By Ashley Bailey
, Monday, August 07, 2006 12:00 AM
When asked what was the greatest triumph of his career, Jahangar, Mughal ruler of India from 1605 to 1625, answered, the purchase of the 352-carat Timur ruby in 1612.
There’s just one small flaw in this accomplishment - the ruby was a spinel.
Thankfully for the jeweler who sold the potentate that ruby, the misidentification wasn’t discovered until centuries later when the stone had become a part of the crown jewels of England.
The Timur ruby isn't the only legendary ruby that turned out to be a spinel. Empress Catherine II of the Russia had what she thought was a 414-carat uncut ruby set in her crown. It was a spinel. The 170-carat Black Prince’s ruby in the front of the royal crown of England was also a spinel.
And so it goes. Every mammoth ruby of antiquity is a spinel.
No wonder red spinel was long called "balas ruby," a reference to Balascia, the earliest-known source for this ruby look-alike on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.
So if every great ruby of antiquity is, in reality, a spinel, why isn't this gem more popular?
No one really knows why. Spinel is rarer than ruby but because of its lesser status also far less expensive. It often looks exactly like ruby, although experts will tell you it has more orange. Perhaps the fact that cheap synthetic spinels have been used in class and signet rings for decades makes it impossible for consumers to take it as seriously as it deserves. Whatever the reason, spinel is an undervalued, underappreciated gem that, to our eyes, rivals ruby in beauty.
With a hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale, its got great durability to boot. Burma, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are the main sources of spinel today - just as they’ve been for centuries.
For more specific questions ask our experts