The Black Prince’s Ruby. The Timur Ruby. For centuries, spinel, the great imposter, masqueraded as ruby in Europe’s crown jewels.
Until recently, spinel was an underappreciated gem with little consumer recognition. Increasing demand for ruby alternatives rekindled appreciation for spinel’s rich red color and history. In ancient times, southeast Asia’s mines yielded exceptional large spinel crystals, which became the treasured property of kings and emperors, often passing through many hands as spoils of war.
Spinel crystals are so perfect, in Burma they are said to be nat thwe or “polished by the spirits.”
The famous 14th century Black Prince’s Ruby in the British Imperial Crown is actually a red spinel.
Mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle identifies spinel as a different mineral than ruby.
There are a number of processes used to alter the color, apparent clarity, or improve the durability of gems.
Spinel was recently added as an August birthstone, sharing this month with peridot and sardonyx. It has long been mistaken for ruby by emperors and monarchs. Many of the famous “rubies” of history were actually spinels.