Gemstones and Birthstones: Test-Tube Baby Rubies

Wisdom and a virtuous woman have been said to have a “price above rubies.” And while there are a few other gemstones that might be higher in price, the finest rubies sit right at the top of the market along with emeralds. When comparable in size and quality, they can be and often are more expensive than diamonds, putting them well out of wallet-range for many people.

ABOVE: This beautiful 14k gold pendant is set with a 1.5 carat trillion-cut Chatham-Created ruby and two small diamonds. Courtesy VerbenaPlaceJewelry.com.

But what if ruby is your birthstone and you want to wear it? And what if you don’t want a small one, or anything less than brilliant red? You are so lucky. Because there are man-made rubies that will knock your socks off.

These are not “fakes,” simulants, imitations, or glass. These are really, truly rubies. The difference between them and the rubies coming out of the ground — the ones that would give you untreatable sticker shock — is that these are grown in a lab.

Laboratory-grown rubies have been around for a long time. Back in 1902 Auguste Verneuil discovered that he could melt chromium oxide-colored aluminum oxide in a furnace, drop it bit-by-bit onto a slowly lowering table, and grow a “boule,” or cylinder, of synthetic ruby. (The term synthetic should be used only for lab-grown gem materials that have the identical physical, optical, and chemical properties of natural gems.)

The process was (and still is) relatively quick and very inexpensive. Because the corundum can be colored just about any way a customer wants, Verneuil’s synthetic rubies and sapphires became the “go to” substitute for just about any gemstone. This is part of what gave synthetics the reputation of being “fakes.”
In the 1930s, Carroll Chatham came along and grew emeralds much more slowly (months instead of days), and with a process much closer to the one Mother Nature uses. This upset a lot of people, but that’s another story.

Gemstones and Birthstones: Test-Tube Baby Rubies

This is a magnificent Chatham Created ruby crystal. Photo courtesy Chatham Created Gems.

It wasn’t long before Chatham was growing other gems, including rubies. And while these are much more expensive than the pennies that Verneuil rubies cost, Chatham Created rubies are far less expensive than a naturally formed ruby of the same quality. The pendant shown here from Verbena Place Jewelry, retails at less than $1000 versus the tens of thousands of dollars per carat a comparable quality natural stone would be. Less rare than a natural stone, but a lot more friendly to a ruby-lover’s wallet. And just as beautiful.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.


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