She is too shy for her thirst,
but the butterfly inside is a desert aching for the sky.
There is never enough sweet in her water.
An old herbalist, neck heavy with corals,
advises in search of zamzam and for the desert
that holds this sacred mineral water,
thick with the shadow of God.
— from The Difference Between Rubies and Pomegranates
by Zohra Saed
The name ruby comes from the Latin word ruber, which means red. It is a favorite gem among those in power and those in love, arguably inspiring more emotion than almost any other stone.
Ruby’s coveted red color ranges from medium red to dark orangey red to purplish red. The reddest rubies, looking perhaps like crystallized blood, most likely convinced ancient peoples of ruby’s medicinal powers. Thirteenth century medical literature from India tells us that a ruby could cure digestive disorders.
Warriors in Burma put rubies under their skin to protect them in battle. Other ancient cultures felt that rubies brought peace and prosperity. If you wore a ruby ring, it would bring health, wealth, wisdom, and love. Some even believed that if you wore a ruby ring or ruby brooch on the left side (the side of the heart), you would have a magical ability to live among your enemies in peace.
Some ancient folktales explained that rubies, as well as other gemstones, grew on trees, just like fruit. The rubies would begin budding as small white gems, and would slowly grow and ripen, turning red in the light of the sun. When the ruby was saturated with red color, it was ready to be plucked.
Ruby is deemed to be the most precious of gemstones by the Bible and the ancient Sanskrit writings. Indeed, upon discovery of each ruby crystal, the emperors of ancient India would give a special royal welcome to this King of Gemstones.
In the 1880’s, French jewelers called the ruby the gem of gems or the “dearly loved stone.” In England, it was used for coronation rings, and to this day enjoys the highest popularity among royalty. Sarah Ferguson (Fergie), the Duchess of York, received a ruby engagement ring from Prince Andrew. (Actually, for all you fans of the Royal family, I believe the story goes that when Andrew proposed, it had an emerald on it. Fergie made him change the stone to a ruby. A pretty clear indication of how things were likely to go in that marriage!)
Rubies are the scarcest of all gemstones and command extremely high prices. Their average size is also generally less than any other gemstone’s. Today, rubies have numerous practical applications: as styluses in turntables, as tiny bearings in expensive wristwatches, and in rod form, they form a crucial component at the laser’s core.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss some of the many magical uses for rubies.