Tiffany & Co. produced a pamphlet in the late nineteenth century, which included the following verse:
But some gemologists believe that the custom of assigning particular gemstones to months of the year has much older origins.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing in the 1st century CE, equated the twelve stones in the breastplate of the High Priest of the Israelites (as described in the Bible’s Book of Exodus) with the twelve months of the year or the twelve stones of the zodiac.
Some believe that Arabian philosophers and astrologers adopted and developed this tradition. It seems to have spread to eastern Europe at some point between the 15th and 18th centuries, where the custom of wearing each month’s associated stone during that particular month developed into the natal stone, or birthstone, tradition that we know today.
July has been associated with a variety of gemstones. The Romans and Jews associated July with onyx, the Arabians with carnelian, and the Russians and Poles with ruby.
In 1912, the National Association of Jewellers (an American organisation) established a ‘new’ list of birthstones, firmly cementing July’s associated with the ruby.
Ruby’s name is derived from the Latin ruber, meaning ‘red’. The stone gets its distinctive red colour from the element chromium - and the more chromium in the stone, the stronger the red hue. The most prized rubies are deep red with a hint of purple, which is known to jewellers as ‘pigeon’s blood’.
Its Sanskrit name is ratnaraj, ‘king of gems’, and in medieval Europe it was known as the ‘lord of stones’.
There are many superstitions and beliefs tied to the ruby. Some believe that a ruby can predict danger or misfortune if it changes colour; others claim that it can cure diseases and soothe anger.
Marbodius of Rennes, an 11th century Bishop, poet, hagiographer and hymnologist, wrote a compendium of myths about gemstones, in which he said that dragons and wyverns carried rubies in the middle of their foreheads.
Ancient Burmese warriors inserted rubies into their flesh, believing the gemstones would make them invincible in battle.
The Greek historian Herodotus said that storks keep rubies in their nests to ward off serpents.
Ruby stones have long been associated with love, passion, and romance, as well as dignity and divine power, so it’s no wonder they are prized for gift-giving. As well as being the birthstone for July, rubies are also the traditional stone for 40th wedding anniversaries.