Red hot rubies to feature in Dublin jewellery sale

Romans believed rubies inspired courage and protected the wearer from harm


Rubies have been held in high esteem for centuries.  As far back as 200BC, they were traded along the Silk Road in China.  They’re mentioned numerous times in the Bible and they were revered by the Romans, who believed they inspired courage and protected the wearer from harm. 

 Because of their colour, these warmly glowing gemstones tend to be linked to blood – and to the heart – in the human imagination. 

 But what colour are rubies, exactly?  Defining the colour red is a trickier business than it might first appear. There are a plethora of shades in the ruby colour chart, with names as arcane as any in the Farrow & Ball paint catalogue: Pigeon’s Blood, Rabbit’s Blood, Beef Blood, African, Cherry.  

 Scientifically ruby is defined as “red corundum,” a crystalline form of aluminium oxide. Trace elements within the rock, however, create a wide range of colours in corundum, from browns and greys to yellows and greens. Chromium is what makes a corundum gemstone red: anything which isn’t red is classified as a sapphire.  

 That seems clear enough. But as to where, exactly, red shades into pink - well, that’s a bit of a corundum conundrum.   Before the 20th century pink was considered a light red, so rubies of that hue were described as “pink rubies”; nowadays, especially in the US, they’re more likely to be called  “pink sapphires”. 

 What is certain is that gem quality rubies are much rarer than diamonds.  They’re also one of the few gemstones whose colour – whatever you call it – reaches vivid saturation levels, resulting in a mesmerising richness of tone which really comes to life when worn next to the skin.

Ruby bangle at O’Reilly’s, €6,000-€9,000
Ruby bangle at O’Reilly’s, €6,000-€9,000

  Two superb examples are coming under the hammer at O’Reilly’s sale of fine jewellery and silver in Dublin this week. Both feature cushion-cut stones from Myanmar, which are the most desirable of all rubies, and both are certified as untreated, which is rare. 

Lot 466 (€6,000-€9,000) is a hinged bangle with round-cut rubies totalling 12.5 carats, claw-set in a single continuous row.  Lot 163 (€6,000-€8,000) is a late Victorian dress ring, with five rubies of 3.10 carats in total mounted in 18-carat carved gold. Both pieces come with gem reports which state them to be, respectively, “pink to red” and “red” – although they’re actually close enough in colour to be worn as a set, if anyone is lucky enough to acquire both on the day.

Victorian ruby dress ring, €6,000-€8,000
Victorian ruby dress ring, €6,000-€8,000

 Rubies are sometimes used to add movement and definition to multi-gem pieces. There are  two sets of earclips in the sale which do this in style. Lot 109 (€3,200-€3,500) features central cabochon emeralds surrounded by skirts of diamonds, sapphires and rubies. Lot 178 (€2,500-€3,500) is designed as a botanical cluster, the branches inset with diamonds and the leaves cut from coloured gemstones. Lot 214 (€2,300-€2,500) is an early 20th-century ruby and diamond clip which contains seven rubies of approx 1.2 carats, and diamonds of 2.3 carats.

 The most expensive pieces in the auction are Lot 458 (€40,000-€60,000), a diamond bracelet by Graff set with round, brilliant-cut diamonds of 15.50 carats mounted in platinum, and Lot 300 (€40,000-€42,000), a diamond solitaire ring with an old European-cut diamond of approximately 5.85 carats, L-M, VVS1, mounted in 18-carat white gold.

 The art deco love of striking geometric shapes is seen in Lot 206 (€18,000-€19,000), a diamond and sapphire cluster ring of octagonal form, the central diamond surrounded by calibre-cut sapphires, and Lot 215 (€2,000-€2,500) is a diamond brooch set in 18-carat white gold and platinum.  Lot 308 (€750-€1,000) is an unusual art deco onyx and diamond panel ring. 

 Other highlights of this sale of 600 lots include two gents’ watches by Patek Philippe.  Lot 268 (€5,600-€6,000) is a  square case watch in 18-carat gold on an integral gold flexible mesh link bracelet.  Lot 269 (€5,600-€6,000) is a round-case watch in 18-carat gold on a black crocodile strap, with the original gold pin buckle.

O’Reilly’s Fine Art, 126 Francis Street, Dublin 8. Sale of Fine Jewellery, Watches and Silver, Wednesday October 24th, 1pm.