Coconino Lapidary Club




Ancient Rubies


In this continuation of blogs about the corundum gem varieties, sapphire and ruby, I will first describe the trade routes that first brought the gems, from their mines in the East, to the Roman Empire, then to the rest of Europe. I will also present a gallery of ruby jewelry and artworks designed and made by artisans of the Grecian and Roman Empires and those of the Victorian Era, as well. 


As shown in Table I, sapphires and rubies were mined in the East, before 543 BC in what is now Sri Lanka; before 600 AD in what is now Myanmar; before 951 AD in Afghanistan; before 1408 AD in what are now Thailand and Cambodia. Mining began in 1879 in the Kashmir province of India. Interestingly the mines in the East were the sole sources of sapphires and rubies until the discovery of these gems in Madagascar.

The overland and maritime routes of the Silk Road between the East and West served to bring sapphires and rubies from their sources in the East to the Mediterranean, and particularly to coastal cities of the Roman Empire [Ref 1, Ref 2]. The relationship of the port locations serving the Silk Road, to the sources of the gems, are shown in Figure 1. As seen in the figure, sources of rubies and sapphires in what is now Thailand, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, were in close proximity to the ports serving the maritime routes. Trade along the Silk Road, beginning in 2 BC, provided sapphire and ruby gemstones to the Etruscan and Roman Empires, as well as to Europe, later on. Both overland and maritime routes also served to bring the gemstones to the Mughal Empire in what are now India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  


Before 543 BC [Ref 1,2,3] Sri Lanka Gemstones appeared in Etruscan jewelry  (700 BC to late 4th Century BC).
Before 600 AD [Ref 1] Myanmar (Burma) Mentioned in ancient legends. Europeans reported source in 15th century.
Before 951 AD [Ref 1] Afghanistan Ruby mines on border with Tajikistan since 10th century.
Before 1408 AD [Ref 1,4]  Thailand/Cambodia More sapphire and ruby deposits in Thailand than in Cambodia
1879 [Ref 5] Kashmir State, India Blue sapphires discovered in Padar region.
After 1891 [Ref 1] Madagascar Sapphire and ruby occurances first described in 1547.
1895 [Ref 6] Yogo Gulch, Montana, USA Noted for deep blue color
1950 [Ref 1] Tanzania Ruby deposits still being discovered.
1973 [Ref 1] Kenya Most important deposit near Mangari in SE Kenya.
1970’s [Ref 1] Vietnam First major discovery in province of Luc Yen. Major commercial mining began 1980’s.
2008 [Ref 1]
Mozambique Deposit found near Zambia border.


In a search of the web for examples of ancient ruby jewelry and art objects from the Roman and Hellenistic Era to the Victorian Era, I found a dearth of examples of ruby jewelry, in contrast to finding examples of both sapphire and garnet jewelry. Studies from ancient sources show that ruby jewelry was extremely rare and that the red garnet was the most popular gem in the Helenistic Era, but somewhat less popular in the Roman empire [Table, PP 175-176 Ref 1]. 

Accordingly this gallery presents examples of ruby jewelry and art works from the Medieval Era [Ref 9] to the Victorian Era

Medieval Era

Figure 1. Gold ring brooch set with rubies and sapphires, English circa 1275-1300[Ref 10].
Figure 2. Crown of Princess Blanche with rubies, sapphires, and pearls, English probably 1370-80 [Ref 11, Ref 12].
Figure 3. Reliquary brooch, set with rubies and other gemstones, 
Bohemian(?) mid-14th century [Ref 13].
Figure 4. Ring with ruby and opal set in gold, circa 1300-1325 [Ref 14].

Renaissance Era [Ref 15]

Figure 5. Pendant with baroque pearls and set with rubies, diamonds, and sapphires, known as The Canning Jewel, English, 16th century [Ref 15, Ref 16].
Figure 6. Portrait frame, worn as a pendant and set with rubies, emeralds and pearls. English, 1547-1619) [Ref 17].
Figure 7. Gold Gimmel Ring with ruby and diamond, German dated 1631[Ref 18, Ref 19].
Figure 8. Enameled gold scent holder (pomander) set with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, Netherlands 1600-1625 [Ref 20].
Figure 9. Gold snuffbox set with rubies, diamonds, mother of pearl. Berlin, circa 1765 [Ref 21].]

Victorian Era [Ref 21] 

Figure 10. Victorian Burmese Ruby and diamond necklace, English, circa 1850 [Ref 22, Ref 23].
Figure 11. Diamond and ruby pendant necklace, French circa 1900 [Ref 24].
Figure 12. Ruby and diamond set gold ring, 1890s [Ref 25].
Figure 13. Ruby and diamond pendant, circa 1900 [Ref 26].
Figure 14. Gold cross pendant set with rubies and 
green sapphires with cannaetille work, late Victorian Era [Ref 27, Ref 28].
Figure 15. Dutch East Indies Javanese Royal Presentation cane set with rubies and diamonds, Java 1800-1900 [Ref 28, Ref 29].


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Ref 29.