The July birthstone is one of the most precious gems, cherished and endowed with innumerable attributes by different peoples.
To the Greeks, rubies were thought to be the ‘living coal,’ as though red hot coals were converted into these desirable stones.
According to Hebrew legend, rubies became symbolic of the boy Reuben whose conduct vis-a-vis his father made him blush! Ruby was also one of the 12 gems which made up the sacred Ephod of the Hebrews.
The ancient Burmese believed that rubies gradually ripened in color, while maturing in the earth, as fruits would ripen on a tree over the course of time.
The Burmese also believed that a ruby could provide invulnerability if it was inserted under the owner’s flesh voluntarily through an intentional wound. A warrior so inflicted, was thought to have been immune to the future piercing and wounding of harmful spears, swords, guns or other implements of war.
Because the early Romans called all red colored gems ‘carbuncles’, (today a term denoting a variety of garnet), it is difficult to interpret precisely the historical significance attached specifically to rubies. Nevertheless, a first century A.D Roman author Pliny, suggested that red stones could be enhanced by placing ‘a red foil beneath them to make them brilliant and glitter like fire,’ which may have been the first reference to foil-backed gemstones.
Pliny’s analytical observations also ascertained that glass imitations of rubies could be detected easily by their difference in weight: ‘For glass imitations are the lighter of the two’, he wrote, referring to what we call today specific gravity and which Gemologists use to identify stones.
Romans also divided rubies into male and female, and Pliny explained that “the males were more vigorous and acrid, the females more languishing…” an evaluation that we have no modern day version to compare to!