Consider spinel gemstones the tricksters of the gemological world. These stones have pulled off countless high-profile cases of mistaken identity. Since they form in a range of colors — including deep red and blue — spinel easily posed as rubies and sapphires for centuries. But just because spinel gemstones aren’t made of Corundum, does that make them less spectacular? Of course not! In fact, you’ll find red spinel in the crown jewels of many of history’s most powerful monarchies.
The Crafty Impostor
Spinel gemstones come in a variety of colors like pink, red, orange, blue, purple, brown, and black. And since spinel grows in the same geologic conditions as Corundum with similar bright red and deep blue hues, it’s no wonder why they’ve been mistaken for rubies and sapphires for centuries. However, their chemical compositions differ. Spinel gemstones have isometric crystal systems while Corundum’s are hexagonal. These varieties are distinguishable by their optical properties as well.
From the Greek word for spark or thorn, spinel has enjoyed the spotlight since ancient times. Spinel gemstones were often called Balas Rubies, as many originated from the Badakhshan mines near Afganistan in the Hindu Kush mountains. Even Marco Polo wrote of this famed ruby and spinel mine as early as 1300 AD, reporting, “The stones are dug on the king’s account, and no one else dares dig in that mountain on pain of forfeiture of life as well as goods; nor may anyone carry the stones out of the kingdom.” From early on, it was clear these famous red spinel gemstones were reserved for royalty.
Famous Red Spinel Gemstones
Black Prince’s Ruby
One of the most famous red spinel gemstones in history, the Black Prince’s Ruby (which is actually a red spinel) has quite a legacy. The stone was gifted to Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince, back in the fourteenth century. The red spinel even made its way onto the battlefield riding atop King Henry V of England’s battle helmet. Richard III supposedly wore the stone at the Battle of Bosworth where he was slain.