Choosing a Ruby Engagement Ring Stone
A traditional favorite, a ruby engagement ring stone symbolizes love and passion. Learn how to find the gem that best fits your budget and style.
16 Minute Read
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Four Top Tips for Your Ruby Engagement Ring
Before we get into the details, keep in mind these four tips when you're shopping for a ruby.
Tip #1: See Before You Buy
What's the most important thing when choosing a ruby engagement ring? That you like it, of course! While you're shopping, make sure that you can choose the ruby center stone and see its color, clarity, and cut before you buy. These factors can differ from one stone to the next, and there's no industry standard. Keep in mind that one vendor's "AAA" quality is another's "AA."
It can even be difficult to determine ruby quality from a photo. That's why we recommend working with a highly rated custom jeweler like CustomMade. Their experts can help you choose the right stone for your budget and create the perfect ring for you and your sweetheart.
Tip #2: There is No Perfect Ruby
If you're looking for a perfect ruby, odds are you'll fall short of your goal. Ruby expert Richard Hughes has handled a lot of rubies in his career, and he's found color, cut, or clarity to be lacking in every stone above one carat. So, something's gotta give. You can find a perfect but small gem or a larger one with some imperfections. When it comes to rubies, get ready for a little compromise.
Tip #3: Go for the Best Color
Ultimately, if you're buying a ruby, you're looking for a great red color. This is the most important factor in finding a ruby you'll like. Other qualities like clarity are secondary, and only important if they have a major impact on the stone's beauty.
Tip #4: Ask About Enhancements
Enhancements other than the usual heat treatment drastically reduce the price of a ruby. But, they can also impact durability. Be sure to ask about treatments or look at a laboratory report before choosing a ruby center stone.
Are All Rubies Red?
Rubies form under unusual geological conditions. There has to be aluminum and oxygen (the main ingredients) plus a touch of chromium, the rare element that makes rubies red. Seems simple, right? Well, what's not present in ruby is just as important as what's there. If silicon or iron enter the mix, things go awry. Corundum can't form in the presence of silicon, one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust. Too much iron, another common element, will ruin the ruby's color.
These factors conspire to make ruby one of the rarest gemstones on earth. The prized "Pigeon's Blood" color occurs in only a few natural gemstones, and it's rare at even one carat.
The Meaning Behind a Ruby Engagement Ring
Ruby fluorescence under ultraviolet light, including natural sunlight, actually makes the stone glow. In the past, this faint glow caused some to believe that the stones were alive. In other lore, they fluoresce because they contain fire. Glowing rubies seem to visibly represent passion.
Ruby has also been a favorite choice of celebrities and royalty. Jessica Simpson's engagement ring features a ruby center stone, while her sister, Ashlee Simpson received an Art Deco-inspired ring with calibrated-cut rubies. In 1985, Prince Andrew proposed to Sarah Ferguson with a ruby ring to match her red locks. But that's not the only royal engagement ring. Photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones proposed to Princess Margaret in 1960 with a ruby ring made to resemble a flower. The ring design was inspired by the Princess's middle name, Rose.
What Difference Does a Ruby's Source Make?
Ruby mines occur in only a few places, and the ruby's source can make a big difference in price. You might also be concerned about ethical and sustainable mining. Furthermore, while any ruby source can produce gemstones of every level of quality, some are better-known for high-quality rubies.
The traditional source of ruby is Myanmar, formerly called Burma. Burma rubies, which are rarer than diamond, originate in the Mogok Valley, where the gems weather out of hard rock in the surrounding Eastern Himalayas. This source has produced most of the world's most famous rubies, and for good reason. The deposits here are low in iron, and the absence of this element allows rubies to have a really glowing red color, literally. Iron suppresses fluorescence in rubies, making their color less vibrant.
This source produces more rubies with the coveted Pigeon's Blood color than any other, making it the top choice for ruby connoisseurs. Because of their intense color and well-known origin, these rubies are also more expensive than those from other sources.
However, Myanmar is also infamous for human rights violations. In fact, the US embargoed Burma rubies and jade in an attempt to pressure the government. Although the embargo was lifted in 2016, some still have reservations about human rights in this country.
Ultimately, though, the question is complicated. While some of the money made in the ruby trade goes to the government, some enriches the local miners and gem cutters. When it comes to ethical sourcing, there's never an easy answer.
Thailand is another significant source of ruby. Due to a higher amount of iron, these tend to have a slight brownish tint to their red and exhibit less fluorescence than Burma rubies. These rubies were economically important for decades due to the scarcity of Burma rubies. Since the Myanmar mining tract has re-opened, however, Thai rubies have become less common on the market.
In recent years, rubies from Mozambique have caught the gem world's attention. These gems contain more iron than the traditional Mogok deposits but less than the brownish Thai rubies. Often exhibiting fine color, these stones now account for a large portion of rubies on the market.
Of course, there are more ruby sources that may provide a fine stone for an engagement ring. Kenya, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, and Tanzania all produce rubies. A few rubies even come from Australia, Greenland, and the United States.
How to Pick a Ruby Engagement Ring Stone
When you're picking a ruby for an engagement ring, what should you look for? You've probably heard of the Four Cs of diamond quality: color, clarity, cut, and carat. These same Cs are important when choosing a ruby, too.
The most important "C" for ruby is color. If you're getting a ruby it's because you want red. But, there are a lot of different shades of red. Some tend toward pink, some toward brown or purple, and others shine bright like a red traffic light.
Color is the most important aspect in ruby quality and price, but it's not so important that you choose a top-color ruby. What's important is that you find a ruby you love, and that you understand why it might be more or less expensive than others.
In order for the gem to be a ruby, the primary hue in the stone must be red. Top-quality rubies have a pure, medium-dark red hue often called Pigeon's Blood. Slight secondary purple hues are also acceptable in top-quality gems, but stronger purple hues bring down the price.
Fewer people prefer an orange hue to their ruby, so these come at a discount.
Meanwhile, brown hues give the color a more muted look, rather than the brightly saturated pure red. Some prefer the slightly muted color of these gems. They are also less expensive than the more pure hues.
How Dark Should a Ruby be?
Again, this is a matter of personal preference. Some prefer darker tones, while others go for a medium-tone pink-red ruby.
While a medium-dark tone gives the red hue its best saturation, these gems also come with a bigger price tag. Brown hues often accompany darker gems, while lighter gems border on pink.
In fact, the distinction between red and pink is a matter of debate among gem dealers. That's because pink is simply a lighter tone of red, not a different hue. Some argue that pink sapphires are actually rubies, even if they're light-colored rubies. Hot pink rubies often lie on the border between ruby and sapphire and offer a bright pop of color at a discount compared to a pure red.
Rubies often exhibit color zoning, lighter and darker areas in the stone. Don't worry so much if you see this from the side of the stone. It's actually common for these gems to have one area of color. Gem cutters will orient the stone to bring out its best color, and that sometimes means that a small patch of color will make the entire gem bright red.
If the stone exhibits color zoning from the top, though, you might want to pass on it. Small color bands that aren't noticeable from a foot away should be fine. But, it you can see it from where you'd normally view a ring, you might want to keep looking.
Don't confuse color zoning with windowing. In color zoned stones, the color itself is poorly distributed. In windowed gems, the cut is too shallow, which creates additional issues.
Windowing occurs in any gemstone with a shallow cut. Often, commercial-quality rubies will exhibit large windows. That means that the color is more intense along the outside of the stone than in the center.
While windowing is also common in unusually large gems, which were cut to retain weight, it's not an ideal look for an engagement ring. The ruby will appear washed-out and won't be as lively as a properly cut gem.
To check for a window, try placing paper with text behind your ruby. If the text shows through, there's a window.
It's also important to look at the pattern of light and dark patches in the gem. While even the best cut gem will show extinction, or dark areas, this shouldn't cover a large part of your ruby.
These dark patches don't scintillate like a well-cut ruby should, and they can take some of the life away from your gem. If extinction covers more than about 25% of your stone, you should consider another. To check this, hold the gem against a pure white background, like a piece of paper. Then look at how much of the stone shows dark patches without light return.
After color, it's important to consider your ruby's clarity. This doesn't refer to transparency, but rather the crystals and fractures within the ruby. Rubies commonly contain visible imperfections, or inclusions, but their location, size, and color can make a big difference to how the finished gem looks.
Large, dark imperfections like crystal inclusions are the most noticeable. If this type of inclusion is right under the ruby's table, the large facet on top of the gem, it will be very noticeable.
Instead, look for a gem with several smaller imperfections or ones placed under the crown near the outside of the ruby. These will be less noticeable. Jewelry settings can even hide certain imperfections near the edge of the stone, so talk with your jeweler to see if that's the case.
In addition, ask about internal features that might cause durability issues. Fingerprints, feathers, veils, twinning planes, and surface-reaching fractures can make your ruby more likely to break if you knock it. That's not an ideal situation for an engagement ring.
Although transparency isn't a part of the Four Cs, it can have a big impact on price. Opaque stones sell for much less than transparent rubies. Even a transparent gem can appear somewhat cloudy. If you find that your budget is better suited to opaque rubies, you might want to consider lab-created gems
The quality of the cut is the next "C" to consider. Most rubies receive poor cuts, with windowing and bulges. Gem cutters have to make careful considerations to get the most out of the rough gem, and they often try to retain weight and create a more even color. For this reason, some ruby cuts look a little odd.
Because of the shape of the rough stone, most rubies have oval or cushion shapes. Round, pear, marquise, and emerald cuts come at a premium, so you can expect to pay a little more for these shapes.
Keep in mind that mined rubies rarely have excellent cuts. Instead, the cut quality is mostly determined by its outcome: does it look pretty? Fortunately, most consumers can judge this, but here are some specific things to look for.
First and foremost, make sure that your ruby has good symmetry. It's the most obvious indicator of cut quality, and an important factor in how your ring will look in the end.
Round-cut rubies shouldn't have any flat areas or bulges.
In addition, take a look at the shape and make sure it's appealing to you. If a shape looks a bit off, even if you can't pinpoint why, it's not the right ruby for your engagement ring.
The rounded parts of ovals, pears, and hearts should be well-shaped, without bulges or flat areas.
The points on pears, hearts, and marquise gems should be sharp and well-defined.
Take a look at the side of the stone and make sure it doesn't look too deep or shallow. This would likely result in extinction and windowing, respectively, and rubies with poor proportions don't make for great center stones.
For elongated shapes, consider the length-to-width ratio. For example, while some like shorter, fatter ovals, others prefer them to be more elongated.
In general, we recommend that you avoid ambiguous shapes, such as shapes that aren't quite round but not elongated enough to be an oval, or just a little off-square.
Consider Standard Measurements
If you're buying a standard size ruby to match a pre-made ring, make sure it's the right size. Getting a ruby too big or too small for the setting will result in an expensive headache.
On the other hand, designing a custom ring will allow you to choose a ruby based first and foremost on the above quality factors rather than a predetermined size. CustomMade is one choice for designing a unique ruby engagement ring.
Carat, or weight, doesn't impact quality, but it makes a huge difference in price. Fine rubies are rare at any size, and with per-carat prices, larger rubies can have enormous price tags.
Ruby pricing jumps at one, two, three, and five carats. Fine rubies above five carats are extremely rare, and prices will be negotiable. Consult a ruby expert if you're considering a large ruby engagement ring.
What are the Best Money Saving Options for Ruby Engagement Ring Stones?
So, how can you get a ruby engagement ring without breaking the bank? Rubies are some of the most expensive gems around, with fine, untreated rubies reaching prices higher than diamonds. Fortunately, there are ways to save on a ruby engagement ring.
Nearly all rubies on the market undergo heat treatment. This treatment is common, widely accepted, and mimics natural processes. It improves the ruby's color and clarity permanently, making lower-quality rubies more attractive.
If you're looking at untreated rubies, you'll be paying anywhere from 30% more to four times as much compared to a heat-treated ruby. That's a lot of dough!
Heat treatment brings fine ruby prices down from sky-high to slightly less than a diamond of similar size, making it affordable for most engagement ring budgets.
Of course, if your heart's not set on an mined ruby, opting for a lab-made ruby gives you a lot of leeway. Laboratory-made rubies are real rubies. They're chemically and optically identical to an Earth-made ruby.
But, laboratory conditions allow the ruby to grow in optimal conditions. There should be bright, even color and good clarity in all lab-made rubies. Better yet, with lower prices you can opt for a larger size.
What Treatments to Avoid
Still, not every cost-saving measure is a good idea. There are some ruby treatments or enhancements that drastically lower the value of the gem and also introduce durability issues.
Diffusion treatments or beryllium treatments alter the color in the outer layers of the gem. These are often marketed as "red sapphires." With this treatment, if the stone is scratched or chipped and needs a re-polish, polishing will take the color away, too.
Avoid leaded glass rubies. In these stones, dealers fill the stone's cracks with glass, giving it a better clarity. They sell for about 30% the price of a heat treated ruby, but the stone is likely to break.
If you're just looking for a red gemstone, there are plenty of options. Two in particular stand out as excellent, durable, cheaper alternatives to ruby.
First is red spinel. These natural red gems can reach the same pure, bright red hues as ruby, but at a fraction of the price. In fact, they're such a good imitation that the Black Prince's Ruby in the British crown is actually a spinel. They're durable and rare, too, making them a great alternative to rubies in an engagement ring. Take a look at our spinel buying guide for more information.
If spinels fall just outside your budget, try searching for a red or hot pink tourmaline. These stones are also durable, but they're common enough that prices stay low. In addition, tourmaline is one of the October birthstones, making it easy to find at any store. Our rubellite buying guide has more information on choosing red and pink tourmaline.
Ring Settings for Rubies
Since durability isn't an issue, you're free to create any design you can imagine for your ruby engagement ring. Bringing the stone high off the finger gives it more light, making it scintillate and show its best color. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
While some like the cool look of platinum or white gold with their ruby, many like to set rubies in yellow gold to bring out the stone's warmth. Remember, you could always pair a yellow gold setting with a white gold band for the best of both worlds.
Caring for Your Ruby Engagement Ring
The level of care that rubies require depends greatly on their treatments. Untreated rubies and heat-treated rubies are both stable and durable. These gems, as well as lattice-diffused rubies, are fairly resistant to heat, light, and most chemicals. They can be cleaned in ultrasonic and steam cleaning systems.
Mild acids can damage fracture-filled or dyed rubies. Clean these gems with damp cloths only. Boric acid can damage any type of ruby, so keep your ring away from any solutions that contain it.
Lattice-diffused stones usually only have a shallow layer of color. Scratches or re-polishing can easily remove it. Treat these stones very carefully or their inner color will show through, giving them a messy look.
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison’s interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth’s geological processes began in her elementary school’s environmental club. When she isn’t writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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