Shopping for a ruby ring can be overwhelming, There are so many different types of rubies and their values can vary so much. Do you opt for a natural ruby? What is the difference between treated and untreated rubies? What about lab-made rubies – are they real rubies? How are lab-made rubies different from imitation rubies? How do you know you are paying a fair price? There are so many questions that they are enough to give anyone a headache.
To help you navigate this maze, our staff has done the hard work on your behalf and compiled the information you need to shop for ruby.
There are 4 main types of rubies that any ruby buyer should be aware of:
- Natural Untreated Rubies: These are rubies mined from the earth that have not gone through any artificial treatment. They are by far the rarest and the most valuable rubies.
- Natural Treated Rubies: These are also mined from the earth, but they have gone through treatments to enhance their appearances. Different types of treatments are available. Some types of treated rubies are worth very little while others can be quite valuable.
- Lab Made Rubies: These are created in labs. They are high-quality real rubies. They are also much more affordable than natural rubies of similar quality.
- Imitation Rubies: These are fake rubies. They may look like rubies but they are actually red-colored glass, cubic zirconia, tourmalines, garnets, red spinels, or other substances. They are not rubies.
In the next few sections, we will look at these different types of rubies in detail. For those in a hurry, below is a table summarizing the information you need to know about these various types of ruby.
Natural rubies are rubies that have been dug up from the earth instead of grown in a lab. They are rarer than lab-grown rubies but also a lot more expensive.
Ruby mines are found in Thailand, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Nepal, and Pakistan, among other places. Some of the highest quality rubies in the world are mined from the Mogok Valley in upper Burma.
Currently, the world record for the most expensive ruby is being held by a 25.59 carat Mogok Burma ruby named the Sunrise Ruby – it was sold for an extraordinary $30.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. That amounts to an astounding $1.19 million per carat.
Besides being the most expensive ruby in history, the Sunrise Ruby is also the most expensive colored gemstone in history as well as the most expensive gemstone in history that is not a diamond. This should give you an idea of how incredibly prized and sought-after the highest quality natural rubies are.
But not all natural rubies are equal. In general, there are 2 types of natural rubies:
- Untreated natural rubies
- Treated natural rubies
Let’s take a look at them in detail.
Untreated Natural Ruby
Untreated natural rubies are natural rubies that are mined, cut, and polished. Nothing else has been done to them. They are rubies in their most natural state. Their color is vivid enough and their clarity is good enough that no artificial enhancements are needed.
Untreated rubies are very rare (less than 1% of the market). Only the highest quality natural rubies have good enough color and clarity to be sold untreated as gemstones. As you may have expected, they are very expensive. That record-setting $30 million Sunrise Ruby is an untreated ruby.
While the untreated rubies you can get at jewelers may not cost millions, they are still very costly. You can expect to pay at least $5,000 to $10,000 per carat for good quality untreated natural ruby weighing around 1 carat. That price goes up rapidly with the size of the ruby. Top-quality untreated rubies from Burma weighing over 3 carats can easily cost $50,000 per carat or more.
Treated Natural Ruby
The vast majority (99%) of natural rubies you can buy on the market are treated. These are rubies that may not look very good without enhancements.
Some natural rubies’ color is not quite vivid enough. There may also be the problem of having too many inclusions. Inclusions are foreign materials that are trapped inside a ruby during its formation. Typical ruby inclusions include rutile needles (silk), crystals, feathers, and fingerprints. The presence of inclusions reduces the clarity of a ruby and makes it look cloudy. And then there are the really low-grade rubies that are full of fissures and cavities. All these rubies do not look good enough to be sold untreated.
Ruby treatments improve the color and clarity of these rubies by using artificial processes. In general, treated rubies are a lot cheaper than untreated rubies.
There are 2 main types of treated rubies:
- Heated (Heat Only) Rubies
- Composite Rubies (Glass Filled Rubies)
Heated (Heat Only) Rubies
Heated rubies are the most commonly treated rubies. Heat treatment involves baking rubies at a temperature of around 1,800 degrees Celsius.
Heating a ruby improves its color, removes any purple tinge, and improves its clarity by melting its silk inclusions.
Rubies that are heated without the use of any additives are called “heat only” rubies. Heat-only rubies can still be very expensive. Expect to pay $2,000 to $4,000 per carat for a good quality heat-only ruby in the 1-carat weight range. Heat only ruby weighing 2 or 3 carats will cost even more per carat.
Composite Rubies (Glass Filled Rubies)
Some low-quality natural rubies are so full of cracks and cavities that they are unsalable as gemstones. Fissure filling is a treatment that fills these cracks and cavities with melted lead glass to give those unsalable rubies a gemstone-like appearance.
The rubies treated in this way are called composite rubies or glass-filled rubies. They first appeared in 2006. Since then, the market has been flooded by glass-filled rubies.
Some experts estimate that the majority of natural rubies on the market today are actually these low-grade glass-filled rubies. Due to their low quality and huge quantity, glass-filled rubies are worth very little – ranging from $10 to $30 per carat.
Lab Made Ruby
Lab-made rubies are grown in a lab instead of mined from the earth. They are real rubies in every sense of the word. When compared to natural rubies, lab-made rubies have the same chemical compositions and physical properties. That is why lab-made rubies are real rubies just like natural rubies.
Lab made rubies offer a good alternative to natural rubies.
With natural rubies, your choices are: splurging for the super expensive untreated rubies ($5,000 to $50,000+ per carat), or paying for the still very expensive heat only rubies ($2,000 to $4,000 per carat), or going for the super low-quality glass-filled rubies ($10 to $30 per carat.)
With lab-made rubies, you get the best of both worlds – high-quality rubies with good color and clarity at a very affordable price. It is possible to get a lab-made ruby in pure vivid red with “Eye Clean” clarity grade for less than $100 per carat. A good online retailer normally sells their ruby rings for $100-$300. A natural untreated or heat-only ruby of similar quality would cost $4,000 to $50,000 per carat.
Imitation rubies are not ruby at all. They are fake rubies that are made to look like ruby but are actually other substances. The most common imitation rubies are red-colored glass and cubic zirconia. Needless to say, materials like colored glass and cubic zirconia are very cheap. They typically cost $1 per carat or less.
Some imitation rubies are made with other gemstones such as red tourmalines, garnets, or red spinels. These imitation rubies are much more expensive than the glass and cubic zirconia ones. Red tourmalines sell for $100 to $1,000 per carat. Garnets can go for $500 to $1,000+ per carat. Red spinels cost $600 to $1,000 per carat. With these imitation rubies, you will end up paying a much higher price than lab-made rubies without actually getting a real ruby.
In this article, we have covered a lot of information about rubies. By now, you are well equipped to make informed decisions about how to value and choose rubies. Before you go off to do your shopping, let’s do a quick recap.
- There are 4 main types of rubies: untreated natural treated natural, lab-made, and imitation rubies. They vary wildly in values with prices range from $1 per carat to more than $50,000 per carat.
- Good quality natural rubies are very expensive. Untreated natural rubies can go for $5,000 to $50,000+ per carat. Heat-only natural rubies can cost $2,000 to $4,000 per carat.
- Since 2006, the natural ruby market has been flooded by low-quality glass-filled rubies. These are low-grade natural rubies full of cracks that are filled up with melted glass. They are worth very little, from $10 to $30 per carat.
- Lab-made rubies offer a great alternative to natural rubies. You can get very high-quality lab-made rubies for less than $100 per carat when natural rubies of comparable qualities would cost $4,000 to $50,000 per carat.
- Imitation rubies are fake rubies typically made from colored glass or cubic zirconia.
- The value of rubies are also determined by the 4 C’s: Color, Clarity, Cut, Carat
- The most highly prized rubies are medium-dark pure vivid blood-red in color, “Eye Clean” in clarity, large in carat, and cut in a faceting style at the proper critical angles to maximize brilliance.