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Everything You Need to Know About Rubies

14 November 2021 4 min read

The blazing red of the setting sun in the Maasai Mara inspired our lab-grown ruby jewellery collection. Our stunning Mara Collection features rich ruby gemstones, set in solid recycled 14k gold. Below, we take a more in depth look at this precious gem.

Rubies share the same gemological properties as sapphires. Both are forms of corundum, the third hardest mineral, according to the Mohs scale, coming in after diamonds and moissanite, at 9.0.

While a sapphire comes in many colours (blue being the most well-known), rubies, of course, come in only one - red. 



Corundum (Rob Lavinsky ©)

Corundum forms deep in the Earth’s crust, a byproduct of the intense heat and pressure down there. The mineral, made of two parts aluminium and three parts oxygen, rises to the surface in igneous and metamorphic rock formations. Many ruby deposits have been found embedded in marble. Deposits found today are thought to be hundreds of millions of years old.

Rubies get their striking red colouring from chromium (known by some geologists as the ‘rock star’ of trace elements), which needs to be present during formation. If a different accompanying mineral is present, such as titanium or iron, the stone will have a different hue and will instead be classed as a sapphire.

Looking for sustainable lab-grown sapphire jewellery? Our Mediterranean-inspired Antibes Collection features blue sapphires set in solid 14k recycled gold.



Ruby deposits have been found all over the globe. Some of the largest and most famous have come from Myanmar, with others scattered across Southern Asia. Large deposits have also been found across East Africa, including in Tanzania, Kenya (home of the Maasai Mara) and Madagascar. Other notable deposits have been found in Australia, Brazil and Colombia.

The only deposit found in Europe hailed from North Macedonia, with the gemstone featured on the country’s coat of arms.

In Greenland, some of what are thought to be the world’s oldest rubies have been discovered - estimated to be around three billion years old!

It’s important to note that, like any mined stone, ruby mining takes a huge toll on the landscape, while unethical mining practices and widespread violence mar this gorgeous stone’s reputation. That’s why it’s crucial to buy ethically sourced gemstones.



Burning fire and embers

Ruby is the birthstone for July. The name ruby comes from the Latin ruber, meaning ‘red’.

Rubies have always been of great value - denoting power, wealth and success. In several Asian countries, rubies adorned the armour of noblemen and were laid beneath the foundations of buildings to secure good fortune. Ruby in Sanskrit is ratnaraj, meaning King of Gemstones.

Other cultures believed rubies offered protection to the wearer, wearing them as talismans. The Ancient Burmese took it one step further, inserting the precious stones into their flesh to make themselves ‘invulnerable’. 

The bold red of the ruby is reminiscent of a burning flame, signifying ‘inner fire’. In Hinduism, many believers associate rubies with both the Sun and the deity Surya, believing that to wear rubies would bestow the Sun’s favour.

In Western culture, rubies are traditionally given as a 40th anniversary gift. What better gift for someone with a fiery spirit than a brilliant ruby necklace or set of elegant studs?


Famous Rubies

Elizabeth Taylor

Some of the world’s largest and most beautiful rubies can be found on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Including a particularly stunning ruby ring, donated by businessman philanthropist Peter Buck in memory of his late wife, Carmen Lúcia. 

The 23.1ct Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring and flanked by diamonds boasts a stunning rich red hue. Buck decided to provide the museum with the money to buy the ring as a tribute to his wife who, while undergoing treatment for cancer, expressed a desire to wear it upon her recovery. Sadly, she didn’t survive. But the ruby, now named the Carmen Lúcia Ruby, is on display alongside the Hope Diamond and the Logan Sapphire.

The record for the most expensive coloured gemstone sold at auction was set in 2015 by the Sunrise Ruby. The 25ct gem sold for an impressive $30.3 million at Sotheby’s in Geneva.

Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor was known in part for her expansive jewellery collection, featuring several rubies, including a necklace worth over $3.7 million. Taylor also owned a ruby ring which broke the ‘price-per-carat’ record for rubies. 

The largest mined ruby in the world was the Liberty Bell Ruby. Weighing in at an immense four pounds, a reported eight and a half thousand carats, the gem was dramatically stolen in a heist in 2011!

And who can forget Judy Garland’s famed ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz? In 1989, jewellery designer Harry Winston created a pair of real ruby slippers, in homage to the film on its 50th anniversary, featuring 4,600 rubies worth around $3 million.


Lab-Grown Rubies

In 1837,  French chemist Marc Gaudin created the first synthetic rubies, fusing potassium aluminium sulfate at high temperatures with chromium as a pigment. Later, in 1904, another chemist, Auguste Verneuil, pioneered the flame fusion method, making precious stones for industrial applications. The method has since been developed to create rubies and other gemstones for use in jewellery. 

Known as a melt process, the flame fusion method melts aluminium oxide powder into a droplet, combining it with other minerals to add colour. The Czochralski method, invented in 1915, uses radio waves to melt the aluminium oxide. Both processes yield large quantities of high quality rubies.

Another method - hydrothermal synthesis - copies the earth’s natural processes to form rubies and other gems. Using a seed crystal, the technique employs heat and pressure to grow a new ruby around the seed.

Rubies are still used in industrial applications as well as in jewellery. In 1961, a synthetic ruby was used in the world’s first optical laser. 

Being chemically and physically identical to mined rubies, you’d have a hard time finding someone who can tell them apart. It would take a professional gemologist to truly identify a lab-grown ruby from a mined one.

Here at illi, we’ve lovingly designed timeless pieces of jewellery, featuring sustainable, ethically sourced lab-grown rubies. Take a look at our Mara Collection, with stunning deep red rubies, set in solid 14k yellow gold. Perfect as a gift for someone you love, or to treat yourself. 

Shop lab-grown ruby jewellery by illi today. Sign up to our newsletter and get 10% off your first order.