Joanna Hardy, an Independent Gemmologist and Jewellery Expert, and author of the book Ruby, speaks about the magical qualities of the birthstone of July. Here’s her exclusive interview with Solitaire International.
Tell us more about yourself and the reasons why you’re drawn to coloured gemstones?
Since I was a child, I was drawn to small natural materials such as sea shells and pebbles. The patterns and shapes nature produces fascinated me as a child and when I used to go to see my godmother Margaret Biggs, a gemmologist herself who had a jewellery shop, she would show me mineral specimens. I felt I was in an Aladdin’s cave, which fuelled my imagination for gemstones and grew into a passion that has stayed with me.
What makes Burmese rubies so coveted compared with those from other sources?
Burma was really the only main source for rubies for over 800 years, so it is no surprise they have been so popular. There were other places such as Thailand and Cambodia but again these deposits were discovered later. African coloured gemstones were not really known until the late 20th century with Mozambique being the main deposit in the 21st century.
The Mozambique deposit is over 500 million years old whereas the rubies from Burma were formed only 50 million years ago, after the extinction of the dinosaurs, when the tectonic plate movement formed the Himalayas.
Why did you decide to dedicate a book to rubies and how long did you work on it? Any interesting anecdotes that you’d like to share from your research?
The research took three years which included visiting Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Mozambique. Gemfields had sponsored the book Emerald, so it was a natural progression to continue with Ruby. I was very excited as there had not been a book dedicated to this gem. There are many anecdotes, but you will have to read the book!
What is your view of India’s role in the coloured gemstone pipeline? Is there room for it to grow?
Whenever I visit India, I love seeing how jewellery and gemstones are very much part of your heritage and culture. Vibrant colour combinations are everywhere you look, from spices, textiles, enamels, food, there is a vibrancy of life which makes ruby the perfect gemstone of choice. With this growing appreciation though, it will be hard to please everyone for gem quality rubies are very rare.
Tell us the checklist that a potential investor/collector should keep in mind before buying a ruby?
For a true collector I would always buy unheated rubies. Most rubies today are heated, which improves the colour as there is not enough unheated rubies to meet the demand.
When buying an unheated ruby, it must always be accompanied by a report from a recognised international laboratory such as SSEF, Gubelin, AGL, GIA, stating it is unheated. But the price difference between heated and unheated is enormous. There is nothing wrong with heated rubies, but if you are buying a ruby as an investment then in my opinion it must be unheated, and you should buy it loose then have it mounted.
A very close second is buying a stone which ‘talks to you’ – you must be drawn to it. Many people describe the best colour as ‘pigeon’s blood,’ but this is a very overused description which is purely a marketing tool today. There are many different shades of red and it depends on which light source you are viewing the stone.
Always look at the ruby in daylight and in artificial light before purchasing because it will look different, and you don’t want to buy it in a shop, take it home and then be disappointed.
The three things about colour are that you want an evenness of colour, equal saturation throughout the stone, not too dark or too light but most importantly it must have life and ‘fire’ which you will see if you tilt the stone in many directions.
Coloured gemstones will have inclusions which is perfectly acceptable. If I see a ruby with no inclusions, I will immediately think it is glass or a synthetic stone because natural rubies will always have inclusions which are natural impurities in the gem. What you must be careful of is any inclusions that reach the surface as this will compromise the stone’s durability.
Tell us about the markets driving ruby sales today.
It is very simple, gem quality rubies are very very rare, much rarer than colourless diamonds and it is this appreciation of rarity that is driving the prices.
Nature is not a supermarket so if you are lucky enough to find your perfect ruby, make sure you treasure it.
Joanna Hardy is an independent fine jewellery specialist with over 35 years’ experience working in the jewellery industry. She began her career training as a goldsmith at Sir John Cass College before working as a rough diamond valuer and grader for De Beers. She then became one of the first women to be a polished diamond dealer in Antwerp and then joined Philips the Auctioneers in London. She moved on to Sotheby’s in Bond Street, London and was their senior jewellery specialist and auctioneer for 14 years and since 2009 has worked independently.
Joanna is accredited lecturer for The Arts Society and writes articles for publications worldwide and is a published author with her books, ‘Collect Contemporary Jewelry’, ‘Emerald’, ‘Ruby’ and ‘Sapphire’ published by Thames and Hudson and a contributing author to ‘Graff’ published by Rizzoli and ‘Cartier Panthère published by Assouline. She curates contemporary jewellery exhibitions, has a foundation jewellery course with the online platform Learningwithexperts.com and is the curator for the Omnēque.com antique and contemporary jewellery selling platform.
Joanna is a Fellow of the Gemmological Association, Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, a Trustee Board member of Gem-A, a Liveryman, Court Assistant of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths a member of the British Hallmarking Council and is a regular jewellery specialist on the UK television show BBC Antiques Roadshow.