Caring for Ruby

Caring for ruby is easy if you take a little time to understand this mysterious and wonderful rare gemstone. Only a small number of rubies that enter the gemstone trade are untreated. Many are glass filled or heat-treated to manipulate color, hide inclusions, and strengthen lesser-quality stones. There is nothing wrong with buying a treated stone. Treated stones are affordable and are beautiful, but they do require a little more care.

Never use ultrasonic cleaners, harsh chemicals, or steam to clean rubies. Clean with warm water, a mild dish soap, not detergent, and a soft toothbrush. You may wonder why I say a mild dish soap and not a detergent, the difference is in the pH, presence of bleach, or the types of surfactants in detergent. Use a fine-mesh plastic colander, or a glass of water outside of the sink, when rinsing so you don’t drop your jewelry down the drain during washing or rinsing. Pat dry with a soft cotton cloth.

Jewelry should be placed in a protective jewelry pouch, the box it came in, or wrapped in a soft cotton cloth to protect it from scratches when not worn. This also protects softer stones and precious metal from being scratched by the harder sapphire stone. Jewelry boxes that feature individually padded spaces are also a good option for jewelry that is slow to tarnish or do not tarnish: gold, platinum, Argentium silver, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, titanium, and steel.

Rubies belong to the corundum gemstone family, the same gemstone family as sapphires. Rubies are much rarer than sapphires. Good quality rubies that are a full carat are very rare and really expensive. A star sapphire or ruby is one that contains rutile. The star effect is called asterism and is caused by rutile, a mineral composed of mostly titanium dioxide, and has the highest refractive index or any mineral known, 2.417 to 2.419. Natural rutile is very rarely found in gemstones. Only about 3% of gemstone grade corundum stones contain rutile, and only one will have both good color and a good star. Fine stars are very rare.

Durability and Stability
After diamonds, rubies and sapphires, are the hardest gemstones. If you want a colorful stone and are looking for something that is more durable than most colorful gemstones a ruby is an excellent choice for a ring. They rate 9 on the Moth’s hardness scale. The only gemstone harder than ruby or sapphire is diamond. However, if your ruby is teated it still needs some extra care to keep it looking it’s best. Even the most durable gemstones should be treated with respect, even a diamond can break if it is hit at an angle of weakness.

Color is one of the most determining factors of a ruby’s value. Vibrant red to slightly purplish rubies are most favorable. Purer red stones are the most valuable, and stones with hues of orange or purple are less valued. If the color is too dark, it will dull the stone’s brightness, also decreasing the value. If a stone is too light, it may be considered to be a pink sapphire, even if color strength or intensity is high. However, pink sapphires have a following and are far more affordable rubies. Outside of the US pink sapphires my be classified as pink rubies. 

The most common debated by gemmologists is what color determines a stone to be classified as either a pink sapphire or a ruby. Some organizations within the gemstone trade industry have clearly defined the color saturation at which this occurs, however, there is no law determining it, so it's open to interpretation. Of course, sellers want to call their stones rubies, so they can command a higher price. 

Sellers are required to disclose gemstone treatments, but many do not. And many jewelers don’t know the history of the stones they purchase. Red spinel and rubies can look very similar and are sometimes found in the same mineral deposits. Without testing they can be hard to identify. Historically the most famous occurrence of incorrect identification is the Black Prince "Ruby" in the British Imperial State Crown, which is actually a huge, red spinel. If this is an expensive purchase make sure the stone is certified. This will tell you what you need to know about treatments made to the stone. 
I also highly recommend anyone purchasing high-end gemstone jewelry to contact your home insurance broker and have it added to your policy.

Ethically speaking, anything highly valuable usually will have some questionable practices within its industry. This is why I'm a huge fan of buying vintage and antique jewelry. You can find out some great information on The Ethical Unicorn.

Photo credit: Rob Lavinsky iRockscom Corundum-215474

“Sapphire Quality Factors,” GIA:

“How Rare Is That Gem?” International Gem Society:

“Tips on Caring for Jewelry,” GIA:

"Are Your Gems Funding Genocide? Here’s How To Buy An Ethical Engagement Ring Instead"

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