Ruby • Book Review

by E. Billie Hughes

Hardy, J. (2017) Ruby. Thames & Hudson, New York, 368 pp. ISBN 9780500519417

With its deep crimson color and bold gold lettering, Ruby stands out on a bookshelf, much as a piece of fine jewelry catches attention in a room. This eye for design continues inside the beautifully laid-out volume, with plenty of examples of important ruby jewelry and the powerful people who have worn them throughout history.

Ruby begins with a section on spinel, which has been confused with ruby in the past. This is a nice touch, because any historical account of ruby would be incomplete without the mention of spinel. Author Joanna Hardy goes on to describe ruby and its properties. However, it must be emphasized that, by the author’s own admission, this book is not meant to be a gemological text. In fact, the gemological information is brief and in places contains minor errors. For example, the fluorescence in rubies is attributed to different levels of chromium without a clear explanation of how iron content has a strong influence on a ruby’s fluorescence and overall appearance.

Hardy’s strength is in talking about rubies’ historical impact and in explaining the significance of prominent pieces of jewelry, and much of the book is devoted to this. The sections cover a wide range, from older royal collections to modern pieces worn by 20th century celebrities such as Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich. They provide a wonderful overview of how rubies became a symbol of power and influence. There are numerous illustrations both of the jewels, such as the legendary Nga Mauk ruby, and the people who owned these storied pieces

Following this topic, the book covers some of the techniques used by jewelry designers from the classic houses of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to more contemporary designers like Wallace Chan. Again the author plays to her strengths, sharing insights from her experience as a jewelry expert.

In the final sections Ms. Hardy provides a charming travelogue of her own visits to the world’s most important ruby mines, which she took in preparation for writing this book. I particularly enjoyed following the journey of a ruby crystal sourced from artisanal miners in Mogok, Myanmar (formerly Burma) from rough into a piece of finished jewelry.

Readers should not expect a gemology textbook when purchasing this volume. Instead, it reads like a gorgeously illustrated art history guide. Although Ruby can be read cover-to-cover, it is presented in sections that can stand alone, making it an ideal coffee table book to pick up and read at leisure. I found myself skipping forward to sections that I was most curious about, which works well with the format.

This luxurious tome will broaden your gemological background, explaining the historical and cultural impact of ruby and how it has earned its title as the king of gems. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone with an interest in ruby, and an especially nice accompaniment to a piece of ruby jewelry.

Lotus Logo

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 review first appeared in Gems & Gemology, Fall 2017, Vol. 53, No. 4.

Back to top