One of the most celebrated ruby necklaces of our time was given to a beautiful young woman one morning as she lay by the poolside of the iconic Villa Fiorentina, on the Côte d’Azur.
When her third husband, the American theatre and film producer, Mike Todd, clasped the stunning Cartier diamond and ruby set around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck, it was the gem’s fiery red colour that stole her breath away…
A day of perfect love
Taylor later recalled: “Since there was no mirror around, I had to look into the water – the jewellery was so glorious, rippling red on blue like a painting. I just shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck and pulled him into the pool after me. It was a perfect summer day and a day of perfect love.”
Taylor was a glamorous Hollywood star accustomed to playing the lead-role in many a tale of high romance, yet it is the enchanting allure of the July birthstone, ruby, that steals the limelight in this glittering tableau.
Clearly Todd cast the part well, picking a gem held to arouse the senses, stir the imagination and guarantee success in love. (Notably, he is the only one of Taylor’s seven husbands whom she did not divorce.)
King of gems
Of course Taylor is far from being the first to have fallen for ruby’s rich, carmine allure. First mined in Sri Lanka over 2,500 years ago, the stone has been revered as the foremost coloured gem across cultures dating back to ancient Greece, India, and Asia.
The earliest written accounts are in the ancient language of Sanskrit, where rubies are known as ‘ratnaraj’, meaning ‘king of the gemstones’, and compared to the radiance of ‘the sun new risen’.
As western empires rose to power, rubies became the favoured gemstone of European royalty and aristocracy also, often set as the principal gem in court regalia.
Worth more than…
Unsurprisingly, the stone’s high-ranking status is reflected in its price. In 1550 the renowned Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini, wrote that a fine ruby of only one-carat in size was worth eight times more than a one-carat diamond. Over a century later, in 1676, the famous French voyager and gem merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, wrote: “When a ruby exceeds five carats and is perfect, it is sold for whatever is asked for it.”
Today, fine-quality rubies are commanding the highest price per carat of any coloured gemstone, often breaking auction records. Yet, in the last 25 years, the discovery of a number of large deposits and the development of treatment processes that enhance the colour and clarity of previously noncommercial rubies has opened the market up to a wider audience.
Watch out for
Another factor to affect the market is the sudden influx of outwardly attractive rubies which appeared in the early 2000s. Though sold as genuine treated versions of the stone, it was quickly discovered that many were in fact filled with lead glass to conceal the abundant fissures contained within.
Jewellers and consumers should be wary of lead-glass composites as they are worth far less than natural or treated rubies, and are particularly vulnerable to damage making them unsuitable for jewellery. Make sure you avoid being mis-sold a composite ruby by always purchasing from a reputable jeweller.
A real ruby is a real king of gems and whether, like Todd, you’re searching for the ultimate romantic gift, or rubies already shine out within your collection; it is important to make sure this precious stone is fully insured.