It is a stone of great beauty and richness of colour, and a clear, transparent, and flawless ruby commands a high price in the market. Large rubies are much rarer than large diamonds, and for a perfect ruby a far bigger sum will be offered than for a diamond of the same quality. At the time of writing a fine ruby costs from 50 to £60 a carat.
The Masculine and Feminine Ruby
As regards size, a good ruby of three carats is a great rarity; a perfect stone seldom exceeds eight carats, and one of ten carats is almost priceless. In fact, for rubies of great size there is no fixed market, and fabulous sums have been paid for stones that were wanted for any special purpose. Mr. Streeter, a great authority on the subject, states that 10,000 has been paid for a single ruby, but that was, of course, a large and faultless specimen.
The particular shade of red possessed by a ruby to a great extent determines its value. These shades of colour differ in a marked manner in different specimens. Thus a one-carat stone of a pale rose tint may fetch only £2, a price that contrasts strangely with the cost of a stone of the same weight but of a deep red colour. Oddly enough, rubies of a rich red hue are called masculine, while the pale light ones are known as feminine.
The Burmese have a mythical belief that rubies ripen in the earth, that they are at first colourless, and as they grow ripe become gradually yellow, green, blue, and at last deep red, this latter being the highest point of beauty and richness.
In reality, rubies are either found in loose sand or debris or else embedded in basalt or granite. The shade most admired in rubies is a deep, pure carmine red, or < red with a soft bluish tinge. This latter colour has been compared by the Burmese to the blood of a freshly killed pigeon. Hence the term ' pigeon's blood ' rubies, which denotes by far the finest specimens.
How the Stone is Cut
Rubies are usually cut with facets, but are sometimes cut en cabcchon. But the brilliant form is more often chosen, as it displays the beauties of the stone to the best advantage. In Burma, the chief home of the ruby, the stones are cut en cabochon before they come to the market, but if this style does not improve them, are recut on arrival in Europe.
Fraud can be practised by selling these two stones in place of the genuine article. In fact, the so-called rubies of cheap jewellery are more often than not either spinel-ruby or red tourmaline. In this case an examination by the eye alone proves by no means satisfactory. However, there is hope for the novice, as an instrument known as the dichroscope seems safe to render the distinction a matter of certainty, if the stone in question is subjected to a searching examination. Oriental rubies belong to the hexagonal system, and, unlike the spinel, are always dichroic. Hence this instrument enables the inquirer to see whether the gem possesses the property of dichroism - that is, of exhibiting two distinct colours when viewed from different directions. The spinel and the garnet display no dichroism.
Rubies can be imitated easily. But, as stated in the article on emeralds, a precious stone can be distinguished from its copy in glass by the simple test of its hardness. A file will test a ruby in the same way as it does an emerald - indeed, even more so, on account of the ruby's greater hardness. Experts declare also that sham stones are warmer to the touch than real gems, and that a drop of water will flatten and spread over the surface of a made stone, as it will not do in the case of the genuine article.
The ruby is a stone which has been produced in its actual form by artificial means, and in crystals of fair size, which show all the characteristics of the natural mineral. As early as 1837 small rubies were produced chemically, but it was not until 1878 that rubies were manufactured on a scale of commercial importance. The honour of this achievement belongs to the French chemist, Fremy, and rubies made by him have been mounted as gems in both a cut and uncut condition. They showed a hardness equal to that of the real stone, and were also utilised as the pivot-support of watches. But the cost of these rubies is so high as to make them no cheaper than the genuine stones.
Rubies can be formed also by means of what is known as reconstruction, a process mentioned in the article on Emeralds (page 1231, Part 10). This is done by means of chips of rubies or powdered rubies, and is a confessed imitation.
Rubies were known to the ancients, and were worn by the beauties of past centuries. Theophrastus speaks of the stone as having the appearance of a burning coal when held up to the sun, and for a very small one he is said to have given forty gold pieces. Ben-venuto Cellini, too, relates that in his day a perfect ruby cost 800 ecus d'or, whilst a diamond of like weight was valued at only 100 ecus.
There are some historical rubies on record-for instance, in our own Crown jewels may be seen the historic, pear-shaped ruby which was worn by the Black Prince in the front of his helmet at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers, and which, later on, with Henry V., blazed over the field of Agincourt. A ruby the size of a pigeon's egg is to be found in the Russian regalia. This was presented to the Empress Catherine of Russia by Gustavus III. of Sweden, when that monarch was her guest in St. Petersburg in 1777.