Seeing Red: An Expert's Guide To Rubies

Watches & Jewellery

November 1, 2017 | BY Joanna Hardy

Jewellery specialist Joanna Hardy gives an insider’s look into the magnificent world of rubies

“There is no coloured gemstone that fuels passion more than a ruby,” says author and jewellery specialist Joanna Hardy, who recently penned Ruby, a book commissioned by leading coloured gemstones supplier Gemfields. In this ambitious project, Hardy takes readers on a journey from the ancient mines of Burma, along the harsh terrain of the silk trading routes of China, to the most exciting recent ruby deposit discovered in Mozambique.

She examines the extraordinary, ancient cutting and polishing techniques, before leading readers to historical courts and palaces where rubies have been sourced and bought from intrepid gemstone dealers by royalty, dignitaries and the social elite throughout history.

During a stop in Hong Kong to launch Ruby, we take the opportunity to talk to Hardy to learn more about this magnificent red stone.

Where are the main sources of rubies?

Mozambique has one of the main deposits, which was discovered less than a decade ago. Mogok and Mong Hsu in Myanmar are still yielding rubies, as well as some other countries—Tanzania, Kenya, Tajikistan, Madagascar, Malawi and Sri Lanka. Very few rubies are being found in Thailand and Cambodia these days.

Are rubies from some sources better than others?

Traditionally, the Burmese ruby has been revered, but this is in part due to their high content of chromium—the ingredient that makes the stones glow red—and the history of the mines. When Thai stones began to be mined commercially in the 1960s, people thought they looked different because they have a lower chromium content. They were beautiful in their own right, but people still favoured Burmese. With the Mozambique mine, we now have the opportunity to see many more bright stones and we can say that origin doesn’t matter. It is important to remember that you can get stones of both high and lower quality from every mine, including those in Myanmar.

How are rubies graded?

Rubies are not graded like diamonds; it is a much more subjective process. The value depends on the inclusions and the colour. Generally, the more inclusions a stone has, the lower its value. Most people look for a vibrant red without brown or blue tones, as these seem to affect the price. I am pleased there isn’t a specific grading system as it means it is up to the purchaser whether they like the stone or not.

What are the main issues when buying ruby jewellery?

If it is a piece with one principal ruby, you should get a certificate from a recognised laboratory for that main stone, stating whether it has been heated or treated in any way. Treatments are not detrimental if they are disclosed. Having no inclusions that reach the surface is important, too, as they can weaken the stone.

Is there an ideal cut for rubies?

I think cushion shape is the best cut because the facets allow the play of colour within the stone to maximise the ruby’s potential, so we get the full impact of the colour. 

How and where does one buy an unset stone?

Don’t go off to buy from the source unless you are an experienced gemmologist. It is unlikely that you will get the stone any cheaper and it would be difficult to return it if there were any problems. Go to a reputable jeweller belonging to a recognised gemmological association, or to an independent jeweller with whom you have a good relationship; let them find the stone for you to approve.

Any tips for having a bespoke piece of jewellery made?

Either you have an idea and therefore a design already, in which case you need to find a workshop that can make it, or you can choose a designer whose style you like and have them design and make it for you. Not every house does bespoke jewellery, so you need to find one that has their own workshop—so you know where the piece is being made and you can be included in the process.

See also: Red Alert: Joanna Hardy Partners With Gemfields To Explore The Beauty Of Rubies 

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