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Sell With a Story: Famous Red Spinel Gemstones

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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.

Sourcing Spinel

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.

Famous Red Spinel Gemstones British Imperial State Crown
These days, the 170-carat Black Prince’s Ruby rests atop the Imperial State Crown— one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and worn by Her Majesty the Queen during official ceremonies.

Imperial Crown of Russia

Famous Red Spinel Gemstones Imperial Crown of Russia
Beginning with Catherine II and ending with Nicholas II, Russia’s Great Imperial Crown features a large red spinel weighing 398.72 carats. This is believed to be the second-largest spinel in the world.

The Timur Ruby

Famous Red Spinel Gemstones Timur Ruby
The Timur Ruby is actually, you guessed it, a red spinel. This 352.5 carat stone was owned by Asian conqueror Timur in the fourteenth century. It was then given to Queen Victoria in 1851 by the East India Company and is now part of the British Crown Jewels.

Imperial Crown of Austria

Famous Red Spinel Gemstones Austria Imperial State Crown
This crown was constructed in 1602 for Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. It was part of the Habsburg lineage as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. Red spinels are strewn about, along with zircon and pearls.

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Kyle Carriere

I've been with Stuller since June 2016 • I make the blog happen • Recent marketing graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette • Spotify is my favorite app • Music festival-goer • I endorse Pop's Poboys in downtown Lafayette wholeheartedly • GIFs and memes are my second language • Best advice I can offer: Everything will turn out alright.