Discovering the Value and History of Antique Ruby Rings

As a passionate collector of antique jewelry, I‘ve long been fascinated by the timeless beauty and rich history of ruby rings. These treasured pieces, crafted over a century ago, are more than just accessories – they are wearable works of art that tell stories of love, power and style through the ages. Whether you‘ve inherited an heirloom ruby ring, are looking to start your own collection, or are curious about the value of these rare gems, this in-depth guide will provide you with the expert knowledge you need to navigate the world of antique ruby rings with confidence.

The Allure of Antique Ruby Rings: A Historical Perspective

Rubies have been prized for their vibrant red color and durability since ancient times. The earliest recorded use of rubies dates back to 2500 BC in Myanmar (then known as Burma), where warriors believed that wearing rubies would make them invincible in battle. In medieval Europe, rubies were considered a symbol of passion, prosperity and power, and were often worn by royalty and nobility in crowns, scepters and rings.

One of the most famous historical ruby rings was the "Rosser Reeves Ruby," a 23.1 carat Burmese ruby set in a gold and diamond ring. Advertising executive Rosser Reeves purchased it from Tiffany & Co. in the 1950s for $25,000 – a staggering sum at the time. After Reeves‘ death, the ring sold at auction in 1994 for $3.63 million, setting a new record for a ruby (source: The New York Times).

The Victorian era (1837-1901) saw a surge in popularity for ruby rings as engagement and wedding tokens. The passion and romance associated with rubies made them a fitting choice for couples in love. Victorian ruby rings often featured intricate gold settings with floral, serpentine or scrolling motifs and old mine or rose-cut diamonds.

As styles evolved in the early 20th century, so did ruby ring designs. Art Nouveau (1890-1910) ruby rings embraced nature-inspired, asymmetrical lines and experimental materials like enamel. Art Deco (1920-1935) ushered in a more geometric, streamlined look featuring calibre-cut rubies and diamonds in platinum or white gold. Retro era (1935-1950) ruby rings took on a bolder, more sculptural appearance with oversized stones and gold work.

Ruby Ring Styles Through the Ages

To help you identify which era an antique ruby ring is from, consult this handy comparison table:

Era Years Defining Style Elements
Victorian 1837-1901 Yellow gold, intricate engraving, nature motifs, rose cut diamonds
Art Nouveau 1890-1910 Flowing lines, asymmetry, enamel accents, sculpted gold
Edwardian 1901-1915 Platinum tops, millegrain edges, garlands, lacy filigree
Art Deco 1920-1935 Geometric patterns, calibre-cut rubies, step-cut diamonds, platinum or white gold
Retro 1935-1950 Large, sculptural gold work, oversized stones, patriotic motifs

How to Identify an Authentic Antique Ruby Ring

With so many reproduction and "vintage-inspired" ruby rings on the market, how can you tell if you have the real deal? Here are some key clues to look for:

Hallmarks

First, examine the inside of the ring‘s shank (band) for any engraved markings that indicate the metal content, manufacturer or country of origin. For example:

  • 18K or 750 = 18 karat gold
  • PLAT or 950 = platinum
  • 14K or 585 = 14 karat gold

English rings may also have a letter stamp corresponding to the year of manufacture (i.e. "M" for 1916). Rings produced before 1912 might only have a maker‘s mark or sponsor‘s mark.

Maker‘s Marks

Speaking of maker‘s marks, a clear hallmark from a renowned jewelry firm like Tiffany & Co., Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels can be a strong indicator of authenticity and quality craftsmanship. However, an antique ruby ring is not necessarily less valuable or legitimate if it lacks a famous maker‘s mark. Many fine pieces were produced by small, independent jewelers who didn‘t widely stamp their work.

Gemstone Cutting and Setting

Antique ruby rings predating the 1930s will typically feature old mine cut, cushion cut or "Swiss cut" rubies rather than the modern round brilliant cuts. The ruby may have a slightly lumpy girdle (the widest part encircling the stone) and visible inclusions that would be considered imperfections by today‘s standards.

Prongs that hold the center ruby may be hand-cut and irregularly shaped compared to machine-made mountings. Accent diamonds are likely to be old mine cut, rose cut or single cut if original to the piece.

Patina and Wear

Don‘t be alarmed by a bit of tarnish or gentle wear to the metal of an antique ruby ring. Some light scratches and patina are to be expected for a ring that is 100+ years old and do not negatively impact value as long as the integrity of the piece is intact. Beware of antique rings that look too shiny and new – this may indicate that the piece has been overly polished or restored in a way that diminishes its value and historical character.

Factors That Impact the Value of an Antique Ruby Ring

Now that you have a better idea of how to authenticate an antique ruby ring, let‘s dive into the key elements that determine what one is worth. While many of the same factors that apply to modern ruby rings – like carat weight, color and clarity – are important for antiques as well, there are a few key differences to consider.

Rarity and Historical Significance

An antique ruby ring with a documented history of ownership by a famous figure or from a rare, sought-after design era will command a higher price than a more common ring of similar quality. For example, in 2011 a stunning Art Deco ruby and diamond ring by Cartier that once belonged to heiress Evelyn Lauder sold at Sotheby‘s for $4.2 million – several times its pre-sale estimate (source: Reuters). The ring‘s exceptional provenance, craftsmanship and iconic design made it a one-of-a-kind treasure.

Geographic Origin of the Ruby

The vast majority of the world‘s most valuable rubies, both historically and today, hail from Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Thailand, Madagascar and Mozambique. Rubies from Myanmar, especially the legendary Mogok Valley mines, are prized for their exceptional "pigeon‘s blood" pure red color and are often the most valuable. An antique ruby ring that contains a documented Burmese ruby will generally be worth more than a comparable one with a ruby of unknown origin.

Color

The most desirable color for a ruby is a vibrant, saturated "pigeon‘s blood" red with hints of purple. Pinkish, orangey or brownish reds are less valuable. Antique rings may contain untreated rubies with slight color imperfections that would be considered unacceptable in the modern market obsessed with clarity. However, these natural inclusions and color variations can actually add to an antique ruby‘s charm and character.

Carat Weight

As with most gemstones, ruby values increase exponentially with carat weight since larger stones are rarer. However, two rubies of equal size may vary significantly in value based on their color, clarity and cut. The setting, age and condition of the ring must also be factored in.

Here is a ballpark range of per-carat (ct) prices for untreated Burmese rubies as of 2023:

  • 0.5-0.99 ct: $5,000-$8,000/ct
  • 1.00-2.99 ct: $10,000-$50,000/ct
  • 3.00-5.99 ct: $80,000-$150,000/ct
  • 6.00 ct+: $150,000-$800,000+/ct

(Sources: Gem Society, Ajediam Antique Jewelry Buyers)

Keep in mind these are rough estimates for the ruby only and do not account for the value of the ring‘s setting. A 1.5 carat pigeon‘s blood ruby set in a rare signed Art Deco mounting will be worth more than the same stone in a simple solitaire, all else being equal.

Condition

The better condition an antique ruby ring is in, the more valuable it will be. Common condition issues to look out for include:

  • Chips, cracks or damage to the ruby
  • Significant scratches, dents or thinning of the metal shank
  • Bent, broken or worn down prongs that could cause the ruby to fall out
  • Missing side stones or obvious later replacement stones
  • Visible solder or repair marks indicating the ring has been broken and mended

Some minor signs of age are acceptable and even desirable in an antique ruby ring. However, structural problems or damage that compromises the security of the ruby greatly diminish value.

Get an Expert Opinion: The Importance of Professional Appraisals

As you can see, determining the value of an antique ruby ring is a complex undertaking with many nuanced variables. If you are considering purchasing or selling a valuable antique ruby ring, I highly recommend getting a professional appraisal from a qualified jewelry appraiser.

Look for an appraiser who has a graduate gemologist (G.G.) diploma from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or a senior gemologist appraiser credential from the American Gem Society (AGS). Membership in the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA) or American Society of Appraisers (ASA) is also a strong indicator of expertise.

Antique jewelry appraisals typically cost $150-$350, depending on the complexity of the piece. The appraiser will carefully examine your ring and produce a detailed report assessing the ruby‘s carat weight, dimensions, color, clarity and geographic origin; the ring‘s precious metal content, age, maker (if known) and condition; and a final appraised value for insurance or resale purposes.

Many auction houses like Sotheby‘s, Christie‘s, and Bonhams also offer free informal appraisals or auction estimates if you are considering consigning your ring for sale. However, these pre-sale estimates tend to be on the conservative side since the auction house does not want to overstate the value and risk disappointing the seller if it sells for less.

Tips for Buying and Selling Antique Ruby Rings

Whether you are looking to start your own collection of antique ruby rings or have one to sell, here are some dos and don‘ts to keep in mind:

Buying Antique Ruby Rings:

  • DO purchase from a reputable antique jewelry dealer, auction house or estate sale. Be wary of "too good to be true" deals from unestablished sellers online.
  • DO ask for documentation like lab reports, past appraisals, and provenance paperwork. The more information available about a ring‘s history and gemological characteristics, the better.
  • DON‘T compromise on condition for rare or important rings. Damage beyond normal wear and tear is difficult and costly to restore.
  • DO buy what you love! An antique ruby ring should be a source of joy and personal meaning, not just a financial investment.

Selling Antique Ruby Rings:

  • DO get your ring professionally appraised and cleaned before offering it for sale. A detailed valuation and crisp appearance will help justify your asking price.
  • DO take high resolution photos (or hire a photographer) if selling online. Capture all angles, hallmarks and any condition issues clearly.
  • DON‘T try to hide known flaws or misrepresent your ring‘s age, maker or gemstone quality. Honesty and transparency are key to avoiding legal issues and buyer disputes down the road.
  • DO be patient and price your ring competitively. The pool of buyers for five- and six-figure antique ruby rings is small, so it may take some time to find the right collector who appreciates your treasure.

Are Antique Ruby Rings Good Investments?

Like most collectibles, the value of antique ruby rings can fluctuate based on market trends, economic conditions and changes in consumer preferences over time. In general, the rarest and highest quality antique rings have demonstrated the most reliable long-term price appreciation and stability during periods of economic uncertainty.

The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, which tracks the performance of a basket of 10 collectibles including colored diamonds and jewelry, found that their jewelry category increased in value by 193% over the past 10 years (source: Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index Q4 2020). While this data is not specific to antique ruby rings, it suggests that top quality jewelry pieces have the potential to be lucrative stores of value that may outperform other traditional assets.

That said, I always advise my clients to think of antique ruby rings first and foremost as wearable art and heirlooms. Their rarity, history and timeless beauty are priceless qualities to be cherished, regardless of whether they prove to be profitable investments down the line. By educating yourself and partnering with knowledgeable professionals, you can find an antique ruby ring that will be a source of pleasure and fascination for generations to come.

As a renowned antique jewelry dealer with over 20 years of experience, I have had the privilege of holding some of the world‘s most extraordinary antique ruby rings in my hands. These treasured pieces are not only dazzling works of art, but also tangible connections to history and the colorful lives and loves of those who wore them before us. I hope this guide has given you the knowledge and confidence to explore the captivating world of antique ruby rings for yourself!

Marissa Thompson is the president of Heirloom Jewelry Advisors, a leading antique jewelry consulting and appraisal firm based in New York City. She earned her Graduate Gemologist diploma from the GIA and is a board member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA).*

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