Rubies are a beautiful gemstone. They have it all – colour, hardness and rarity. Joanna Hardy has published a spectacular book on rubies titled ‘Ruby: the King of Gems’ which includes photos of famous historical rubies as well as information about where they have been and are now mined.
Joanna points out that, historically, many high status rubies are in fact red spinels, another beautiful stone but a different family to the ruby which belongs to the corundum family. So the Timur Ruby presented to Queen Victoria in 1851, the Black Prince Ruby, now the centrepiece of the English Imperial State Crown, and the Catherine the Great’s Imperial Crown with its 400 carat feature red stone, are all spinels, a beautiful gemstone but not used much in jewellery today.
Rubies have been used in jewellery for centuries. Pliny in the first century AD referred to rubies in his Natural Histories and they have always been prized in India and the former Burma. Their rarity means they have often been reserved for rulers and royalty and larger specimens were rarely able to be afforded by normal individuals.
This doesn’t mean that rubies were out of the reach but they were often smaller stones being used. There are some gorgeous examples of ruby jewellery from the Renaissance era and charming pieces from the Georgian period (see the gold acrostic pendant and the ring in the middle of the post) as well as the little Victorian ring with rubies and diamonds above.