July—the fiery summer month of backyard barbecues, crisp red watermelon, and of course, sparkling fireworks. It’s the patriotic month of the red, white, and blue, as well as the red-hot month of scorching temperatures. With all this red, is it any surprise that July’s birthstone color is red and that its stone is the world’s most famous and popular red stone—the ruby?
July birthstone - Ruby
What is the July birthstone? That question is answered simply enough, but what is a birthstone anyway, and why do we use a particular birthstone to commemorate your month of birth? Origin stories vary, but most historians trace the connection between gemstones and the twelve month of the year to the Bible itself. According to the Bible, the High Priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve gemstones of different colors, corresponding to the twelve tribes that made up the Israelite nation. That breastplate and its twelve stones later become symbolic to people of many cultures, and the number twelve acquired special mystical significance. It didn’t take long for the twelve stones of the breastplate to become connected to the twelve months of the year.
In the Middle Ages, people collected all twelve traditional stones and wore each during a different month, changing the center stone in a necklace or bracelet according to the month. Medieval people believed each stone had a different magical power—some were said to ward off evil spirits, others to protect the wearer from danger, and others to prevent illness. Eventually, the tradition was simplified and people began wearing only the stone associated with their month of birth—creating the tradition of birthstones as we know it today.
But exactly which stones were paired with which month was never set in stone, so to speak. Of the many cultures and societies that treasured the practice, each one had its own list of the corresponding stones and the special powers associated with each. The traditional Polish list became internationally known, as the custom was stronger in Poland than perhaps anywhere else. The modern birthstone list strongly echoes its Polish ancestry. Tiffany & Co. published its first birthstone list in a series of anonymous poems published in 1870, but the list was not standardized until 1912, when the Jewelers of America officially adopted the list used today.
It is on this 1912 list that we find the ruby listed as the July birthstone. The deep summery tones of flora and fauna no doubt influenced this decision, as did the blood-red sun that precedes a summer storm. This red color reminds us of the summer heat as well as the gorgeous produce of summer—tomatoes, watermelon and summer-ripe berries. In fact, the wide spectrum of reds in summer produce is reminiscent of the many hues of red that a ruby can be. A ruby is a variety of the mineral corundum that displays a range of pink to blood-red tones caused by the presence of chromium in the mineral. The name comes from the Latin ruber, meaning red. In fact, the only chemical difference between a ruby and a sapphire is the presence of this mineral—both are made of the same corundum.
Ruby and Diamond Wedding Band
The birthstone for July, the ruby, is special because unlike most of the semi-precious stones that comprise many of the traditional birthstones, the ruby is one of the Big Four—the four stones that are considered precious stones. Like the other colored gemstones considered precious—emerald and sapphire—rubies are valued and judged according to their color—as opposed to the diamond, which is usually judged according to how colorless it is. The most valuable rubies are those with a deep blood-red color, called “pigeon blood red” and a high level of clarity with few or no milky inclusions. However, because many ruby treatments exist that artificially enhance the color or clarity of the stone, a complete lack of needle-like rutile inclusions can sometimes signal treatment by a gemologist. Those looking for a genuine untreated ruby need to be careful to avoid these signs of treatment. Like a diamond, cut quality and carat weight also determine the value of the ruby.
The story of the July birthstone
The story of the July birthstone traces all the way back to the ancient Silk Road of China. Notes about the transport of rubies can be found tracing all the way back to 200 BC, as Asian traders imported rubies back to their native cultures, where they were held in very high regard for their gem quality and red color, a good luck color in many Asian cultures. Rubies were used not just for jewelry, but to ornament armor, scabbards and harnesses for wealthy noblemen. Some wealthy people even laid rubies into the foundations of their homes as a good luck charm. The ancient Hindus called the ruby “Rajnpura”—or king of the gems, and believed that wearing a ruby could ward off evil and help warn the wearer of danger.
Although not every culture still has the same mystical association with the birthstone of July and its color, we still associate rubies and their deep hues with passion, vividness, and power. Glowing rubies connote love, warmth and vitality, making them a popular choice for engagement rings either used solo or paired with classic diamonds. Besides for being the July birthstone, ruby is considered the “king of the gemstones” for its unique color, outstanding hardness, and superior light performance.
When it comes to birthstones, July birthdays are lucky. They get one of the most rare, unique and valuable stones—with a gorgeous color that looks great in any kind of jewelry!