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July's Birthstone of the Month

Ruby - this gem of penetrating color, the Valentine color, the color of passion and love with all the respect and reverence due it, has collected tore and legends to match its almost universal appeal. Ruby's day is Tuesday, its season summer, its apostle St. Matthew. The scarlet-colored gem, July's birthstone under the sign of Cancer, is said to accord wearers wisdom, happiness and health, and to bring particularly good luck to gamblers and lovers.

Rubies are more than talismans or good-luck charms, not only historic and exotic but also valuable. Value is a human set of conditions: gems must have rarity, durability and beauty. Great rubies display all three hallmarks. Rubies - especially fine rubies - are rarer than diamonds, emeralds or sapphires. The beauty of their color is without peer. And their durability is often a surprise to new buyers. On the famous Mohs hardness scale of 1 to 10, everyone knows that a diamond, as the hardest natural substance on earth, rates a 10. Rubies, at Mohs 9, are harder than any other material except diamonds. You may already have noticed that rubies and sapphires are often paired. For good reason. They belong to the same family, corundum, the crystal form of aluminum oxide.

Fine Rubies are the most expensive of all gems (with the one exception - very rare colored diamonds, such as red). It is safe to say that, outside of museums, most people never see either large or fine rubies. Most of the material sold today is commercial quality, usually small and heavily included. If you own rubies, it is good to remember that hardness and susceptibility to breakage are not necessarily related. Even though exceedingly hard, heavily included stones may crack or chip when hit. Let common sense be your guide. Remove jewelry before doing heavy work. Take care of your ruby by treating it gently and by keeping your gems and jewelry clean. Lightly included stones usually go safely into ultrasonic cleaners. Soaking rubies in alcohol (or vodka) overnight loosens stubborn debris, which then can be rinsed and brushed away. Always use a soft brush but no abrasives, not even toothpaste; such abrasives will not hurt rubies but will scratch the softer gold or platinum settings.

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