Rubies and sapphires are two of the four gemstones known as “precious gemstones”. All other gemstones, including pearls (which are technically not stones), are called semi-precious stones. What makes rubies and sapphires so interesting is that they are made of exactly the same mineral: corundum, which is a crystallized type of aluminum oxide. If the corundum stone is red in color, it is a ruby, but any other color is called a sapphire.
Rubies have more monetary value than sapphires, but sapphires fetch more money on imports, so the economy benefits more from a sapphire in the long run. Furthermore, natural gem-quality rubies are actually rarer than gem-quality diamonds, but blue sapphires are by far the most common gem-grade corundum stone on the market. Rubies are also significantly rarer than blue corundums, which has also led to higher sales of synthetic rubies than synthetic sapphires.
We briefly mentioned precious stones and semi-precious stones and the fact that there are only four. The other two gemstones that were not mentioned are diamonds and emeralds. Contrary to popular belief, there is actually nothing that truly sets a precious stone apart from a semi-precious one. Not even their value is clearly delineated as some semi-precious gems are far more valuable than those in the “precious” category.
Some articles will state that their hardness or their rarity sets them apart from other stones, but that is not technically the case as there are several stones in the semi-precious category that are just as hard and just as rare as semi-precious gemstones. The truth is that it seems like this categorization is actually just out of date. These four stones were probably the most valuable and rare stones at the time that the categories were created, but due to advances in technology, that is no longer the case.
Diamonds are made from carbon and have the higher Mohs hardness scale rating; it generally stands above the rest but is also quite closely followed by moissanite, which is right on its heels in hardness and brilliance but is not a carbon mineral.
Rubies and sapphires are both corundum stones and are therefore on the same hardness grade. There are no other corundum stones, but their colors are by no means unique. Emeralds are beryllium stones, and so are aquamarines. Both of these stones have a green color, although the depth of green in an emerald is extremely important. A light-colored emerald is not even really called an emerald anymore, where the saturation of an aquamarine is not that important. A greenish-blue hue is popular. The two stones have the same hardness rating.
As mentioned, both sapphires and rubies are made of the mineral corundum; they just vary in color. As with any colored stone, the color can be attributed to trace elements. While we know that all rubies are red, not all sapphires are blue. Blue sapphires are what they are and are the most popular, but fancy sapphires range from yellow to orange, green, purple, or shades of lilac and violet. They can also be pink.
You will likely find that there is a lot of debate on the internet and among jewelers about pink sapphires. Many feel that a pink sapphire should be classified as a ruby, but this does not happen often. A ruby has a definite red color, sometimes slightly purplish red, but light-colored stones that are clearly pink and not red are classified as a pink sapphire.
Furthermore, gem-grade corundum stones are actually exceedingly rare. Most natural sapphires and natural rubies have to receive heat treatment and fracture filling to enhance their quality because the natural stones are too impure to create a nice faceted stone.
This has paved the way for synthetic stones. Fancy sapphires, like yellow sapphire, for example, can easily be created in a lab, as can a fine quality ruby. The higher the carat weight, the rarer the stone, and large stones can also contain highly noticeable inclusions, which can greatly impact the eye-clarity of the gemstones. Even the most sought-after purplish red rubies and deep blue color sapphires can lose value due to inclusions. A lab-created stone will not need heat treatment or fracture filling in order to produce perfect quality gemstones.
While gem-quality corundum is extremely rare, there are some colors that are far rarer and in more demand than the rest. What determines these colors are small impurities inside the stone.
The brilliant red color in a ruby comes from chromium. But many of these natural stones must receive heat treatment in order to enhance their quality and color because natural rubies often lack the quality that is expected. This also means that a synthetic ruby can be of much higher quality and produce a perfect faceted stone relatively easily because there are no inclusions in a lab. Despite the moniker, though, synthetic rubies are not “fake” they are exactly the same as a mined stone; the only difference is that they were made in a lab.
The most sought-after gemstones in the ruby variety are pigeon blood red rubies. They have a very distinct and vibrant red color.
The deep blue color of a sapphire comes from small amounts of titanium and iron. The most sought-after blue sapphires are a velvet blue to violet-blue hue; the darker the stone, the higher the value. Again, gem-quality natural sapphire tends to have inclusions and lack that quality that is expected for gemstone jewelry.
Synthetic gemstones can produce whatever color and quality you desire. They require far fewer resources to come by and are always ethically sourced. Natural sapphires are actually becoming harder and harder to find, so perhaps synthetic corundum is the future of the gemstone market.
When it comes to corundum, the delineation of red and blue corundum seems straightforward. But that is not always the case. We can easily say that rubies are red and all other colors are sapphires, but what do we do with pink sapphires?
They are much lighter than the obvious red of a ruby and are actually comparatively quite cheap. But this is still a relatively borderline discretion which causes some disagreement in the jewelry world.
Even professional associations differ over where the distinction should come in between pink sapphires and rubies. They are the same mineral, are extremely durable, have the same chemical composition, and have nearly the same physical properties, but the pink color is actually visually very different from the red of a true ruby. The visual distinction is so noticeable that they even have different meanings.
Rubies usually indicate health, passion, wisdom, wealth, and love, whereas a pink sapphire means success through hardship, good fortune, intense love, and compassion.
White sapphires are often used as a substitute for a colorless diamond. Despite this, the visual difference between white sapphire and diamonds is quite obvious when held side by side. The difference is not in color but in brilliance and fire. Sapphires have far less brilliance and fire than a diamond. They also require more regular cleaning.
A sapphire clearly has a silvery-white-gray sparkle, whereas a diamond has a rainbow mixture of color in its sparkle. Compared to diamonds, white sapphires are far heavier than diamonds; they are also much more affordable and come in larger sizes more readily than colorless diamonds. They do, however, sparkle noticeably less than a diamond would. A sapphire is also not the hardest gemstone and will be scratched by adjacent jewelry should it contain the hardest mineral on the scale (diamond).
Rubies and sapphires have long since been the stones of choice for engagement rings, especially among royalty. The most famous example is the Princess Diana ring that sports a 12-carat royal blue sapphire. Princess Eugenie now sports a Burmese Ruby engagement ring as well.
It was only during the last 70 or so years that rubies and sapphires had to take the back seat when it came to engagement rings. A diamond is more durable and better suited to everyday wear, but rubies and sapphires remain an extremely attractive option and often depend on personal preference when it comes to a choice for your engagement ring.
Ruby and sapphire are both birthstones. Specifically a red ruby and a blue sapphire. The red ruby is the birthstone for July, and the blue corundum sapphire is the birthstone for September.
Specifically, with sapphires, a process called lattice diffusion is used to turn otherwise worthless corundum into gem-grade sapphires. Most rubies on the market have also been subject to treatments and procedures to enhance their quality and color.
A pink-red ruby can be turned into a pigeon’s blood rubies easily through these treatments. Most sapphires have also received treatments to enhance their clarity and color, most commonly lattice diffusion.
Purple sapphires are the only type of sapphire that is usually not treated as this shade of sapphire has far fewer inclusions and is more often eye-clear.
A good way to save money on your purchase of a ruby and sapphire is through the purchase of synthetic stones. A lab-grown ruby or sapphire looks amazing, is always ethically sourced, and has far higher quality than a naturally mined ruby or sapphire might. They are also far more affordable. Furthermore, fancy colored stones can often also be much more affordable under certain circumstances.
The Burmese Ruby Tiara is perhaps the most famous ruby of our time. It is often worn by the current queen of Britain and was made up of rubies from another tiara that had been dismantled.
Another famous ruby actually sits just above the most famous sapphire and is known as the Black Prince’s ruby. They both can be found on the Imperial State Crown.
The most famous sapphire is the Stuart Sapphire which also features on a royal crown worn by the current queen. The origins of this sapphire are entirely uncertain, and there are quite a few different versions of tales related to its origin.
While this sapphire is still on the Imperial State Crown, it has been moved to the back and replaced with the Cullinan Diamond in the front below the ruby.
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