Red hot rubies

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend and sapphires may be more popular, but there is something about rubies, isn’t there? They’re the color of crimson in firelight and all that it conjures – warmth, passion, confidence, power.

“A ruby is an extremely gorgeous, extremely rare stone,” says Eli Aviram, co-founder (with brother Beny) of Spark Creations, whose ruby rings – in classic square-cut and more fanciful, abstract floral designs, cushioned by tiny diamonds – grace stores such as R&M Woodrow Jewelers in Rye.

Making the ruby rarer still on these shores – politics.

“You’re not allowed to bring them into the United States from Burma (Myanmar),” says Aviram, who gets his rubies from Madagascar. “Other countries have rubies you can import. But they’re not as high in quality.”

Now that Myanmar is moving toward liberal democracy and rapprochement with the U.S. – in May, Thein Sein became the first Myanmar president to visit the White House in 47 years – Aviram expects the embargo to be lifted. But don’t expect the price of rubies to go down.

“We live in a global market,” Aviram says. “If the U.S. doesn’t buy from Burma, the rest of the world does.”

Once the ban is removed, there will be a greater supply here, but there will also be a greater demand. For that reason and also because diamonds are a known, fixed commodity, Aviram says a woman would be better off financially with a colored gemstone like a ruby for an engagement or keepsake ring as the value will only increase.

Of course, the heart wants what the heart wants. And what kind of feminine heart wants a ruby? One that is fearlessly independent, “a woman of character,” Aviram says.

Think of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her 17.68-carat ruby ring – a wedding present from Aristotle Onassis that sold for $290,000 at the 1996 auction of her estate – or her ruby and emerald earrings and necklaces. They’re reminders not only of her love for India – where rubies and emeralds are a popular jewelry design combo – but of Vincent van Gogh’s belief that red and green are the colors of passion.

July-born Jackie came by her rubies naturally. They were her birthstone. Some women need no such excuse. Though Elizabeth Taylor was better known for her diamonds (see related story), she sometimes succumbed to the ruby’s siren call – particularly when she learned that Ari had given Jackie a ruby. Then the “battle of the rubies,” as Taylor’s husband Richard Burton called it, would be engaged. Liz’s 8.24-carat ring sold for more than $4.2 million at the 2011 auction of her estate, setting the record for price per carat at $512,925. A necklace sold for more than $3.7 million.

You don’t have to be a Jackie or a Liz to own a fine ruby for several thousand dollars. You only have to educate yourself about the gem. As with a diamond, the only precious stone that’s harder, a ruby is judged by the four Cs – color, clarity, cut and carat.

Color is very important, says Rob Woodrow, co-owner (with brother Michael) of Woodrow Jewelers, who takes a Goldilocks approach to the perfect ruby hue.

“Not too dark, not too light. In between is just right.”

Along with what Woodrow calls “a robust red,” seek a stone that is relatively clear (although if it is entirely free of inclusions that may indicate it has been treated).

Not yet ready for a ruby? Don’t let timidity rob you of the gem’s legendary healing power. Since the time of ancient Egypt, the enduring quality of rubies has led to the belief that they bestow well being when worn close to the skin. (Indeed, Burmese warriors were said to have inserted them under their skin to protect themselves from being wounded.) In that spirit, Roberto Coin – a Venetian jeweler whose designs are found in Woodrow, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus, among other stores – has inserted a small, synthetic ruby inside each work since 1996, allowing for direct contact with the skin, and in a sense, the heart.

Woodrow demonstrates this by opening an Art Deco-style black enamel and diamond 18-karat gold bracelet: “It’s a hidden treasure.”

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