The Diamond Pro

Ruby: Price, Color, Cut & Buying Guide | The Diamond Pro

By Michael Fried
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Like other gemstones, rubies are becoming an increasingly popular choice for engagement rings and other jewelry. With its bold color and striking looks, a ruby can be an eye-catching alternative to a more conventional diamond as a ring’s center stone.

Although buying a ruby isn’t quite as complicated as buying a diamond, there are still several factors that you’ll want to pay attention to. We’ve covered these below, with a range of elegant ruby engagement rings and other jewelry to serve as inspiration.

As always, the vendor you choose for ruby jewelry will have the biggest impact on pricing and value for money. We recommend buying from James Allen thanks to their extensive inventory, excellent photos, reliable certification and competitive pricing.

Another great option is Angara. Their selection of ruby rings and other jewelry is very extensive, especially when it comes to affordable and mid-priced ruby jewelry.

Blue Nile also have a range of pre-set ruby engagement rings and other ruby jewelry. However, their selection is significantly smaller than James Allen’s.

If you’re specifically looking for extremely high-quality rubies that have not been heat-treated, you’ll want to look at Leibish & Co.’s selection. They stock a diverse selection of outstanding rubies graded by GIA and GRS (a Swiss lab that specializes in high-end, untreated rubies).

What is a Ruby?

Rubies are red gemstones that consist in the corundum family. Most rubies have a strong red color, although the precise color of rubies can range from blood-red to orangy-red, purple-red, brown-red or even a pink-red tone.

1.27 CARAT CUSHION NATURAL RUBY
1.27ct Cushion Natural Ruby from James Allen

With renewed interest in colored gemstones taking center stage lately, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the most romantic of all of the precious gemstones, the darling red ruby.

Rubies are made from corundum, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide. The ruby’s red color comes from trace amounts of the element chromium, which replace aluminum in the mineral and change its color. 

When corundum is red, we call it ruby. When it’s any other color, such as blue, yellow, or pink, we call it sapphire. You can identify a ruby alongside other gemstones thanks to its rich, pink to blood-red coloration.

Ruby is said to be one of the rarest of the big three — rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. It’s the birthstone for July, as well as the 15th and 40th anniversary stone.

As with other gemstones, rubies are mined around the world for use in jewelry. Rubies can be found in the following countries:

Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Colombia, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Brazil, Scotland, United States

Rubies have a hardness of 9 on the Mohs’ scale, making them hard gemstones. In fact, they only fall behind the diamond, which scores a perfect 10. 

This bodes well for wearing ruby jewelry every day — thanks to its hardness, you can wear a ruby ring, pendant or a pair of ruby earrings with no need to worry about damaging the stone.

Ruby Jewelry: History and Basic Overview

Historically, ruby jewelry has usually been given as anniversary and birthday gifts. For example, ruby studs, earrings and necklaces are traditional gifts for people born in July, as we’ve covered in our guide to July birthstone gifts.

Ruby jewelry is also a popular gift for 15th and 40th wedding anniversaries. As we explained in our guide to anniversary rings, gifting a pair of ruby earrings or a ruby eternity ring is a great way to symbolize your love and affection for your partner.

Over the last decade, rubies have also become popular as engagement ring center stones. It’s now increasingly common to see ruby engagement rings instead of the traditional diamond, as well as rings that combine a large ruby with a diamond halo or pavé setting.

To see some examples of what a ruby looks like in engagement rings, visit our list of recently purchased rings from our highest-rated retailers.

If you’re considering buying a ruby to be set in a ring, earrings, pendant, or other jewelry, then it’s important to be aware of the key factors that go into a ruby’s appearance, beauty and value as a gemstone. Below, we’ve covered the basics of how to buy the best ruby for your money, covering the four Cs — color, clarity, cut and carat weight — as well as other common questions related to buying ruby jewelry.

Are Rubies More Expensive Than Diamonds?

Although some rubies are incredibly valuable and can command very high prices, most rubies are considerably less expensive than diamonds of the same size.

This lower pricing makes a ruby an appealing alternative to a diamond for an engagement ring or other jewelry. For example, this 1.25 carat ruby only costs $820, whereas a diamond of the same size and reasonable quality, such as this one, costs more than five times as much.

Very high-end rubies can be far more expensive — in some cases, either as expensive or more expensive than diamonds of the same size. For example, this stunning Pigeon Blood ruby from Mozambique costs more than $50,000 — a similar price to a large, oval-shaped diamond.

Ruby Quality Grading Factors

Like diamonds, rubies are assessed using certain quality factors. Of these, the most important, by far, is color. High-quality

rubies have a rich, deep natural color that hasn’t been changed by heat treatment. The stronger and more intense the color, the more valuable the ruby. 

GIA Oval Ruby Infinity Ring with Diamond Halo
GIA Oval Ruby Infinity Ring with Diamond Halo from Angara

Other factors, such as clarity and cut quality, also play a role in a ruby’s value. However, since rubies aren’t prized for their brilliance like diamonds are, the cut quality of a ruby isn’t such a major factor in determining its beauty or value. 

Finally, like with all gemstones, the carat weight of a ruby plays a role in its value, with a larger ruby commanding a higher value than a smaller one. 

An exceptionally high-quality ruby that combines rich, natural color with other quality factors is exceptionally rare and often worth an incredible amount. For example, this stunning 10.6 carat Pigeon Blood ruby from Mozambique is priced at more than $850,000. 

However, good quality rubies don’t necessarily need to cost a fortune. As we mentioned above, it’s very possible to buy a gorgeous ruby for a significantly lower price than a diamond of similar carat weight. 

We’ve covered each of the quality factors listed above in more detail below, with information on how each affects a ruby’s beauty and value. We’ve also provided our tips on choosing the right ruby and ensuring you pay a fair price.

Ruby: Color

RedRuby
1.07 Carat Oval Cut Ruby with Pure Red Hue for $3,260

As with emeralds, the most important factor when evaluating a ruby is its color. The deeper, and more intense the color, the more desirable the ruby. The best ruby color is typically thought of as a deep, vivid red. However, rubies can look stunning in other colors, such as pink or brown-red.

Essentially, we measure the color of a ruby using three criteria: its hue, tone and saturation.

Hue refers to where the ruby falls in the spectrum of other colors. Each ruby has a primary and secondary color. The primary color is red, and the secondary color is usually orange, purple or pink. The more the ruby’s color is strictly red, the more valuable it is.

Secondary Colors

Some rubies mined from specific parts of the world are known to have certain secondary colors, such as rubies from Myanmar, which are known to have a slight purple secondary color.

Purple as a secondary color can actually be better in a ruby because it makes the red appear richer. (Color tip: set a purplish red ruby in yellow gold, like they do in Burma. The yellow color will neutralize the blue in the purple, making the ruby appear even more red.)

Ruby Tones

1.05 Carat Oval Cut Ruby with Purplish Hue for $980
1.05 Carat Oval Cut Ruby with Purplish Hue for $980

The tone of a ruby’s color refers to how light or dark the shade of red is, with most good quality rubies falling somewhere between medium and medium dark tone. If a ruby’s color is too dark, it’s difficult to make out the color. If it’s too light, the color will be too faint.

Also, if a ruby’s tone is too light, it might be considered a pink sapphire — even if the stone has high saturation.

Ruby Saturations

This brings us to our last color criterion, saturation. Saturation refers to the ruby’s depth of color, or how intense the color is. The more intense the color, the more precious we consider the ruby; a well-saturated ruby will most likely have either “strong” or “vivid” color saturation.

Also, rubies that fluoresce (glow in ultraviolet light) can have even greater saturation. And rutile needles, which are tiny inclusions, could improve the ruby’s color by reflecting light from inside the stone.

It should go without saying that if the color of a ruby is by far the most important factor, it would be crazy to even consider buying a ruby sight unseen. This is why we recommend buying ruby jewelry online from James Allen, as their high-resolution photos let you accurately view a ruby’s color before you make a purchase.

There Isn’t an Objective Grading System for Ruby Color

Unlike diamonds, which are graded according to a strict system of letters starting with “D” and going on through the alphabet, colored gemstones such as rubies aren’t graded using any kind of objective system.

Instead, gemological laboratories use master stones in order to contrast colored gemstones to other stones’ hues, tones, and saturations.

This is the only way, for example, that gemologists can distinguish between pink sapphires and rubies. But it also leaves some room for error, so beware of these murky waters if someone is trying to sell you a ruby that looks a lot more to you like a pink sapphire!

Ruby: Clarity

Clarity refers to the number, size, color, location, and quality of imperfections in the ruby, which are known as inclusions. When a gemologist measures the clarity of a diamond, they use 10x magnification to get a super-magnified view of the inside of the stone.

With colored gemstones, however, gemologists do not use magnification; rather, they look for what we call “eye-cleanliness,” which means that the stone is clean or free of inclusions when viewed by the naked eye. The better the clarity, the more expensive the ruby.

All natural rubies will contain some level of inclusions, also known as rutile needles or “silk.” If there are no visible rutile needles in a ruby, gemologists will suspect the ruby has been treated or is synthetic.

Inclusions That Increase Value

Star Ruby Caused by Inclusions
Star Ruby Caused by Inclusions

Today most rubies are heat-treated to improve color and clarity, but rubies that are not and have superb quality can fetch big money at market. For example, Leibish & Co.’s selection of rubies is made up entirely of natural, untreated rubies, with pricing to match.

Interestingly enough, there is one example of inclusions actually increasing the value of the ruby.

This is a rare occurrence called asterism in which three or six-point stars are visible in the stone when viewed under proper lighting.

This happens when light is reflected off the rutile needles, thus creating the star effect.

Ruby: Cut

A ruby’s cut refers to how the stone is faceted, its dimensions, and overall symmetry. Unlike with diamonds, rubies are not graded on cut quality. This is because the cut of a ruby is much less of an important factor to consider than its color and clarity.

But as is the case with most gemstones, the true glow of the ruby is only revealed after a quality cut that maximizes light return and color. There are four factors gem cutters must keep in mind when cutting sapphires and rubies.

  1. Maximize color.
  2. Maximize carat weight.
  3. Minimize inclusions.
  4. Keep in mind what shape the consumer wants, i.e., round, oval, pear, cushion, cabochon, etc.

Ruby: Carat

Finally, let’s consider the ruby’s carat weight. As you’ve probably already guessed, the heavier the carat weight of the ruby, the bigger the price tag. Because larger gemstones are rarer than smaller gemstones, you’ll pay more for a larger ruby based on the laws of supply and demand.

Consider an Non-Rounded Carat Weight for Better Value

Having said that, you should also be aware that there are usually price jumps when you hit one carat, as well as three and five carats. If you want to buy a one carat ruby, consider going for a 0.9 ct. Instead. While you won’t notice the difference in the size of the stone once it’s set, you’ll definitely notice the savings in your wallet.

Types of Rubies

Rubies come from all around the world and are available in a range of different shapes and red shades. However, most rubies are categorized into certain types based on the country or region from which they’re mined. Common types include:

  • Burmese rubies. Rubies from Burma, now Myanmar, are commonly regarded as some of the world’s most desirable. Burmese rubies have a deep red color that stands out and can look particularly special.
  • Thai rubies. Thai rubies have a deeper but less intense color than Burmese rubies and are typically considered second in quality. You’ll typically find a higher level of chromium and iron in these rubies, which contributes to their unique color.
  • African rubies. Rubies from African countries such as Kenya and Mozambique have a dark red or red-purple color. Dark red African rubies are popular and desirable thanks to their rich, unique coloration.
  • Pigeon Blood rubies. Rubies with a “pigeon blood” color are particularly desirable and valuable. These rubies have a bright red hue with a mild purple tint. Viewed under light, they appear deep red in color.

    Many Pigeon Blood rubies are sourced from Myanmar. Natural Pigeon Blood rubies are rare and command a significant value. Many people love their incredible color, although, like with all gemstones, taste is subjective and you may prefer a different tone of red.

Like diamonds, rubies are cut into a variety of shapes. While the round brilliant cut is the most common shape for diamonds, rubies are typically shaped based on the formation of the stone rather than as a method of maximizing brilliance and fire.

Because of this, it’s more common to see rubies in non-round shapes, such as the oval, pear and marquise cuts. Like with all gemstones, there’s no “best” shape for a ruby — instead, you should choose a shape that looks the most beautiful to you personally.

Rubies vs. Diamonds

Rubies are increasingly becoming an alternative to diamonds for engagement rings and other jewelry. Differences between rubies and diamonds include:

  • Color. The most obvious difference between ruby and diamond is color. Although most diamonds are white, or colorless, they can also be yellow, pink, champagne-colored or, in some cases, even red.

    Rubies are exclusively red. However, they can range in tone, saturation and secondary colors, meaning some rubies may display pink, brown, purple or orange coloration.
  • Brilliance. Rubies aren’t typically prized for their brilliance and won’t display brilliance or fire like diamonds. Instead, the main factor that determines a ruby’s beauty and value is its color.
  • Hardness. Diamonds are harder than rubies, scoring 10 on the Mohs’ scale compared to 9 for rubies. Despite this, both are hard gemstones that won’t get damaged easily if worn daily.
  • Cost. As we mentioned earlier, rubies are generally significantly less expensive than diamonds. However, some rubies with exceptional natural color may command prices similar to those of diamonds, or even higher.
  • Tradition. Diamonds are commonly associated with romance and engagement, while rubies tend to be given as birthstones or for anniversaries. However, this is changing, with ruby engagement rings becoming more commonplace.

Rubies vs. Sapphires

Rubies and sapphires are both varieties of the mineral corundum and share a large amount of the same chemistry. Both score 9 on the Mohs’ scale of hardness, making them highly durable gemstones that can safely be worn every day. 

The key difference between rubies and sapphires is chemistry and color. Rubies contain trace amounts of the element chromium, which gives the stone its red color. Sapphires may contain several different trace elements that contribute to their color.

Lab-Created Rubies vs. Natural Rubies

Just like diamonds, rubies can be created in a lab. Natural rubies are formed under the earth’s crust over the course of 20 million years, whereas lab-created rubies are synthesized in a controlled setting in a laboratory.

Lab-created rubies tend to be much cheaper than natural rubies. They also tend to be produced without the flaws that are present in natural rubies. From a chemistry perspective, a lab-created ruby is the same mineral as a natural one, with identical chemical properties to a natural stone.  

To some people, lab-created rubies look slightly too “perfect” and devoid of the natural beauty and character that’s present in an earth-created gemstone. To others, the lack of flaws may be an advantage.

Appearance is subjective, and both lab-created and natural rubies can look beautiful. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that most closely matches your tastes and budget.

How to Tell is a Ruby is Real

Because of their rarity, rubies are often faked. We recommend buying only from a trusted ruby jewelry vendor such as James Allen to avoid buying fake rubies. To tell a fake ruby from a real one, you can use the following techniques:

  • Perform a scratch test. As we mentioned above, ruby scores 9 on the Mohs’ scale — a grading system used to determine mineral hardness. If you can scratch the stone with a fingernail or piece of sandpaper, it’s unlikely to be a real ruby.
  • Perform a streak test. Place a porcelain plate on a countertop or table, then drag the ruby across the plate. A fake ruby may leave behind a visible color streak on the plate, whereas a real ruby won’t leave behind any color.

    Note that the absence of a color streak from this test doesn’t necessarily mean that a ruby is real.
  • Check its size. Large, natural rubies are exceptionally expensive. If you have a ruby that seems a little too large for the price that you paid, there’s likely a reason it was so inexpensive.
  • Check its inclusions. It’s common and normal for rubies to have inclusions, although synthetic rubies are typically flawless and may not display any inclusions at all. Some fake rubies are made from glass and may display round, air bubble inclusions.
  • Talk to a professional. If you’ve purchased a ruby that you aren’t sure about, or if you inherited ruby jewelry, it’s best to talk to a professional. An experienced gemologist will be able to look at the gemstone and let you know if it’s real or fake.

Note that a lab-created ruby is not the same as a fake ruby. Lab-created rubies are chemically identical to natural ones, although their appearance may be slightly different upon a very close examination (for example, few or unnatural-looking inclusions). 

Fake rubies, on the other hand, are typically made from materials such as glass, or from other, cheaper gemstones. These are chemically different from rubies and won’t have the same level of strength or a similar appearance.

Best Place to Buy Rubies: James Allen

As we mentioned above, we recommend James Allen if you’re looking to purchase loose rubies or ruby jewelry online. We make this recommendation for several reasons:

  1. James Allen’s prices are excellent. Thanks to their business model (online only, with no expensive boutique stores to rent and maintain), they’re able to sell outstanding quality rubies without the significant markup of a retail jewelry chain.
  2. Their inventory is diverse and comprehensive. James Allen have a huge inventory of rubies and other gemstones, ranging from less than one carat to 10 carats and even heavier. This makes it easier to find a ruby that meets your needs and budget.
  3. Their huge range of settings makes creating ruby jewelry simple. James Allen stock an incredible range of settings, allowing you to design your own ruby engagement ring and order it as a finished piece of jewelry.
  4. Their photos are high resolution and lit accurately. As we mentioned above, color is the most important factor in determining a ruby’s quality. James Allen use huge photos with very natural-looking lighting, letting you accurately judge a ruby’s color before you buy.

In short, everything that works in their favor regarding diamonds is true here as well. There are also a few specific tips that you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re purchasing a ruby engagement ring, which we’ve covered below.

As we mentioned earlier, Leibish & Co. is also a good option if you specifically want a ruby that hasn’t been heat treated. Their selection of rubies includes lots of outstanding stones, although the pricing is significantly higher than James Allen’s selection of heat treated rubies.

Tips for Buying a Ruby Engagement Ring

As we mentioned earlier, ruby engagement rings are becoming increasingly popular for several reasons:

  • First, rubies look elegant and beautiful. Thanks to their rich red color, they have a unique appearance that can’t be found in other gemstones.
  • Second, rubies are much less expensive than conventional engagement ring gemstones such as diamonds. This makes them a great option if you want an engagement ring that looks unique and elegant, yet isn’t as costly as a diamond ring.For example, while you’ll usually need to spend $4,000 or more for a one carat diamond with an acceptable cut, color and clarity, a high quality ruby, such as this impressive 1.10 carat round natural ruby, costs less than $500.
  • Third, because rubies are a beautiful gemstone and a birthstone, they’re great for adding special meaning to an engagement ring. If your fiancé-to-be was born in July, a ruby ring can be both an elegant engagement ring and a token of how special they are to you.Of course, your fiancé-to-be doesn’t need to be born in July for a ruby engagement ring to be a good choice.
  • Fourth, because rubies are very hard (although not quite as hard as diamonds), they’re hard to damage. This means your fiancé-to-be doesn’t need to worry about any risk of scratching or otherwise damaging their engagement ring.

In general, buying a ruby engagement ring is a fairly simple process. Since clarity isn’t as much of a factor as it is with a diamond, you don’t need to worry too much about inclusions. You can also get a good idea of a ruby’s color just from looking at it in large, well-lit photos.

Still, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re viewing ruby engagement rings online or creating your own using a loose ruby and setting.

Choose a Metal That Complements the Ruby

Rubies can look fantastic in a variety of settings, from white gold and platinum to yellow or rose gold. However, the type of metal you choose for your setting — and more specifically, the metal’s color — will play a role in how the ruby engagement ring looks as a whole.

Thanks to their lighter color, white gold and platinum have more contrast with the rich red color of a ruby. This makes them both good options if you want the color of the ruby to stand out and attract attention. These metals both complement fair or rosy skin tones very nicely.

2.05ct Ruby Ring in Yellow Gold
2.05ct Ruby Ring in Yellow Gold from James Allen

White gold and platinum look almost identical to the naked eye, with very little visual difference between the two metals.

Yellow and rose gold are both good choices if you’re looking for an engagement ring that has a warm look. Both of these metals complement ruby beautifully, making them good options if you want a ruby engagement ring with more of a warm, vintage feel.

For example, this gorgeous three-stone round cut ruby engagement ring features an 18k yellow gold setting. The elegant, warm color of the setting really complements the rich, dark red of the ruby.

Pick a Setting That Suits Your Fiancé-to-Be’s Tastes

Rubies can look fantastic in a variety of settings, from simple solitaire settings such as this one to more ortane pavé settings like this one. Like other colored gemstones, they also look great in halo settings, which emphasize the rich color of the ruby center stone.

For example, this 1.04 carat ruby engagement ring has an impressive halo setting that attracts attention to the beautiful center stone, all while giving the ring an elegant, classic appearance.

Just like with a diamond engagement ring, there’s no best setting for everyone. Pick a setting that fits within your budget while matching your fiancé-to-be’s tastes and the two of you will be able to enjoy a stylish, timeless ring that’s truly special.

Shop for ruby engagement rings here.

If you need more help buying a ruby engagement ring or any other ruby jewelry, please contact us. Our experts can help you find the highest quality ruby jewelry for your budget.

About the author
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more. See more
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