The name "ruby" is derived from the Latin word "ruber," which means "red." Throughout history, rubies have captured the hearts of mankind. It is no surprise that since ancient times rubies have been bestowed with very powerful attributes. First referred to as the "King of Gems" in Sanskrit, Burmese rubies were worn by warriors to make themselves invincible in battle. In medieval Europe, rubies were worn by royalty and elite classes to guarantee health, wealth, wisdom, and success in love.
Today, Ruby is still the best-known and most-adored red gemstone in the world, and it is mined in many areas of the world, including Afghanistan, Kenya, Madagascar, Myanmar (formerly Burma, known for producing the finest quality rubies), Sri Lanka (typically lighter in tone than Burmese rubies), Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries.
Rubies are in the corundum mineral variety, as are sapphires. The most expensive ruby color is a deep, pure, vivid red. Rubies can also contain a hint of pink, purple or orange. Since sapphires also come in pink, purple and orange, and given that rubies are more valuable than sapphires, jewelry professionals in the US make careful distinctions between ruby and sapphire based on the stone's color. The difference depends on the combination of hue, tone, and saturation of red. All gem-quality corundum that is red is classified as ruby, and all other gem-quality corundum that is not red is classified as sapphire. However, there are cultural differences when it comes to classifying rubies and sapphires. For example, stones that would be classified and sold as pink and purple sapphires in the US are often classified and sold as rubies in some Asian countries.
Large, fine quality rubies are extremely rare and valuable. Today, most rubies are treated to improve color and appearance, which makes them available to more consumers. Although Thailand's ruby production has declined since the 1990s, it has the distinction of becoming the world center for the treatment and wholesale trade of rubies. Heat treatment of rubies is so prevalent, experts estimate that up to 95% of all ruby production undergoes some sort of heat treatment, often right at the mines. Another ruby treatment called lattice diffusion is also fairly common - it combines very high temperature in the presence of a coloring agent. Cavity-filling rubies with an epoxy resin or glass is also common, while fracture-filling rubies with an oil or epoxy resin is occasionally done.
Ruby is relatively stable and durable as a gemstone. It is second only to diamond in hardness, rating a 9 on the Mohs scale. Ruby also typically exhibits excellent toughness, but stones with large fractures or inclusions can have durability problems, and certain treatments can cause stones to become less durable.
Ruby jewelry has repair issues though, so caution is dictated. High heat can cause a change in a ruby's color or clarity. Also, certain soldering materials and acids will etch the stone's surface. Treated rubies have even more repair issues. Heat can damage or destroy glass fillings and cause oil fillings to leak out.
Due to the prevalence of treatments, it is not recommended that ruby jewelry be cleaned in an ultrasonic or steam cleaner. While these methods are usually safe for untreated rubies, they are never safe with treated stones. Because it is difficult to detect some treatments without special equipment, the safest approach is to assume that all rubies are treated for purposes of repair and cleaning. The best way to clean ruby jewelry at home is to use warm soapy water and a soft cloth or soft toothbrush, but avoid strong detergents (mild detergent only) and never vigorously scrub a ruby because scrubbing can damage oiled stones.
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