Monday, July 4, 2011

Like a chip of red glass

Safely stashed inside a tiny box stuffed with tissue was what looked to me as an insignificant chip of red glass. Pretty in a way, it's the colour of diluted blood, a light red (not pink). My mom kept the box hidden with her silver cutlery for most of my childhood, only taking it out rarely to show me. Turns out, what looked like a chip of glass was a ruby destined to be mine (for any would be robbers out there, my ruby is flawed and synthetic – its only value is sentimental). Years later the ruby was set in a pendant to commemorate my graduation. It now looks like a proper piece of jewelry and I wear it whenever I can (which, based on my lifestyle, is very infrequently). My ruby has been on my mind lately, as I just got married and had hoped to wear for my wedding. Unfortunately, the pendant didn't work with my dress.

The ruby came into my family in the 1930's. My great-grandfather was a doctor at the time and the ruby was likely given to him as payment. When the ruby came into my grandmother's hands, she decided the fairest way to pass it on was to give it to me as I was only one in the family born in the month where rubies are the birth stone

Rubies are made of the red form corundum, all other corundum colours are called sapphires. Corundum is the crystal form of aluminum oxide, which is clear in its pure form, traces of other components add the colour. For rubies, a tiny bit of chromium makes it red. Rubies have been treasured throughout time and since natural rubies are rare, red garnets and spinels have been passed off as them.

Synthetic gems are essentially the same as natural gems with identical chemical components and optical properties. The difference lies in the location of manufacture, the lab verses the earth. The first synthetic rubies were grown at the end of the 19th century by August Verneuil. By the 1910's synthetic rubies started to be available commercially.

I wonder, if my ruby, which was owned by some unknown person before it came into my great-grandfathers hands during the depression, was one of the early synthetic ones. Unfortunately, there is no way to know.

The cheap and common method of ruby making was to melt aluminum oxide in a special flame to create synthetic corundum. Over time the refinements in the ruby making process resulted in bigger and better crystals. By the 1960's, ruby crystals could be grown of a quality to produce the first laser. On May 16th, 1960 Theodore Maiman operated a laser for the first time. By 1969, a ruby laser was bounced off the moon (using a retro-reflector placed there by Apollo astronauts) to determine how far away it is.

Ruby lasers have been replaced with other types (there are no rubies in your CD player) but, synthetic rubies are widely available in jewelry.

No comments:

Post a Comment