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History & Usage of Rubies

Famous Rubies

Famous Rubies of the World

Many people and cultures have cherished extraordinary rubies for as long as rubies have been a recognized gemstone. Some of the most famous rubies in history can today be found in the collections of world-class museums such as the Louvre and the Smithsonian, and have been prized pieces to be worn by royalty, Hollywood elite, and entrepreneurs the world over. The famous rubies below are some of the pieces that have enchanted generations and still stun to this day:

DeLong Star Ruby

delong star ruby
The DeLong star ruby has one of the most precise 6-ray stars in a 100 plus carat ruby.

Discovered in Burma in the 1930s, this oval-shaped cabochon star ruby weighs just over 100 carats, has a 6-rayed star effect, and was named after its owner, Edith Haggin DeLong. A collector of special gemstones and minerals, DeLong purchased the ruby in 1937 from famed collector Martin Leo Ehrmann who would travel the world searching for unique minerals.

Later, Edith Haggin DeLong donated the special orchid-red star ruby to the American Museum of Natural History where it was named for her in her memory. In 1964, the ruby was one of the items stolen in a scandalous heist by Jack Murphy and two accomplices. They notably also grabbed the Star of India and the Midnight Star, two more famed star-effect gemstones.

While other stolen gems were recovered in January of 1965, the DeLong Star Ruby was ransomed over the course of several months of negotiation. A wealthy Florida businessman, John D. MacArthur, paid the $25,000 ransom and the ruby was recovered at an agreed upon drop-off site: a phone booth.

Rosser Reeves Ruby

rosser reeves star ruby
Reeves often carried this 138.7 carat star ruby, believing it brought him great luck in life.

This legendary Sri Lankan star ruby is one of the largest and finest rubies in the world. Weighing in at 138.7 carats, it is a highly prized ruby specimen with brilliant color and a distinct, centrally aligned star pattern. 

Rosser Reeves was an American advertising executive who wrote “Reality in Advertising” and was strongly drawn to this ruby. He was known to carry the ruby around for good luck, calling it “my baby.” The ruby can now be seen as part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian since Reeves donated it in 1965.

Carmen Lucia Ruby

Mined from Burma in the 1930s, this remarkable ruby is oval shaped weighing 23.1 carats. It is among the largest faceted Burmese rubies in the world, with very high transparency , fluorescence and color saturation – an extremely rare thing to find in rubies of this size. 

carmen lucia ruby
The stunning Carmen Lucia ruby set in a platinum ring with side diamonds on display in the Natural Gem Collection.

The namesake for the ruby never actually owned the ruby. Carmen Lucia was a philanthropist originally from Brazil and the wife of Dr. Peter Buck, a nuclear physicist and philanthropist. Before dying from colon cancer in 2003, Carmen Lucia had seen a photo of this ruby and found it particularly beautiful. Upon her passing, Dr. Buck purchased the ruby and gifted it to the Smithsonian in memory of his wife.

A lover of gemstones with her own extensive collection, Dr. Buck felt Carmen Lucia would have liked the idea of giving the gemstone to a public institution so that members of the public would be able to view and admire it for years to come. Displayed in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, the ruby is set in a platinum ring with two trillion-cut white diamonds on either side.

Sunrise Ruby

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The Sunrise ruby in a custom setting designed by Cartier. Photo credit: Sotheby’s.

Holding the record as the world’s most expensive ruby – actually, the most expensive precious gem that is not a diamond – the Sunrise Ruby is a large pigeon blood ruby, which is considered to be one of the rarest of all gemstones. Tracing its origin to Myanmar, the ruby weighs 25.59 carats and was set between hexagonal diamonds in a platinum ring. 

The Sunrise Ruby was part of a collection of Cartier jewels brought to auction at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva in May of 2015. After a competitive bidding period, the piece went for more than double what was expected at $30.3 million to an anonymous Swiss bidder.

Liberty Bell Ruby

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The exceptionally carved Liberty Bell ruby inlaid with diamonds.

Uncovered in the 1950s in East Africa, the Liberty Bell Ruby is a sculptural piece crafted from the world’s largest mined ruby weighing four pounds and 8,500 carats. The massive ruby was sculpted into a miniature form of the Liberty Bell in 1976 to celebrate the United States Bicentennial. A Beverly Hills based jewelry company commissioned sculptor Alfonso de Vivanco to create the piece with an additional 50 diamonds set in it. 

Shockingly, while secured at a jewelry store in Delaware in 2011 awaiting use by a foundation, the ruby was stolen. A reward was offered for any information about the culprits, and four men were arrested and indicted in 2014 for the heist. The Liberty Bell Ruby has never been recovered, and there is little hope by authorities to believe it will be seen again.

King Thibaw’s Ruby Hordes

Thibaw Min was the final king of the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma, ending Burmese sovereignty with his defeat by the British Empire in 1885. King Thibaw was very fond of rubies due to Burma having an exorbitant amount as the mining capital of the time. He adorned everything he could think of with the gemstones, directing craftsmen to place rubies on crowns, robes, ceremonial daggers, and shoes.

king thibaw rubies
King Thibaw posing during the height of his reign wearing clothes that would often be encrusted with jewels.

In a special feat, craftsmen created ruby-encrusted slippers for the king using raw-cut, polished rubies all along the outside of the slippers that featured a genie-like curl to the toes. King Thibaw also had a pair of slippers created for his queen, with rubies surrounding the sides of the soles.

For a nation rich in rubies, there are unfortunately also going to be darker stories concerning the gemstone. Upon King Thibaw’s defeat and abdication to the British, he and his family were given 24 hours to prepare for exile in India. Colonel Edward Sladen was the chief officer of the invasion, was familiar to the king, he spoke Burmese, and he was entrusted with gaining the surrender and overseeing the king and his family being moved to India.

The king was only allowed to take his most valued possessions, which included the Nga Mauk ruby – an uncut, polished ruby of substantial size well over 80 carats and excellent quality. From here the accounts get murky with the king and queen claiming Sladen took the ruby for safekeeping to return it after their travels, and Sladen claimed he was never in possession of the ruby.

The fate of the Nga Mauk Ruby has been a mystery ever since, inspiring heavily researched books, documentaries, trips through archives, and countless articles. There are many prospects within the British Crown Jewels that could be the Nga Mauk Ruby, but without more access and confirmation, we may never know.

king thibaw leaving mandalay saya chone
A painting by Saya Chone depicting the royal procession of King Thibaw and family leaving Mandalay.

In 2017, King Thibaw’s great grandson U Soe Win traveled to London with a reporter and documentarian friend to see the pieces his ancestors had gifted to the monarchy, as well as to track down any leads and view Sladen’s journals in person. After the visit, and being no closer to finding the Nga Mauk Ruby but sure it must have made it to London, U Soe Win remarked:

“The Nga Mauk reminds us of what we had, and what we could do. It reminds us that once we were a proud, independent nation with a rich history. We have nothing to show from that now to teach the next generations in Myanmar.”

Black Prince’s Ruby, Imperial State Crown of Britain

black princes ruby imperial crown
The Imperial State Crown of Britain with the prominent Black Prince’s Ruby.

Perhaps one of the most famous gemstones in all of the British Crown Jewels, the Black Prince’s Ruby has a fascinating history and isn’t actually a ruby at all, it’s red spinel. For a long time, all red transparent gemstones were automatically believed to be rubies, and this one was such a fine specimen with a storied past, the name has simply stuck.

The Black Prince’s Ruby was believed to have been mined from present-day Tajikistan and appeared during the 14th century as part of the collection of Prince Abu Sa’id of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada. Prince Abu Sa’id was facing relentless attack from King Don Pedro, ruler of Castile, during the Christian Reconquest of Spain where Granada was the last Muslim outpost.

Upon arriving at Seville to discuss the terms of his surrender, Don Pedro killed Abu Sa’id, claiming all of the slain prince’s wealth upon his death. Searching his body, Don Pedro found the enormous red gemstone and took it as his own. It is said that with this gruesome murder, a curse befell Don Pedro and was said to be permanently attached to any who owned the Black Prince’s Ruby.

prince edward black prince battle
A depiction of Prince Edward, the Black Prince, victorious in battle.

Following his win, Don Pedro was challenged by his half-brother, Henry of Trastamara, leading Don Pedro to seek an alliance with Prince Edward III of England. Known as the “Black Prince,” Edward was a great knight and led the army to defeat Henry. Edward demanded the ruby as payment in exchange for a continued alliance, and he brought the jewel back to England in 1367. 

The gemstone currently sits at the front of the Imperial State Crown and has recently been confirmed to be a fantastic specimen of red spinel through technological advancements in mineral studies. One of the world’s largest pieces of uncut red spinel weighing an estimated 170 carats, the gemstone is actually considered to be even more rare than a ruby of this same quality.

Stuart Coronation Ring

A coronation ring has been a part of British Coronation ceremonies for many centuries with each sovereign receiving a new ring at the occasion to symbolize their marriage to the nation. Including a ruby as a principal stone in the ring has been a tradition since the 13th century. Some of these rings remain in the British Royal Collection because until Queen Victoria left all rings to the Crown, coronation rings were considered personal property of the sovereign.

coronation james II history book
The title page of the history of James II’s coronation.

The Stuart Coronation Ring was first worn by James VII and II of Scotland and England for his coronation on April 23, 1685 in Westminster Abbey. The ring features a large table-cut polished violet ruby surrounded by diamonds in silver and set on a yellow gold band. On the ruby, the plain cross of St. George has been engraved.

It is very likely that the Stuart Coronation Ring is even older and originally belonged to Charles I with the etching of the cross added by James II himself or his wife, Mary of Modena. After the Glorious Revolution occurred a few years after James II began his reign, the ring was among the items that James II took with him into exile in 1688. From there it passed to his widow who then left the ring to her grandson who in turn bequeather it to the Prince of Wales in 1807.

The ring finally arrived back in England in 1815 before being loaned by William IV in 1830 to be displayed in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. There is no record of the ring being used again after that, but it still remains a part of the British Collection and is the oldest coronation ring still preserved.

Queen Consort’s Coronation Ring

queen adelaide royal portrait
A royal portrait of Queen Adelaide, the first to wear a Queen Consort’s coronation ring.

Created in 1831 for the coronation of William IV, the Queen Consort’s Ring was made for Queen Adelaide, likely with her specific input. For the coronation, William IV had departed from the tradition of a ruby ring, choosing instead to feature a blue sapphire as the main stone with a cross made of rubies laid over the top.

In a possible move to still honor tradition, the Queen Consort’s Coronation Ring features an extended octagonal mixed-cut ruby in a gold setting surrounded by a halo of fourteen cushion-shaped brilliant-cut diamonds. The gold shank is additionally set with fourteen graduated mixed-cut rubies.

Following the King’s Coronation ceremony, the Queen Consort’s coronation is a very simple and short ceremony, usually taking place in a more private setting. Upon William IV’s passing, he left his coronation ring to Queen Adelaide, and although the rings were her personal property, she felt it would only be proper to leave them to the new Queen. Since Adelaide, all Queens Consort have worn her ring for their ceremonies.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Rubies

No one else in Hollywood is as synonymous with exquisite jewelry as Elizabeth Taylor. Over her lifetime, she cultivated one of the most exceptional, expensive, rare, and beautiful personal jewelry collections not owned by a royal. Many of Taylor’s jewelry pieces, including the ruby jewelry, were gifts from Richard Burton, the man who was married to Taylor twice consecutively.

elizabeth taylor ruby ring christies
Elizabeth Taylor’s famed ruby and diamond ring. Photo credit: Christie’s.

The two were known for their torrid relationship, often marked by gifts of fabulous jewelry. It was remarked that Burton had told Taylor early in their relationship, “One day I’m going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world,” adding, “it’s my favorite stone, red for Wales.”

After years of searching, he found the right gemstone at Van Cleef & Arpels. During the acquisition and design process, Burton corresponded with Pierre Arpels in French, a language he spoke fluently. Finally, for Christmas in 1968, Burton surprised Taylor with the 8.24 carat Burmese ruby, diamond, and gold ring as a stocking stuffer. At the center of the ring is an oval, pigeon blood ruby of exceptional quality in a diamond surround. When the ruby ring sold for auction upon Taylor’s death, it achieved a record price for a ruby, selling for over $4 million, being recognized as one of the most perfect rubies in the world.

elizabeth taylor ruby necklace
A stunning piece of Elizabeth Taylor’s ruby and diamond suite. Photo credit: Christie’s.

Before her marriage to Burton, Taylor had been married to Mike Todd who presented her with many fantastic pieces of jewelry including her famed diamond tiara. One stunning gift was a ruby and diamond Cartier suite of jewels featuring a big necklace, earrings, and a bracelet. When these pieces also came to the same auction, the necklace sold for $3.77 million, the earrings for $782,500, and the bracelet for $842,500.

It is no wonder that with all of these incredible rubies, this fantastic gemstone also has a storied history in other parts of our cultural heritage. We explore leading examples of that next with Rubies in Film & Television.

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