Just as diamonds have become the gem of romance, ruby has been the gem of passion and the heart's desire since the dawn of time. Because of its lovely red color, ruby has been associated with the heart, the blood and the centers of passion throughout its history.

In ancient India, ruby was highly valued for three distinct purposes. Mystics used rubies to stimulate spiritual creativity and religious devotion. Healers believed that rubies could heal diseases of the pelvic cavity and generative organs as well as the heart and the blood. Soldiers wore rubies to staunch the blood of wounds received in battle and as a talisman against getting shot by arrows.

Many of the Hindu beliefs about rubies were passed along the trade routes to Greek and Roman cultures. Ancient Greek women believed that wearing ruby could bring them love and physical beauty. Many Roman nobles had intaglio rings carved out of ruby to protect their wealth and health.

Rubies were considered the wedding stone through the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, as they were supposed to keep passion alive and promote lasting love and contentment in marriage.

In modern times, ruby has become the July birthstone, fifteenth and fortieth anniversary stone, and the gem of Cancer. Sharing the same physical properties as its fellow corundum sapphire, ruby's vibrant color and durability make it a popular choice. These days, ruby-lovers are in luck. New sources of supply in India, Africa Vietnam and Thailand have made lovely rubies in all sizes and colors more readily available than in previous years.

Rubies come in many shades of red. Rubies tend to be priced by color. The closer a gem is to the vivid red 'pigeon's blood' color, the higher the price. Many rubies are enhanced by heat treating to improve color, but the color is stable after treatment and does not require special care. Some rubies have fissures or surface breaks that are filled with a glass-like byproduct of the heating process. These stones do require special care in cleaning and wearing, but they are generally more affordable.

For those with a passion for red gems, there are several affordable alternatives to rubies. Garnets offer a wide range of red colors with plenty of fire. Red tourmaline, sometimes called rubellite, provides light to dark purplish reds. And red spinel is sometimes used as a ruby substitute because of its pure medium to deep red colors. Any of these, along with ruby, can satisfy the passion for lovely red gemstones.

Information from Jewelers of America