This Week's Obsession: Rubies
For many lovers of gemstones, July's birthstone, the ruby signifies passion. Red is the colour of our most intense emotions—love and anger, passion and fury. It’s associated with objects of power and desire—like fast cars and red roses. Early cultures treasured rubies for their similarity to the redness of the blood that flowed through their veins, and believed that rubies held the power of life.
Ruby is one of the most historically significant coloured stones. Rubies are mentioned four times in the Bible, in association with attributes like beauty and wisdom. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called ratnaraj, or “king of precious stones”.
In the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny included rubies in his Natural History, describing their hardness and density. Ancient Hindus believed that those who offered fine rubies to the god Krishna were granted rebirth as emperors.
Hindus divided ruby into four castes, calling the true Oriental ruby a Brahmin. Someone in possession of a Brahmin was believed to have the advantage of perfect safety.
Ruby has accumulated a host of legends over the centuries. People in India believed that rubies enabled their owners to live in peace with their enemies. In Burma (a ruby source since at least 600 AD—now called Myanmar), warriors possessed rubies to make them invincible in battle. However, it wasn’t enough to just wear the rubies. They had to insert them into their flesh and make them part of their bodies.
The name ruby comes from the Latin word ruber, which means “red”. The glowing red of ruby suggested an inextinguishable flame burning in the stone, even shining through clothing and able to boil water.
Ruby has been called the most precious of the 12 stones created by God.
Ruby retained its importance with the birth of the western world and became one of the most sought-after gems of European royalty and the upper classes. Many medieval Europeans wore rubies to guarantee health, wealth, wisdom and success in love.
Desire for ruby is just as great today as it always has been. As a symbol of passion, ruby makes an ideal romantic gift. Consumers are drawn to the lush colour because it also signifies wealth and success.
This month, the Poly Auction in Hong Kong will display several fantastic ruby jewels and watches.
Not to be missed is the Cartier high jewellery Fleur de Lotus ring (below) with a 8.388-carat Burmese ruby surrounded by diamonds (estimate on request), property of an important private collector. This one-of-a-kind jewel showcases the vivid rich red of this gemstone whose colour is reminiscent of the famous Mogok mines that is considered the ultimate source for rubies. Such is the quality of this extremely rare ruby that three different gemmological bodies have examined the stone. The the GRS (Gem Research Swiss Lab), the SSEF (Swiss Gemological Institute) and the Gübelin Gem Lab, have issued reports and the former has written a gem profile on this exceptional stone. Cartier’s design enhances the cushion-cut of the ruby by surrounding the stone with a lotus flower crafted in platinum and set with diamonds.
Another exceptional ruby jewel (below) is the pair of Burmese ‘pigeon blood’ ruby earrings (estimate:HKD 18,000,000-25,000,000). ‘Pigeon blood’ is the name given to the most desirable colour of rubies and the stones must posses a rich, saturated, uniformly bright red colour, devoid of secondary blue or brown tones. The top-grade tone, saturation and lightness give these rare examples an inner fire that sets them apart. What’s more three gemmological laboratories – the SSEF, Gubelin and GRS – all concurred in their ‘pigeon blood’ classification. The American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) has awarded the stone the coveted AGL Classic TM designation, a further confirmation of the outstanding nature of these stones. Rubies over 5 carats are a rare find and to have two stones (5.12 and 5.03 carats) that are perfectly matched is reflected in their valuation.
Finally, the sale includes 160 watches and no respectable auction is complete without Patek Philippe and there are two notable examples under the hammer. The first is an unusual and rare platinum and ruby-set Nautilus Ref.5711/112P N (estimate on request) circa 2020 (below). The Nautilus is one of the Geneva house’s most iconic designs, first created in the mid-1970’s by the famous designer Gérald Genta who was inspired by the port holes of ships, giving the watch its name Nautilus. The early Nautilus models were in stainless steel as it was the house’s first sports watch. Since then, collectors have shown a great interest it its strong design making it a highly sought after model. This version is personalised by the addition of over 4 carats of rubies on the bezel and dial, making it one-of-a-kind and a true rarity as Patek Philippe will only accept a handful of customisations a year for its most valued clients. This watch has not come to auction before making it a highly unusual top lot.
The Jewellery Editor, Revealed! Poly Auction Hong Kong 10th Anniversary jewels and watch sale
GIA Encyclopedia, Ruby History and Lore