Rubies make a triumphant return to the gemstone market

Words by
Avril Groom

1st December 2017

The flaming red gems are becoming highly sought-after by some of the world’s best jewellery designers, thanks to new ethical means of sourcing supplies

To call rubies the new emeralds would do both gems a disservice. Both are highly prized, yet until now the focus of design has been on the green. Now the design emphasis is shifting towards the passionate and fiery shades of red. Other stones with reddish tones — spinel, rubellite and garnet — give a warm palette, but the intensity of a ruby, from pure red to vivid pink, and its ability to refract both pink and orange fire, make the ruby stand alone. 

Rubies are also much rarer than either diamonds or emeralds and auction prices have risen tenfold in less than 40 years. “Rubies like sapphires and emeralds, have become extremely desirable in the past year,” says Alisa Moussaieff, managing director of Moussaieff.

Top jewellery houses have always created exquisite pieces using rubies, their intense colour set off by frames of white diamonds, or with emeralds and sapphires in the Indian-inspired tutti-frutti style pioneered by Cartier and Boucheron in the 1920s. Now, designers are using many more, as single or matched stones, pavé or beads, in combination with other coloured stones. 

Cindy Chao Dragonfly

Yet it is not simply designers’ efforts that have piqued consumer interest in rubies. As  Joanna Hardy points out in Ruby (Thames and Hudson, out on 12 October), her sumptuous history of rubies and its fast-changing industry,  there is “an openly expressed eagerness in the trade to develop an independent mine-to-market supply that can thrive in accordance with globally accepted practices”.

Such practices of ethically sourced gems established by Gemfields’ mines in Zambia, which revolutionised the emerald industry, are now being applied to the company’s  rubies from Mozambique. And democracy in Myanmar has led to the lifting of embargoes on its highly prized rubies to major markets such as the USA.

The result is a feast of beauty and creativity. Rubies are Van Cleef & Arpels’ favourite stone, which join emeralds, diamonds and coloured sapphires to form roses on the garden-inspired Aux Portes du Jardin bracelet. In Victoire de Castellane’s  Dior à Versailles collection, a deeply rich ruby is centred in a cuff with a riot of coloured stones, carved hardstones and rock crystal that recall the French palace’s gardens and fountains. One can imagine Cindy Chao’s brooch from her Dragonfly collection hovering above with its rubies, conch pearl and coloured diamonds. And the garden theme continues with Anna Hu’s Japanese Cherry Blossom diamond cuff with rubies. 

Chaumet necklace

Cartier’s Indian-style necklace mixes a stunning ruby with other warm-toned gems, while its diamond cockatoo head sports ruby-bead tassels and a diamond cuff watch is finished with a large ruby pear drop. Equally opulent is Chaumet’s Scala necklace, which mixes ruby beads, rubellites and diamonds.


Cartier cockatoo

The purity of rubies with diamonds is breathtaking in Piaget’s necklace of graduated, rectangular rubies fringed with baguettes and brilliants, and in Cartier’s dramatic necklace that’s like a reverse Russian kokoshnik tiara. Such purity is also apparent in cuffs with amazing individual gems from Moussaieff and Chatila, and in the glowing cabochons at the heart of Louis Vuitton’s art deco-inspired rings. 

Some pieces emphasise the powerful rarity of the best rubies, accessible to a few. Yet smaller stones, used together, punch above their weight in impact terms, hitting the spot, but not the pocket

These pieces emphasise the powerful rarity of the best rubies, accessible only to the few. Yet smaller stones, used together, punch above their weight in impact terms — Niquesa’s cascading earrings and spinning rings, or Annoushka’s beautifully flexible gold bracelet with delicate ruby leaves, hit the spot, but not the pocket. 

Rubies may not be for everyone, but for some they are, as Hardy says, “the king of gems”.