Oiled Ruby: A Remarkable Visual

by E. Billie Hughes

A ruby’s surface-reaching cavity is filled with red oil.

The red color of the oil within the cavity of a ruby displays a remarkable contrast with the bodycolor of the gem. Unlike the flattened bubbles regularly encountered, a rounded bubble attests to the size of the cavity containing the oil. Photomicrograph by E. Billie Hughes; field of view approximately 2.5 mm.

As laboratory gemologists working in Bangkok, we often encounter gems that have been treated with oil to minimize the appearance of fissures. Most of these stones come from Myanmar, where many vendors consider oiling an accepted standard procedure to enhance their goods, particularly ruby and spinel. Furthermore, red oil is commonly used not only to improve clarity, but also to enhance the color of the stone (in Chanthaburi, Thailand, it is sold under the brand name “King Ruby Red Oil”). Often this treatment can be identified by flattened gas bubbles in the fissures or by droplets of oil seeping out of the fissures on the surface when the stone is gently warmed by microscope light or hot point.

The image above shows a small surface-reaching cavity filled with oil in an unheated 1.75 ct ruby from Myanmar. Unlike other examples we have seen, this remarkable gem contained enough of the filler to easily photograph the striking red color of the oil itself within the cavity. With oblique fiber-optic lighting, a stunning image of this enhancement in situ was made possible, turning even an otherwise commonplace forensic determination into an aesthetic exploration of the micro-world.

About the Author

E. Billie Hughes is a 2011 graduate of UCLA, who obtained her FGA in 2013. A travel-addicted citizen of the world, Billie was born into a gem-loving family, with her first visits to gem mines at age two; by age four, she was mining sapphire in Montana. Since then, Billie has participated in gemological expeditions around the globe, including Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, China (Inner Mongolia & Tibet), Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, and Rwanda. Her work has appeared in books ranging from Terra Spinel, to Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide, and Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist's Guide and publications including the Wall Street Journal, Gems & Gemology, InColor, The Gemguide, The Australian Gemmologist, and The Journal of the Gemmological Association of Hong Kong. Billie is an avid photomicrographer who was awarded first and second prizes in the Gem-A's 2016 Photographer of the Year competition, and second and third prizes in the 2014 competition.



This article first appeared in Gems & Gemology, Summer 2017, Vol. 53, No. 2.

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