Though revered since ancient times, rubies were not understood to be a variety of the corundum family of gems until 1800. Many other red stones coming from Southeast Asia, such as tourmaline, garnet and red spinel, were often confused with rubies. There are reports of vibrant red rubies as far back as 200 BC as well as with Marco Polo as he traveled the Silk Road in the 1200s. Rubies from Burma (Myanmar), are often considered to be the finest quality and have several characteristics that give them their distinctive ‘pigeon blood’ red hue. They tend to have intact silk, actually rutile needles, when not heated. This produces an effect of diffusing the light as it passes through the stone. Stones from this area also show very strong red fluorescence under UV light due to their very high chromium content. A Burma ruby will glow bright red under these conditions. Rubies from other areas can have a higher iron content which inhibits this effect.
A ruby can command the highest price per carat of any colored gemstone, other than diamonds, and color is the most important factor in determining a ruby’s value. Fine quality and valuable rubies, in addition to Burma, can be found in several other locations in the world including Thailand, Mozambique and Madagascar.
Rubies have been imbued with many spiritual, romantic and symbolic properties. They are thought to ward off evil and provide protection of all kinds. Chinese noblemen used rubies to adorn their armor to provide them protection in battle and ensure victory. And of course, red as a heart, these beautiful red stones are symbols of passion and love.