The Allure and Lore of Rubies as told by Author Joanna Hardy

The Cartier Breloque Coeur Cartier, 1929. A heart-shaped cabochon ruby, crossed through by platinum and diamond studs. © Cartier Courtesy of the Cartier Collection Photography by Nick Welsh

The minute I opened the email from Thames & Hudson’s publicity department back in June 2017 and read that Ruby: The King of Gems was coming out in time for the holidays, (December 19, 2017), I was thrilled and could not wait to see the book and write about it.

Penned by Joanna Hardy, who also was the principal author of Emerald (Thames & Hudson 2014), a glorious book, which is akin to Ruby on the topics, it covers and the lavish photography depicted. Although I was impressed by the breadth of Emerald, I was patient to receive it and took my time reading it. But I waited in anticipation for Ruby and did not move for hours once it arrived.

I admit on this one to not being as objective as a journalist as one is supposed to be. Rubies are my favorite gems. The allure and the lore behind them, their meanings, which relate to romance, lust and love, and their passion-filled past, along with their lush, firey permutations of red —all speak to me on a level that no other stone can.

The Stuart Coronation Ring on page 94 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames & Hudson 2017

Once the oversized, 368-page red-covered tome arrived, I found it a bit heavy to hold but definitely something I didn’t want to let go of once I opened it. Half the time I sat with the book on my lap and the other half on my couch. I was mesmerized by the stories and jewels I did not know and continued to pour through the anecdotes, tales and the photos sketches and illustrations depicting rubies through the ages, in different cultures and continents.

I was hoping to be wowed by a book on rubies and I was.

I have researched and written a number of articles on this gems and even included celebrities, socialites and iconic jewelers who designed them in a chapter called “Ruby Romantics” in a book I wrote in 2015 (If These Jewels Could Talk: The Legend behind Celebrity Gems, ACC Artbooks).

But as soon as I read Hardy’s introduction and the table of contents and flipped quickly through the book before sitting down to read it, I was in awe. I wanted to learn more and I did. I was inspired by Hardy’s meticulous research and the choices of more than sixty of the world’s most famous jewels and artifacts, including many unseen designs from royals and private collections. Hardy refers to rubies in her introduction as “a stone that for centuries has been imbued with mystery, emotion and grandeur.”

A jewelry specialist, formerly of such luminary companies as De Beers, Phillips and Sotheby’s, Hardy delved deeply into the history of rubies from ancient times through the gems owned by empresses, kings, queens, Maharanis and Hollywood royalty as well as the renowned jewelry houses which counted  legendary nobility,  celebrities and socialites among their clients.

Reine Makéda necklace Cartier, 2015 Set with an oval mixed-cut ruby from Mozambique weighing 15.29 carats and a pear-shaped rose-cut diamond in platinum. © Cartier Courtesy of Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection

I was particularly engrossed in Hardy’s travelogue of her visits to the world’s great ruby deposits including Thailand, Cambodia, Mogok and Mozambique.

In the book’s introduction, Hardy talks about the variations of the color of rubies and the belief that rubies and the different permutations of red evoke strong emotions. “Women with attitude and strength who ooze passion and are wildly independent, have chosen to wear rubies or have been given ruby-set jewelry by their admirers. The stone and its colour seem to have perfectly complemented their larger-than-life personalities,” Hardy writes.

Cartier ruby and diamond necklaces earrings and bracelet designed and made by Cartier in 1951, Given to Elizabeth Taylor by Mike Todd in 1957. Page 235 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames & Hudson 2017

Just look at some of the women who wore and received rubies throughout the 20th century. Elizabeth’s Taylor received her Cartier ruby and diamond parure from one of the two great loves of her life, Mike Todd. Todd presented Taylor with the necklace, earrings and bracelet in 1957, only three months after they were married and Taylor was pregnant with their daughter Liza. She was in the pool at a villa the couple rented outside Monte Carlo when he gave it to her. Her other great love, Richard Burton presented her with a ruby ring for Christmas in 1968. Four years earlier Burton had bought Taylor her legendary emerald suite at Bulgari, at which time he said, “One day I am going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world. It’s my favorite stone, red for Wales. But it has to be perfect” – and it was.

It was reported that Marlene Dietrich, who definitely fit the description of strong, independent and passionate, treasured her Van Cleef & Arpels’ ruby and diamond Jarretière cuff bracelet above all of her other jewels. She wore it in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Stage Fright. It was a larger more fluid version of the sapphire and diamond cuff made for the Duchess of Windsor by the house. When Dietrich passed away, her nephew found the jewel in her safe—the only piece she had not sold from her vast collection before she died.

The Duchess of Windsors wearing her “Hold Tight” inscribed ruby and diamond bracelet. Also pictured in drawings and final design. Page 219 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames &Hudson 2017

Speaking of the Duchess of Windsor, she also owned a number of ruby and diamond pieces, all which told a piece of her love story with the King who abdicated his throne for her. Her ruby pieces included a Van Cleef & Arpels Cravate necklace from 1936, which was redesigned as a special order by the Duke for the Duchess’s 40th birthday in 1939—the predominant gems being the rubies. Other ruby jewels that were inscribed and spoke to the passion of the couple were a Van Cleef & Arpels double Holly Leaf brooch and a ruby and diamond bracelet with clasp inscribed with ‘Hold Tight 27-iii-36’

There was also the actress Grace Kelly turned Princess Grace of Monaco, who chose three Cartier ruby clips to wear as a tiara during a state banquet and which represent the color of the Monegasque flag.

There were many more women known for their sensuality, style and strength who favored rubies and relate back to Hardy’s statement in her introduction.

The book also includes the Star of Burma ruby, which is an 83-carat cabochon star ruby in a brilliant and baguette cut diamond and platinum setting by Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin (THM), which appeared in the opening scene of the film Vogues of 1938, which was shot in Technicolor and gave onscreen credit to THM, generating a renewed interest in rubies.

While these particular film, celebrity and socialite facts are all reported in my book, in Ruby, there are pages and pages of jewels which I learned something new about or I discovered for the first time.

Hardy explains that researching the book, “felt like real detective work. Spotting the coiled snake holding a ruby heart of the left sleeve of Elizabeth I in one of her most famous portraits was a thrilling discovery for me. Another revelation was that the ruby and diamond Cartier necklace bought by the ever generous Mike Todd for Elizabeth Taylor was, in fact, able to be worn as a tiara, which none of the past descriptions of this necklace had indicated, not even that which appeared in the Christie’s catalogue that accompanied the sale of Taylor’s jewels.” she explains.  Hardy unearthed more stories likes these, which amazed and delighted me throughout the different chapters of the book.

The Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I, c. 1600, artist unknown from page 100 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames & Hudson 2017

I lingered in the chapter “Old England” which features the story and photos of The Stuart Coronation Ring, The Sovereign’s Ring and The Queen Consort’s Ring among others

I was completely engrossed by both Elizabeth I Locket Ring, which is also featured in this section and the aforementioned Elizabeth I Rainbow Portrait and brooch, which is explained in full detail. But, I will let you uncover the stories on your own when you are reading the book.

Elizabeth I Locket Ring on page 102 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames & Hudson 2017

The “Royal” chapter depicts European jewels from the 18th century onward and includes noble ruby jewels from France, Austria, Spain and England. Jewelers such as Nitot et Fils, Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, and Garrard & Co, which, in its various incarnations, remained the crown jewelers until 2007 for English aristocracy,  are all represented in full detail.

The commission of the Garrard Burmese Ruby Tiara with a sketch of the commission by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

On Page 145 of Ruby: The King of Gems ©Thames & Hudson 2017, A Garrard & Co drawing of the ruby and diamond tiara as commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973 and Quen Elizabeth II wearing the tiara on a trip to Slovenia

The book also takes us on a journey through the ruby jewels of India, The Gilded Era The 20th Century and the legendary houses of this time period, such as Boucheron, Cartier, Chaumet, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura and a host of contemporary jewelers such as Graff, Wallace Chan Hemmerle, Michelle Ong, and Leo de Vroomen as well as the techniques that the major houses innovated and much much more…


This is a book for anyone who is up for tales of love, romance, and the history and uncovered mysteries of the”king of gems”.  It includes everything a jewel-ophile would want to read and is the best gift or self-purchase item someone passionate about rubies would want to own— with the exception of an actual ruby jewel.



Indian style necklace English Art Works for Cartier London, 1930 Commissioned by Mrs. Ronald Tree, later Mrs. C. G. Lancaster, in 1930, with the 76 pearls supplied by Mrs. Ronald Tree. As with some other pieces of the time, the necklace can be separated into several components to form a shorter necklace and bracelet, or a choker using one of the large side clasps as the front detail. © Cartier Courtesy of the Cartier Collection Photography by Nick Welsh


















List Price: $125.00. Details Format:Hardcover, Pages:368. Artwork: 462 color illustrations. Size:10 in x 13.5 in