Don’t you just love rubies? The ruby stone is known as the gem of love and has deep connections to passion and intimacy.
Rubies are considered precious stones, along with diamonds, emeralds and sapphires, and come with the price tags to match.
It’s also the birthstone for July.
Like all precious stones, rubies can be affected by imitation, and the market today is flooded with imitation rubies.
If you have ruby jewelry you inherited or got at a bargain, you might wonder if you have real rubies or if they are fake stones.
That’s only natural if you don’t know much about this gemstone.
Most people who own ruby jewelry don’t know how to tell if a ruby is real, so you’re not alone in this.
By the end of this post, you’ll be able to check if a ruby is real and decide whether a natural or synthetic ruby is a better choice for you.
Ruby: The King of Gems
Besides being known as ‘The Gem of Love’, ruby is also considered ‘The King of Gems’.
Humans have known for a very long time that this is a prized stone and have placed their superstitious beliefs on it.
Cultures in the East believed rubies held power over life and offered protection to warriors in bloody battles.
The Bible even mentions rubies four times, attributing them to wisdom, beauty and wealth.
By the time rubies reached the Western world, they were highly sought after by the elite of society, and were worn by the royal and wealthy.
Over time, mines popped up across the globe, primarily in Myanmar (then Burma), where the finest rubies originate, along with the U.S. A, parts of Africa and Australia.
The most expensive ruby, the Sunrise Ruby, is worth approximately 30 million USD and holds the title of “The most expensive colored gemstone in the world”. It’s 25 carats and is the perfect “Pigeon’s blood” color.
Other famous (and expensive) rubies include:
- The Liberty Bell Ruby
- The Rosser Reeves Ruby
- The Jubilee Ruby
- The DeLong Star Ruby
- The Dupont Ruby
- The Crimson Flame
- The Graff Ruby
- The Neelanjali Ruby
- The Hope Ruby
- The Carmen Lúcia Ruby
What is a natural (earth-created) ruby?
The name ‘ruby’ comes from the Latin word, ‘ruber ’, which translates to ‘red’ in English.
This gemstone is notorious for its deep red hue, but it can also come in different saturations, including blood red, a sort of pinkish-red, and even hints of orange, purple and violet.
Of the 4 Cs (cut, clarity, carat and color), the color is the most important, with ‘Pigeon red’ being the most sought-after natural ruby.
‘Rubies’ that are more pink than red are called pink sapphires and are not considered genuine rubies.
Natural rubies are found in Burma (Myanmar), as well as: Afghanistan, Australia, Cambodia, India, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, United States of America, Vietnam
One way to tell if a ruby is fake is if it isn’t from one of these regions!
Are rubies rare?
It is interesting to note that the rarity of a precious stone does not necessarily determine its price.
The most expensive emerald in the world sits at nearly 6 million USD, compared to ruby’s 30 million USD, yet emeralds are much rarer.
Generally, diamonds are sold for more, but there are some rubies that cost more than some diamonds.
This too depends on the 4Cs along with their origin. When it comes to rarity, rubies beat diamonds in that category.
One unique thing about natural rubies is that once they’re found, there may be no need to cut or polish them.
These are the most expensive rubies, and they are very rare. Very often, natural rubies are heat treated to enhance their color and make them look more appealing.
They may even be treated with beryllium to produce a more vibrant red color.
Glass is sometimes even added to fractures, but that doesn’t mean they are fake rubies.
Any enhancement and treatment must be disclosed before the sale.
Cut and clarity
You’re more likely to come across a cushion or oval shaped ruby, but you can also see them cut into emerald, pear, round, princess and marquise shapes.
Cutters prefer not to cut large rubies into smaller sizes since large ones are rare, they are hard to cut and can end up looking a bit round.
The point is to avoid wastage, minimize inclusions and preserve the natural state.
Rubies are sometimes graded using the A system:
- Natural AAA is the clearest, most expensive, and accounts for 1% of all rubies
- Natural AA accounts for 10% of rubies, and is ideal for gemstone jewelry
- Natural A rubies are not as valuable as AA or AAA, but they’re also used for making jewelry, and account for 20% of the world’s ruby supply
- Over 50% of natural rubies are Natural B and are the least valuable.
The presence of inclusions helps determine the clarity, or grade, of the gemstone:
- VVS rubies are very slightly included and fetch the highest prices. They require the use of 10x magnification to observe their inclusions
- SI1 rubies may also require 10x magnification, but some of their inclusions are visible to the naked eye. They do not affect the ruby’s brilliance, and slight variations exist in terms of appearance
- SI2 rubies have inclusions that affect the ruby’s appearance and brilliance
- I1 rubies have obvious inclusions with obvious effects on brilliance, transparency and appearance
- I2 rubies have prominent inclusions with prominent effects on brilliance, transparency and appearance
- I3 rubies have both obvious and prominent inclusions that have severe effects on brilliance, transparency and appearance.
What is a synthetic (or lab-grown/created) ruby?
Fact: The first synthetic ruby was created in 1837.
Note that synthetic rubies are not the same as imitation or fake stones. Synthetic rubies are made in labs with the same material composition (Al2O3) as earth-created rubies and have the same optical and physical properties (hardness of 9).
Lab-grown rubies have fewer imperfections than earth-created rubies and are much more affordable.
Flame fusion rubies are one type of synthetic ruby. These are created by combining dissolved aluminum oxide with super-heated lead oxide to grow crystals.
This creates no-inclusion, glass-like inexpensive rubies that are used to make costume jewelry and cheap decorations.
Flux growth rubies take longer to produce, sometimes up to 6 months. These synthetics can be indistinguishable to the naked eye as the method to produce them uses heat and controlled pressure to grow crystals.
These have inclusions and even create asterisms.
Many people opt for synthetic rubies because they are much better for the environment.
Some locations, such as Burma, are heavily over-mined and the impacts on the environment will be felt for years to come.
What are imitation/fake/simulated rubies?
Imitation, fake or simulated rubies are not the same as lab-grown rubies. They do not share the same composition and are usually red-colored glass or cheaper red gemstones like garnets or tourmalines.
The name of the item is a good way to tell if the ruby is fake. Beware of names like ‘Arizona Ruby’ or ‘Australian Ruby’ since it may be garnet.
‘Siberian Ruby’ is typically rubellite, a red type of tourmaline.
Composite rubies are a popular type of imitation. They first appeared on the market around 2006, and are created by combining low-grade corundum with lead glass.
Corundum is one of the building blocks of rubies and sapphires, being called rubies when red and sapphires when blue.
It is sometimes combined with more than 50% glass, making it extremely fragile in comparison to real rubies.
Composite rubies have tricked consumers for years and remained undetected for a very long time This is why it’s important to know how to tell if a ruby is real.
People have ended up paying thousands for these ruby imitations when in reality, they aren’t even worth $100.
These imitations sometimes go by ‘hybrid rubies’ and ‘glass ruby composites’.
How to tell if a ruby is real: 10 tests to check for a real ruby
Some ruby imitations are so good that special tests need to be conducted. Note that some are more accurate than others, and you may want to combine them for the best results.
This is how to tell if a ruby is real at home, in the field and when buying:
1. Check shine and color
One way to check if a ruby is real is by observing the shine and color. This is not the most reliable method, but it helps if you have a real ruby stone to compare it with.
A real ruby generally has a deep red hue and is relatively shiny. When observed beside garnet or other imitation rubies, the fake ruby will look dull despite having a similar color.
Carefully observe a list of optical properties of ruby for more details on what you should look for to help you know how to tell if a ruby is real:
You will need:
- Optical properties list
- Your ruby
- Real ruby (if possible)
- Doesn’t require tools
- Anyone can do this test
- Not the most accurate test
2. Compare your ruby to a shard of red glass
If you suspect you have a fake ruby, try to get your hands on a red shard of glass.
Try your grocery store for a red glass bottle of the same hue for comparison.
Using a shard of the same size, observe both objects carefully. Real rubies are never the same color as glass.
If the two have an uncanny resemblance, chances are, it’s a fake ruby.
- Easy method
- Inexpensive test
- If you aren’t careful, the glass can cut your finger
- Not very reliable
3. Look for tiny flaws with a 10x magnifier
Real rubies come with inclusions because they’re created by forces of nature.
Some are visible to the naked eye, but others require the use of a special instrument called a loupe, or 10x magnifier.
This is a process gemologists use, and it’s called spectroscopy.
Here are some of the most common ruby inclusions:
- Silk– These resemble fine silk fibers and rarely impact the color or clarity of the ruby. If there are a lot of silk fibers, it can sometimes whiten the ruby, which makes it less valuable.
- Needle– These are straight, long inclusions that look like scratches within the ruby. This must not be confused with a surface scratch that may indicate a fake ruby.
- Cavity– These inclusions look like tiny holes that go from the surface into the crystal. This can make the ruby look unattractive and fragile.
- Color zoning– While rubies are generally red, they do often have secondary color inclusions that typically appear pink. Since this makes the color look uneven, cutters try to preserve the red parts as much as possible.
- Crack or feather– These are fissures in the stone that resemble feathers. These rubies are less valuable because the structural integrity is compromised, and the surface may be broken.
- Fingerprints– These inclusions resemble fingerprints, but don’t let this scare you off. It’s still a real ruby, and you’re unlikely to have light performance issues.
- Twinning– This happens when two crystals grow out of each other. These rubies are usually larger, however, twinning can whiten the ruby.
- Perfect for inspecting rubies in the field and before purchase
- Requires tools and experience with crystals
4. Use the scratch test
Rubies score 9 on the Mohs Hardness Test, being just below diamond. They are pretty hard stones that are difficult to scratch under regular conditions.
Use this knowledge to check if rubies are fake.
You will need:
- Your ruby
- Coin or key
Step 1: Place your ruby on a flat surface
Step 2: Use the coin or key to scratch the surface of the ruby
Step 3: Observe for scratch marks. If it left a mark, the ruby is fake
- Pretty reliable test
- Easy to perform
- Tools readily available
- Will scratch softer surface
5. Use the rub test
The rub test is similar in concept to the scratch test, except this time, you’re not looking for a scratch, you’re looking for residue.
You can also use this to test gold jewelry.
You will need:
- Your ruby
- Flat surface
- Glass or porcelain
Step 1: Place your glass on a flat surface
Step 2: Rub the ruby against the glass vigorously
Step 3: Inspect for red residue. Glass has a hardness of 5, so is softer than ruby.
A real ruby will not leave residue.
- Easy to do
- Readily available tools
- Not 100% accurate as other gemstones that pass as ruby can have the same effect
6. Price test: if it’s too cheap then it’s likely not a ruby
An actual ruby will cost you a pretty penny since they are precious and rare.
If you feel like it’s too cheap, it probably isn’t real.
Lab-grown or synthetic rubies are about 20% cheaper than real rubies. Fake or imitation rubies, on the other hand, are usually as much as 90% cheaper than real rubies.
7. Use the flashlight test
Using a flashlight, shine the light beam directly onto the surface of the ruby.
You can use your phone’s flashlight for this test. A real ruby will fluoresce, glow or shine bright.
If it’s a fake ruby, the light will pass straight through it.
You will need:
- Your ruby
- Tools already available
- Easy to do
- Takes a few seconds
- Can also be garnet
8. Use an electronic gem tester
Use this test for rubies you already have at home. You can also use it to test other precious and semi-precious stones like diamond, jade, emerald, sapphire and peridot.
It will even tell you if what you have is glass.
These machines are easy to use. Once you calibrate the machine, all you have to do is use the pen that comes with it and press the surface of the ruby.
If it’s real ruby, the needle or indicator will reflect that.
Try this Presidium Instruments Gem Tester II (PGT II) with Assisted Thermal Calibration (ATC) for Identifying Diamonds/Moissanites and Common Colored Gemstones if you collect precious jewelry or stones.
You might offend your seller if you bring a tester with you, but if the ruby’s authentic, it should be no real issue.
- Easy to use
- Perfect for people who buy precious and semi-precious stones often
- Doesn’t test all gemstones
9. Get a professional appraisal
If you have any doubts, or your test results are inconclusive, consider getting a professional appraisal.
This is the only foolproof method of distinguishing whether or not rubies are real.
Be sure to choose a reputable jeweler. For your own benefit, never use the seller as your appraiser.
10. Test to avoid: breath test
The breath test requires you to exhale on the surface of your ruby. If the fog evaporates in a second or two, it’s supposedly real, but if it takes a few minutes, then it’s fake.
The thing with this test is that it can be wildly inaccurate since synthetic corundum will act like authentic corundum under these conditions.
You’re better off using any of these other tests or taking it to a jeweler.
So can you tell the difference between an earth-created and lab-grown ruby?
It’s all about the inclusions. The more inclusions you can find, the more likely it was earth-created rather than lab-grown.
As attractive as earth-created rubies might seem, don’t discount lab-grown rubies.
They sparkle just the same, and they cost less. Opting for lab-grown rubies is also better for the environment.
If you must go with earth-created rubies, go with sellers that have pledged to mine rubies sustainably and ethically.
How To Tell If A Ruby Is Real: FAQs
How can I test my ruby at home?
You can test your ruby at home using tools like a loupe or electronic gem tester to tell a real ruby stone from a synthetic stone. You may also try the scratch test, the rub test, the flashlight test, the shine and color test or the glass shard comparison test.
What does a pure ruby look like?
In its natural state, ruby is primarily red, and its color zoning can range from deep red to pink.