Red Jewels

Red and green are this season’s two most traditional colors. As Nature decks the landscape in holiday hues, using evergreen trees, holly bushes, and poinsettias, her red and green gemstones provide us with our own personal adornments during this special time of the year.

While rubies and emeralds are probably the first such gems to spring to mind, don’t overlook the wide array of other stones available in these colors.

There are at least five red gems that you can offer your customers this holiday season. From the precious to the affordable, popular to unusual, your customers may choose from ruby, spinel, rubellite tourmaline, chrome pyrope garnet, and red beryl (a.k.a. “red emerald”).

A word about red diamonds: they do exist, but because of their extreme rarity and value, they are neither readily available nor affordable to most. Red diamonds are, in fact, so rare that fewer than a handful have ever been seen. However, some fancy deep pinks may mistakenly be called red. For example, a .25-ct. “fancy red oval brilliant,” which tested fancy deep pink, was sold in 1996 at a Christie’s auction in New York for $72,000-or $288,000 per carat.

History and romance. Ruby is the contemporary birthstone for the month of July, representing the heat of summer. But in the 18th century, it was the birthstone for the month of December. At the beginning of winter we need some heat, so people wore rubies to keep “warm,” a fact that might intrigue customers this month.

Red is a warm color and represents passion-“the fire within.” It’s a bold color, symbolizing attraction, magnetism, and love. It suggests desire, determination, courage, and willpower. People who take action and have career goals, power, and strength wear red.

Modern gem therapists claim that red spinel will endow the wearer with great physical energy while exerting a calming influence. Red gems are supposed to dispel anger or animosity. They command respect and promote inner healing.

Color variations. Red can be modified by four neighboring colors: brown, pink, purple, and orange. While most would agree that the more pure and saturated the color, the more valuable and sought after it is, the standard for top-quality rubies is slightly pinkish. These come from the Mogok area of Burma. Mogok color is typically a medium-dark, vivid, very slightly pinkish-red, which visibly fluoresces pinkish-red when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight. Most other red gems are either named after Burmese ruby-such as rubellite (red tourmaline)-or are compared with Burmese ruby, such as “ruby spinel.” We hear names like “raspberry red,” “strawberry red,” “watermelon red,” “apple red,” and “cherry red” to describe the best mouthwatering saturated red-colored gems.

Other possibilities. There also are “collector stones,” ones that are considered gemstones but that may be too rare or too fragile to be worn in everyday jewelry. Yet another alternative for the more adventuresome customer: nontransparent red gems that are either more ornamental in style or do not occur in a pure red color.

Japanese red coral is one of the few nontransparent yet truly red gems. There also are Japanese corals that are more of an orangey-red than pure red. Then there’s red jade, red jasper, carnelian and sard, sunstone, and red amber, which bear the name “red” but are usually more brownish-red in their most common incarnations. Rhodochrosite, an opaque gem, appears as a reddish-pink-and-white banded material and is commonly seen in beaded necklaces. The transparent variety, which can be a true red, is so fragile (thanks to its six directions of perfect cleavage possibilities) that it takes a near miracle to facet one. Only someone willing to risk breaking this gem will wear it. Try watermelon tourmaline for something a little more unusual, wearable, and affordable in both red and green.

Value. Clarities differ for each red gem. Rubies, spinels, and chrome pyropes are expected to have some visible inclusions, although it will be easier to find affordable spinels and pyropes with fewer inclusions than an equivalent ruby. Rubellite is notorious for having eye-visible inclusions, so if you find one without, consider it either a rare opportunity or a probable case of enhancement. Red beryl also will have plenty of eye-visible inclusions, unless it’s synthetic. But all these natural red gems are valued more for their color than their clarity.

The latest prices. You might think that ruby would be the priciest of the red gems, but this is not necessarily the case. For a 1-ct., good-quality ruby, expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $600 per carat. Red spinel can be priced similarly, ranging from $100 to $300 per carat. Rubellite is probably the most reasonably priced red gem, estimated at $65 to $90 per carat. Chrome pyropes can fetch up to $125 per carat. Of the five red gems, red beryl may be the most difficult to find and is the most expensive. Cost per carat for a good-quality, 1-ct. red beryl can run from $6,000 up.

Enhancements. Heat and irradiation are the two enhancements you’re most likely to encounter with red gems. It is said that 99% of all rubies are heat-treated to improve their color. Heat treatment can be detected through magnification by trained gemologists and trade laboratories. Red tourmalines reportedly are irradiated to enhance color, but because tourmaline irradiation is not detectable, you must know your source to judge whether or not the rubellite has been enhanced. Red beryl may be filled, since it can be highly fractured and reacts to oil and resins in much the same was as its emerald sister. There are no treatments for spinel or pyrope-they are 100% naturally colored.

Recommended reading. For more information on red gems, see the following:

Handbook of Gem Identification by Richard T. Liddicoat (GIA, 1990).

“Gem Quality Red Beryl” by James Shigley and Eugene Foord, Gems & Gemology, Winter 1984, p. 208.

The Curious Lore of Precious Stones by George Frederick Kunz (Dover Publications, 1971).