Oiled Ruby: A Remarkable Visual • Ruby Inclusions

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 visited her first gem mine (in Thailand) at age two and by age four had visited three major sapphire localities in Montana. A 2011 graduate of UCLA (B.A., Political Science), she qualified as a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (FGA) in 2013. Billie's photographic work has been published in Terra Spinel, the Wall Street JournalRuby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide and Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist's Guide. To date, she has visited scores of countries for research on gems, including the US, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya and Greenland, and has delivered lectures in China, France, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UK, and the US. Her articles, gemological images and photomicrographs have appeared in Gems & GemologyThe GemguideThe Journal of the Gemmological Association of Hong Kong, and InColor magazine. She is a talented photomicrographer and has won prizes from the Nikon Small World, Gem-A, Clemson University, and Close-Up Photographer of the Year competitions.


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

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