’s own, and was troubled by his commercial successes, worried that it wasn’t real art. He spend a good chunk of the rest of his life trying to prove he hadn’t sold out.
Look at the quality of the design and the detail. It’s amazing how great the art in advertisements for things like beer and chocolate and champagne used to be. And sad that someone who put so much effort into it couldn’t realize that it was real art.