King of the Ancient Gemstones: Ruby Trumps Diamond
Western culture has a relatively shallow relationship with gemstones. Most people place great value on diamonds as being symbolic of commitment and only a few know this entire ritual began in a 1947 De Beers advertising campaign which pushed the line: "A Diamond is Forever.” To understand the inordinate importance of gemstones in history one needs to turn from the blinding light of diamonds because in reality, right up to the mid-20th century, rubies were a girl’s best friend.
Two crystals of lustrous and translucent, cherry red ruby with exquisite micro-details on the faces and sharp bevelled edges. The larger one, exhibiting superb crystal form, measures 1.5 cm across. Recovered from: Winza, Mpapwa, Mpapwa (Mpwampwa) District, Dodoma region, Tanzania. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Magical Superstition of the Ruby
Ruby is one of the traditional ‘cardinal’ gems along with amethyst, sapphire, emerald, and diamond and the word ruby comes from ruber, Latin for red. When rubies are mined they are light pink to blood-red in color and the gemstone is composed with the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). In 1913 the famous gem explorer George Frederick Kunz wrote The Curious Lore of Precious Stones ; and his subtitle underlines the ruby spectrum in history, its topics included; Folk Lore, Superstitions, Symbolism, Mysticism, Use in Medicine, Protection, Prevention, Religion, and Divination, Crystal Gazing, Birthstones, Lucky Stones and Talismans, Astral, Zodiacal and Planetary. Speaking of the magical healing properties of rubies Kunz said they were: “sovereign remedies for hemorrhages of all kinds, as well as for all inflammatory diseases; they were also believed to exercise a calming influence and to remove anger and discord.’
A naturally occurring ruby (corundum) crystal before faceting. Length 0.8 inches (2 cm). ( Public License ).
Rubies were embalmed in superstitions and have long been associated with protecting financial assets, for example, in 1365 AD Sir John Mandeville the great explorer wrote his book Travels in which he said he had heard that: “Once a man had touched the four corners of his land with his Ruby, then his house, vineyard and orchard would be protected from lightning, tempests and poor harvest.” Furthermore, it was believed rubies changed dulled in color to warn their owner of impending disasters. Whether or not one believes any of these legendary properties of the gemstone, the science of ‘Color Psychology’ associates red with certain very strong emotions.
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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history . www.ashleycowie.com.
Top Image: Diamonds and ruby. ( CC0)
By Ashley Cowie