If you are looking to learn more about vintage ruby engagement rings, you have come to the right place. In this article you will learn everything you need to know to make an informed purchase.
Below is a table of contents covering what is included in this article, you can click to be taken to that section of the article, or start from the top and read it all!
What is a Ruby?
A Ruby is a gemstone that comes from the mineral known as corundum (the same mineral as sapphires). Chromium present in corundum creates a red color and what we know of as ruby.
Rubies are rated as a 9 on the MOHS scale of hardness, with diamonds being a 10. This means that rubies are very durable and can last a lifetime.
Rubies are considered one of the 4 precious stones, along with emerald, sapphire, and diamond. The price of a ruby will vary widely, depending on it's cut, clarity, color, and carat weight. Color and clarity are the biggest factors in determining the value of a ruby.
History of Ruby Rings
In ancient times, ruby was considered one of the most prized gems, in fact, in ancient India ruby was called the “ratnaraj” or the “king of precious stones.” Historically ruby was considered the preferred jewel for weddings. Ruby is heavily valued in Asian cultures and it is one of the gems placed on the crowns of the British Royals.
The word ruby comes from the Latin word for red, "ruber". The color red symbolizes love and passion, making it the perfect stone for engagement rings. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it is said that diamonds were frequently paired with rubies to symbolize both eternity and love.
In the Victorian era, rubies were combined with other gemstones to create acrostic rings, in which the first letter in the name of each stone spelled out the word "dearest," (i.e., diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, and topaz).
What do Rubies Symbolize?
Rubies are associated with passion, love, desire, devotion, integrity, courage, happiness and success. It is no wonder they are considered incredibly romantic and have been used as a symbol of marriage.
Because every ruby on the planet is slightly different, they are associated with uniqueness, truth, and trust. They are known as the "Stone of Nobility" and are said to amplify energy and bring light, contentment, and peace to your life. Legend has it, that rubies can bring distanced lovers back together.
Rubies are believed to be closely linked to the sun, therefore possessing the energetic properties of bringing vitality, passion, and power to those who wear it. Folklore tells us that ruby stimulates the heart chakra, contributes to physical and emotional balance, and detoxifies the body and blood.
Rubies are popular in engagement rings, but are not considered traditional. If your fiance is one who likes to dance to the beat of their own drum and doesn't mind standing out, a ruby is the perfect unique and dramatic stone.
The Following Video will give you an Understanding on Ruby Quality
How are Rubies Valued?
When determining the value of a Ruby, jewelers look at the 4 c's, cut, clarity, color and carat. Colored stones such as ruby, sapphire, and emerald have the majority of their value based on their color.
Ruby Color Grading
When buying a colored stone, it is vital to know that color is the most important characteristic of the gem, it can determine 50% of the gems value. When we talk about color, we are referring to three things: hue, saturation, and tone.
Rubies are graded based on the hue that they present. The more red a ruby is, the more valuable it is. Rubies can also contain secondary hues, including orange, purple, violet, and pink.
When describing a stone, the dominant hue is capitalized. Other hues present are not capitalized and may be further described as “sl” for slightly and “st” for strongly.
Example: slpR means (sl) slightly (p) pink (R) red, with red being dominant because it is capitalized.
Tone refers to a color’s relative lightness, from colorless (0) to black (10). A deep tone of about 6 is the most desirable.
Example: The tone number of 0 will mean the stone has hardly any color, if a stone has a tone number of 6, it has a good amount of tone to it, without it being too dark and washing out the color.
Saturation refers to a color’s intensity, from grayish or brownish (1) to vivid (6). The more vivid the saturation, the more valuable the stone.
Example: A stone with the grading of 1 will be muted, having more brown or grey in it, whereas a stone with a grading of 6 will have vivid color saturation.
decoding Ruby Color Grading
When looking at the quality of a gem, you may see something like this: slpR 5/6.
What does this mean? Well, the letters refer to the hue. The dominant hue is capitalized, in this case, Red. The secondary hue (p=pink) is not capitalized and is described by “sl” for slightly. Following is two numbers, the first number represents the tone, and the second, the saturation.
The most valued rubies are vivid medium-dark toned red. These include:
- R 5/6
- R 7/5
- slpR 5/6,
- slpR 6/6,
- slpR 7/5
- stpR 6/6
Emerald cuts add the most value to a ruby stone, followed closely by round, pearl, and marquis cut. Oval and cushion cuts are common. Cabochon cuts are often used for rubies with visible inclusions.
A well cut stone will be fiery with lots of flash and sparkle. All facets should be symmetrical and smooth, without pits or lines. The pavilion (bottom) of the stone should be a significant depth to allow you to see bright reflections across the entire face of the stone. Shallow cut stones will not be as brilliant as well cut gems.
Rubies are expected to have inclusions, an inclusion-free ruby is very rare. The less inclusions a ruby has, the higher its value. Any inclusions that affect the ruby's luster and brilliance will reduce its value. Inclusions that decrease the transparency of the stone or are located at the very center of the gem will also lower the value.
In general, the cleaner a ruby looks, the more expensive it is. Be wary of ruby's that look flawless, as this could mean that the gem is synthetic. Inclusions in rubies are a good thing, they act as a fingerprint, showing the individuality of a stone.
"Eye-Clean" stones will have the highest price tag, they will have inclusions, but ones that are not visible to the naked eye.
Inclusions Common in Ruby
- Silk - Look like fine silk fibers inside the stone. These inclusions have little impact on color and clarity. In mass quantity, they can whiten the ruby and effect light performance in the stone.
- Crystals - Look like small pinpoints or grains. These are more solid inclusions that come in various shapes and sizes. Crystals are white or black and can significantly impact the rubies color, visibility, and light performance. These inclusions are best avoided.
- Needles - Look like long, slender inclusions. They are either crystals or narrow tubes. Needle inclusions can look a bit glassy, and they can affect light performance but have little impact on color. If they are large enough, they can look like a scratch.
- Crack or Feather - Also known as fractures and fissures. Feather-like in appearance. These inclusions can impact the structural integrity of the ruby.
- Twinning - These are technically crystals, but are structurally two growing out of one another. Twinning makes crystals more visible. They can diminish light performance and whiten or darken color.
- Fingerprints - A common inclusion, these inclusions are clustered together and look like small human fingerprints. The small size of these inclusions mean that they don't usually impact the quality of the ruby.
- Cavity - Small holes that extend into the ruby from the surface. Large cavities can affect the structural integrity of the ruby, and can make the ruby look broken.
- Scratches/Abrasions - Surface blemishes that look like rough scrapings. They can sometimes be polished away, depending on size, location, and depth. Typically quite visible because they are on the surface.
- Color Zoning - Color does not look uniform across the entire body of the gem. Inclusions can cause color zoning and make portions of the ruby look pink.
Rubies are typically clarity graded on a letter scale with AAA being the finest.
- Natural AAA - The top 10% of natural rubies available. They have minimal eye-visible inclusions and a beautiful transparency with a signature medium dark red color called “pigeon blood” color. AAA rubies are very expensive and are typically used in very fine jewelry.
- Natural AA - The top 20%-30% of natural rubies available. They have a medium dark red color and are moderately to slightly included. AA rubies are typically used in fine jewelry by leading independent/family jewelers.
- Natural A - The top 50%-75% of natural rubies available. They have a light or medium red color and are heavily to moderately included. They are typically used in fine jewelry by mall jewelers or small family jewelry shops.
Gem-quality rubies larger than 1 carat are rare. The bigger the stone, the more expensive it will be. The price of a ruby shoots up with its carat weight. A 2 carat ruby will cost twice as much as a 1 carat ruby.
Synthetic, Fake, and Treated Rubies
The first synthetic rubies came to the market in 1908. Synthetic ruby is lab created and is technically still a real ruby, made of the same basic elements, but was not formed in the Earth. A naturally formed ruby will always cost more than a man-made one. Deciding to purchase a man-made or natural stone is a matter of personal choice and budget.
Glass or plastic imitations can mimic the look of a ruby. Less expensive stones such as spinel or garnets are sometimes passed off as genuine rubies. To avoid being duped into buying a stone labeled as a ruby, but isn't, make sure your ring has been inspected by a gemologist.
You should know that most rubies are heat treated. Heat treatments have been preformed on rubies for thousands of years, and are a standard in the gem trade. You should assume a ruby has been heat treated until proven otherwise. Heat treatments enhance color and remove rutile inclusions, while maintaining the stones durability and value.
Other treatments such as diffusion coloring or filling fractures with polymers or leaded glass, will affect the value and structural integrity of a ruby.
How to Tell A Synthetic From a Real Ruby
As long as you are buying a ring from a trusted seller who offers certification from a Gemologist, you can be sure that the stone you are buying is real. See our list of trusted sellers.
- inclusions (e.g., natural gaseous and fluid bubbles)
- spectroscopic measurements
- the presence of flux inclusions and non-natural gas inclusions. Synthetic corundum may contain a visible seed crystal (esp. in older gems)
- wispy white veils
- strain cracks
- color looks too good or gem is too prefect
Ruby Clarity Enhancing Treatments
The majority of rubies are heat treated to remove rutile inclusions and improve the color tone and saturation. Heat treatments are permanent and mimic the natural process rubies go through in their formation.
During the heating process, a ruby is placed under a high temperature of 1800 degrees. The heat dissolves inclusions to improve color, clarity and transparency. Heating rubies in this way does not effect their value.
Flux Healed Rubies
Before the heating process, the ruby is coated in a flux material, this material prevents rubies from sticking together during the heat treatment. The flux material can melt and penetrate cracks or fissures in the ruby, this gives greater clarity to the stone, but decreases its value due to the addition of foreign material.
Beryllium Diffused Rubies
Diffusion treatments first entered the marketplace in the late 1970’s. Beryllium is added to the ruby as it is being heated. The treatment intensifies the color by permeating the crystal lattice.
Glass Filled Rubies
Used to enhance low-grade rubies that contain lots of cracks and fissures. In this treatment, the ruby is bleached, and then treated with the addition of liquefied glass. The glass penetrates the ruby and fills the surface cracks, increasing clarity.
This treatment is not very stable, as temperature fluctuations or cleaning with ultrasonic cleaners can cause the glass to fall out of the ruby. The value of glass treated rubies is very low.
Ruby Heat Treatment Labels
E or H label
These gemstones have been subject to heat to improve their color and appearance, they are gems that still retain excellent stablility. This enhancement is the best option for an engagement ring that will be worn everyday.
This treatment involves filling the surface of the ruby with lead glass to minimize the fracture and improve the gemstone’s smoothness. This enhancement will decrease the value of the ruby, as well as its structural integrity. Rings made with this type of treated ruby will need to stay away from heat and extreme pressure, otherwise they will break.
D or R Label
This label refers to (D) dying or (R) irradiating. These gems will have poor stability and rubies that undergo this treatment should avoid exposure to heat, household cleaning materials, and extreme pressure.
Watch this Video on How to Tell if a Ruby has Been Filled with Glass
Metal Choices for Vintage Engagement Rings
The warm, red tone of a ruby goes best with rose gold and yellow gold, but platinum, white gold, and silver can look beautiful as well.
Platinum is a pure white metal that is extremely durable and resists scratching for years of wear. It is naturally hypoallergenic so it won't irritate sensitive skin.
Platinum was a popular jewelry material from the 1890's until the 1940's at the start of World War II when platinum was needed for the war effort and could not be used in jewelry. Platinum jewelry was very popular during the Edwardian era.
Gold comes in a variety of colors including white, green, yellow, and pink (or rose). It is one of the most popular metals used in jewelry, with 10k, 14k, and 18k being the most common.
Yellow gold is turned into white gold by covering the surface in rhodium. This plating will eventually wear, so you will either need to get your ring re-coated, or your ring will start to return to a yellow gold color.
Rose gold looks great on all skin tones and symbolizes love. Yellow gold symbolizes fidelity, while white gold represents friendship.
Silver is a softer metal, meaning it is prone to scratching and other damage. Silver has a tendency to oxidize when worn daily, and for this reason, it is not a great choice for an engagement ring.
Vintage Design Periods
Rubies show up throughout history and in all design periods. The most sought after design periods for vintage rings are Art Deco and Edwardian.
Tips on Buying a Vintage Ruby Engagement Ring
Vintage jewelry is a huge market and it can be hard to sort through the choices. You want to make sure you are getting what you pay for. Always be wary if a price seems to good to be true - because it probably is.
Shopping online is a great way to take your time to find the perfect ring. I personally love to shop on Etsy for my vintage jewelry; there are many excellent and knowledgeable sellers to browse through.
- Know the ring size that you need.
- Start with a budget, there are various price points for engagement rings, so it is good to know ahead of time how much you want to spend.
- Always ask a potential seller for details about your ring and the stone within it, honest sellers will be open about the details they know.
- Read customer reviews and feedback about a seller before purchasing.
- Make sure your ring comes with certification such as a lab report or gem identification report done by a Gemologist certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) proving the quality of the stones and metal.
Buying a vintage ruby ring for the love of your life is not too difficult of a process. Armed with the knowledge from this article will help you navigate the vast selection that is out there. Work with your seller to make sure you are getting a high-quality ring, and you will not be disappointed.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below! I always answer and am here to help.
4 thoughts on “Buyers Guide to Vintage Ruby Engagement Rings”
First of all, I have to say this is a beautiful website.
I’ve actually been wanting to go to school to learn to cut gemstones, and make jewelry. I do currently make wire wrapped jewelry. It’s one of my favorite hobbies.
I love learning about gemstones, and crystals. Especially their metaphysical properties. If you believe in crystal healing, rubies are said to help with depression. It’s also my birthstone. 🙂
Thanks for your kind words Dana!
I learned so much more than expected from reading this article. I hadn’t heard of inclusions before. I kind of thought the clearer the better when it comes to jewels, but it makes so much sense to have a ruby with some inclusions as a sort of fingerprint.
I love the idea of a jewel being unique and individual. I have a small imperfection in my engagement ring that my husband wanted to fix, but I think I’ll keep it as a way to recognize it’s mine. 🙂
Hi Jaime, you are right, little imperfections add uniqueness and charm to a ring 🙂