Distinguishing Various Red Stones

The species of precious gems and stones that have a usual shade of red, how they are easily mistaken, and the differences in the shades of various red stones

Let us begin with the beginning color of the visible spectrum, red, and consider how a close study of shades of red can help in distinguishing the various red stones from each other. In the first place we will inquire what mineral species are likely to furnish us with red stones. Omitting a number of rare minerals, we have (I) corundum ruby, (2) garnet of various types, (3) zircon, (4) spinel, (5) tourmaline. These five minerals are about the only common species which give us an out-and-out red stone. Let us now consider the distinctions between the reds of these different species. The red of the ruby, whether dark (Siam type), blood red (Burmah type), or pale (Ceylon), is more pleasing usually than the red of any of the other species. Viewed from the back of the stone (by transmitted light) it is still pleasing. It may be purplish, but is seldom orange red. Also, owing to the dichroism of the ruby the red is variable according to the changing position of the stone. It therefore has a certain life and variety not seen in any of the others except perhaps in red tourmaline, which, however, does not approach ruby in fineness of red color.

Red Stones of Similar Shades. The garnet, on the other hand, when of fire-red hue, is darker than any but the Siam ruby. It is also more inclined to orange red or brownish red--and the latter is especially true when the stone is seen against the light (by transmitted light). Its color then resembles that of a solution of "iron" such as is given as medicine. The so-called "almandine" garnets (those of purplish red tint) do not equal the true ruby in brightness of color and when held up to the light show more prismatic colors than the true ruby, owing to the greater dispersion of garnet. The color also lacks variety (owing to lack of dichroism). While a fine garnet may make a fair-looking "ruby" when by itself, it looks inferior and dark when beside a fine ruby. By artificial light, too, the garnet is dark as compared with the true ruby, and the latter shows its color at a distance much more strongly than the garnet.

The red zircon, or true hyacinth, is rare. (Many hessonite garnets are sold as hyacinths in the trade. These are usually of a brownish red.) The red of be hyacinth is never equal to that of the ruby. It is usually more somber, and a bit inclined to a brownish cast. The dispersion of zircon, too, is so large (about 87 per cent. Of that of diamond) that some little "color-play" is likely to appear along with the intrinsic color. The luster too is almost adamantine while that of ruby is softer and vitreous. Although strongly doubly refracting, the hyacinth shows scarcely any dichroism and thus lacks variety of color. Hence a trained eye will at once note these differences and not confound the stone with ruby.

Spinels, when red, are almost always more yellowish or more purplish than fine corundum rubies. They are also singly refracting and hence exhibit no dichroism and therefore lack variety of color as compared with true ruby. Some especially fine ones, however, are of a good enough red to deceive even jewelers of experience, and one in particular that I have in mind has been the rounds of the stores and has never been pronounced a spinel, although several "experts" have insisted that it was a scientific ruby. The use of a dichroscope would have saved them that error, for the stone is singly refracting. Spinels are usually clearer and more transparent than garnets and show their color better at a distance or when in a poor light.

Tourmaline of the reddish variety (rubellite) is seldom of a deep red. It is more inclined to be pinkish. The dichroism of tourmaline is stronger than that of ruby and more obvious to the unaided eye. The red of the rubellite should not deceive anyone who has ever seen a fine corundum ruby.


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