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Ruby vs Sapphire vs Emerald: Which Gem Will You Choose?

March 2021 | Mariam Norman

Diamonds are girl’s best friends. No doubt. But if you’re looking to add more color and glitz to your jewelry collection, you might want to invest in beautiful gemstones too. Speaking of which, emerald, ruby and sapphire are the “big threes” that are increasingly becoming as precious as diamonds, both in terms of value and popularity. These gems are remarkably beautiful in different ways. If you’re not sure which precious stone to invest in, this ultimate guide is all you need. Learn everything about ruby, sapphire, and emerald, what they symbolize, and their striking differences.

Understanding The "Big Three Gemstones''

Currently, only ruby, sapphire, and emerald are considered precious stones. The remaining gemstones are categorized as “semi-precious”. Precious stones are those of “high value”, which means they are priced higher per carat than a diamond. Several factors make gemstones precious. These include rarity, popularity, durability, and of course - beauty. 


Known for its gorgeous red hue, this stone is a favorite of celebrities and royals around the world. But what is ruby, really? Ruby comes from the Latin word “Rubens” which means “red”.


The precious stone comes in different shades, from pinkish to the most expensive - pigeon blood. Ruby was first discovered in 1973 in Kenya by two American geologists. Since then, it has become one of the most sought-after gemstones. Ruby is one of the most highly-priced gemstones but its value is mostly determined by its color. The finest rubies have a deep red color with a hint of violet, also known as “pigeon blood”. Currently, the largest deposit of high-quality rubies is in Myanmar, Burma. Ruby is the birthstone of July. Through the ages, this beautiful stone has symbolized nobility, bravery, purity, and passion. Due to its color (which is close to the color of blood that carries oxygen to all parts of the body), ruby is believed to help align and lend energy to the body. It is also thought to promote positive energy, spiritual vitality, and wellness.


Another attractive choice to grace your jewelry collection is emerald. Like ruby, a high-quality emerald can cost more than diamonds on a carat basis. However, most emeralds in the market have inclusions or imperfections. Emerald gets its radiant green hue from chromium and vanadium.


It can be difficult to find a raw emerald without flaws. That’s why most emeralds undergo treatment to improve their color and reduce imperfections. This precious green stone is truly one of a kind. In the U.S., it’s given as a traditional gift for the 20th, 35th, and 55th wedding anniversaries. Considered to be the "Jewelry of Kings", emeralds have long been fancied by royal families. We've seen Princess Eugenie wore the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik tiara on her wedding day. Even Cleopatra adorned herself with emeralds. But this stone doesn’t just symbolize royalty. It also encompasses wisdom and love. Ancient Romans and Greeks believed the stone represented Goddess Venus. Thus, it is deemed a representation of hope and love. Color, cut, clarity, and carat weight determine the value of emeralds. Those with vivid green or bluish-green colors are the most expensive.


If ruby and emeralds only feature a single color, sapphire boasts of different hues. These gorgeous stones can be found in many parts of the world but they are mainly sourced from Kenya, Cambodia, Columbia, and India. Like ruby and emerald, color is the greatest determinant of a sapphire’s value.


Generally, sapphires with more intense and uniform colors are the most valuable. The most famous royal blue sapphire is that of Princess Diana's engagement ring which is now handed to Kate Middleton. Those that are not blue are called "fancy sapphires". They include the popular “ruby sapphires” (pink), orange, yellow, green, and purple. Sapphires are known to symbolize wisdom, virtue, and good fortune. They also mean sincerity, faithfulness, and holiness (for royals). In the ancient and medieval eras, sapphire (which has a heavenly blue color) signified the height of celestial hope and faith and believed to bring good fortune, protection, and spiritual healing. That's why tons of eternity bands are made of sapphires and other "members of the three big gemstones"


Ruby vs Sapphire vs Emerald

Now that you know the most important facts about the big three gemstones, it’s time to make a choice. Let’s examine the differences among emerald, ruby and sapphire gems.

ruby vs sapphire vs emerald comparison chart


Ruby comes in different shades of red. But the finest quality is neither too dark nor red or it will affect the stone’s brightness. Emerald boasts of a lustrous green color while sapphire is available in different colors (with royal blue having the most value).


Ruby represents love, passion, and purity. While emerald and sapphire are both considered “royal gemstones”, the latter also represents faithfulness and the former, hope.


Clarity (which is one of the 4Cs of diamond and gemstone grading), indicates the relative absence of inclusions (blemishes, surface flaws, and fractures). The more clarity, the higher the value of the gemstone. Among the three precious stones, emerald usually has the most inclusions (99% of emeralds have flaws). Even type 1s can have visible inclusions. When choosing a gemstone, try to avoid those that have highly noticeable inclusions.


A fine quality ruby is generally more expensive than most sapphires and emeralds, with record prices of up to $1,000,000 per carat. Sapphires can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $11,000 per carat, but you’ll find good-quality stones at $450 - $1,200 per carat. Emeralds range from $525 to $1,125 per carat. However, note that several factors affect the price of a gemstone, including color, carat weight, and clarity.


Sapphire is the third hardest gemstone (next to diamond and moissanite). Thus, jewelry pieces that feature sapphire stones are extremely durable and perfect for everyday wear. They score 9 out of 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Since ruby is made from the same mineral (corundum) as sapphire, they have similar hardness. While emerald is the least hard among the three, this stone is still very resilient, with a 7.5-8 grading on the Mohs Hardness Scale.


All three are extremely popular and are getting more popular each day. Like diamonds, gemstones make beautiful additions to your jewelry collection. Choosing the stone for you depends on several factors, including your lifestyle and personal preference.

Mariam Norman
Mariam Norman is a former wedding planner, an experienced storyteller and a gemologist at Noray Designs. She is passionate about helping people explore all aspects of gemology and fashion industry.

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