July’s birthstone is ruby. Given that July is a month dedicated to Julius Caesar—a dictator who died in a pool of his own blood–the red gemstone seems somehow appropriate. But then, July has always been a month for red hot passions, whether murderous rages or ardent love affairs. In that respect, with its own internal fire, ruby is the ideal birthstone for the hottest month of the year.
Because ruby represents such fiery human passions, it’s a common alternative to diamond for engagement rings. This might also be because ruby is the red variety of corundum, an extremely durable mineral that scores a 9 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, second only to diamonds. As a birthstone it rates highly because of this hardness and also because it doesn’t require special care.
Whereas diamonds and most other translucent gemstones are valued primarily for their clarity, color is the most important factor for rubies. This is because it’s nearly impossible to find a flawless ruby. Inclusions are the main way that experts can tell genuine rubies apart from synthetics or simulated rubies. So while rubies range from orange to purple, the richer the red, the more costly they are.
In truth, there is something of a special glow to the reddest of the red rubies. Since ancient times, ruby admirers have commented on the stone’s ability to cast fiery light. Chinese Emperors claimed they could light up banquet halls with rubies alone. These stories are certainly exaggerated, but may have originated from an actual scientific property of rubies called fluorescence. Under certain conditions, a ruby absorbs blue light, goes into an excited state, and emits radiation on the red end of the spectrum. This quality led scientists to choose rubies for the creation of the first lasers.
But before July’s birthstone was put to use in modern technology, ruby beaded jewelry was prized purely for its symbolic qualities. For thousands of years, rubies have been one of the most sought after gems on earth, and one of the rarest. Ruby was one of the twelve gemstones on the breastplate of Aaron in the bible and has always represented fire and blood. Moreover, royals believed that if held by its rightful owner, ruby beaded jewelry would change color to warn of danger. Most famously, Katherine of Aragon is said to have foreseen her fall from political grace when her ruby darkened.
Ancient Indians called ruby the “king of gemstones” and when a large ruby was found, a diplomatic envoy was sent to officially greet the stone as if it were a demi-god. Ruby beaded jewelry was also prized by warriors who thought it stimulated their courage and willingness to die for a cause they passionately believed in.
As you can see, rubies have never been associated with any of the soft and lofty emotions that other gemstones bring to mind. Ruby is not meant for cool tempers and tender sentiments. It is a July birthstone, after all, meant to be worn by moody Cancers and fiery Leos. Intensely red and passionately beautiful, July’s birthstone continues to blaze its way through history as one of our most cherished treasures.