The Story of Spinel

by on February 29, 2012

If you have ever been to London and seen the British Crown Jewels, you will have noticed the giant red gemstone set in the center of the Imperial State Crown.

This stone, quite possibly the most famous gem in the entire world, is the Black Princes Ruby. As large as a hens egg, weighing approximately 170 carats, and measuring five centimeters in length, the Black Princes Ruby is a spectacular red, and it seems to glow with an internal fire of its own. It is so remarkable that it has become one of the worlds most cherished jewels. But did you know that the Black Princes Ruby really isnt a ruby at all? Its actually a spinel, and it has a long and fascinating history.

The gems first known owner was Abu Said, a Moorish prince of Granada in Spain in the mid-1300s. Abu Said lost the gem, as well as his crown and his life, to Don Pedro the Cruel of Seville. In 1366 Don Pedros own brother attacked him, but Don Pedro successfully defended himself with help from the armies of the Black Prince of Bordeaux. As payment, the Black Prince demanded Don Pedros prize jewel, and Don Pedro was in no position to argue.

How the Black Princes Ruby came to England is unknown, but it made its next historical appearance in a jeweled helmet worn by the English king, Henry V, at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The helmet saved Henrys life when a blow from the battle-axe of the French duke of Alencon nearly destroyed it. Both the king and the helmet miraculously survived the war, and the Black Princes Ruby remained in English hands.

Later, King James the First had the gem set into the state crown, and, despite many threats of theft, fire, and even Nazi bombs, over the centuries the Black Princes Ruby has remained the magnificent center-piece of the British royal regalia.

While the Black Princes Ruby is by far the worlds most famous red spinel, it is definitely not the only one ever possessed or coveted by kings, queens, and emperors. The Timur Ruby, also in the Crown Jewels of England, is even larger, weighing 361 carats, or more than 70 grams. It is inscribed with the names of six of its former owners. The Kremlin Museum in Moscow has another giant gem that probably belonged to the Tsar; this one weighs 414 carats.

The most dazzling collection of fine red spinels is found in the Crown Jewels of Iran. The majority were plundered from India when the Mogul Empire fell. The largest one weighs about 500 carats, and it is indeed the biggest on record. Many others weigh over 100 carats, and more than  a dozen have been carved with the name of Jahangir, a Mogul emperor over 350 years ago.

Once you have seen a fine red spinel, you will easily understand why ancient royalty esteemed it as much as ruby, and sometimes even more. Top quality red spinels and rubies have superb pure red colors, and they actually fluoresce, or glow, in natural light. These similarities led to some confusion in early history when people classified gems only by their colors. They called all blue gems sapphires, all green gems emeralds, and all red gems rubies; spinels were called “Balas rubies,” after a region in northern India known as Balascia, where they were first reportedly mined.

Later, when people learned that gems of the same color are not necessarily the same kind of material, they still had difficulty separating red spinel and ruby. Not only do the two gems have the same color and fluorescence, but they are often found together in the same mines, and rubys physical properties are very similar to spinels; ruby is only slightly more dense and slightly harder. (Spinel is actually as hard or harder than emerald, topaz, quartz, and all but five other natural minerals.)

Despite its fame in the ancient world, red spinel has never been as abundant as ruby, and today it is quite difficult to find. The old mines in Afghanistan that produced so many of the giant stones in the Moguls collections seem to have been worked out, and the gem gravels of Sri Lanka and Africa, which give up many beautiful pastel colored spinels, only rarely contain gems with the pure intense red color of the Black Princes Ruby.

Now only the famous mines of Mogok, Burma, hold substantial quantities of fine red spinels. Jealously guarded by the Burmese kings until 1885, controlled by a monopoly under the British Empire, and then nationalized by a socialist government in 1962, Mogoks mines have scarcely had a chance to live up to their potential. While a few beautiful red gems have been smuggled out through the gauntlet of jungle, opium warlords, rebels, and soldiers that make up the Burmese hinterland, these exquisite gems have only been able to offer enticing hints of the sumptuous jewels that must still lie hidden in the mountains of Mogok. No one really knows how many gems remain there undiscovered, but perhaps there is still one that will rival even the Black Princes Ruby and remind us all of the days when kings and emperors held sway over vast domains and counted their wealth by the natural beauty that they owned.


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The Story of Peridot….

by on January 19, 2012

A couple of thousands years BCE, on a full moon night down at the red sea, sailors landed on a small Island of the Serpents. Under the bright moonlight they saw glowing crystals among the volcanic earth. At first light those crystals turn green glitters in the sand.

This is how humanity discovered Zabargad.

The Egyptian royalty in the capital city of Thebes fell quickly for the mysterious gem. In Naturalis Historia, Pliny tells of the first specimen presented to queen Berenice. (Theban queen of Lower Egypt, about 300 BCE.). She was not the only one. Historians even suspect that at least some of the “emeralds” worn by Cleopatra were actually Peridots. According to Agatharchides in his De Mare Erthraeo, Egyptian kings ordered the discoverers to collect gems and deliver them to the royal gem cutters for polishing. Apart from fashion, Peridot was considered a symbol of the sun. Soon enough the ancient Jews picked on this trend as well, named it “Pitdah” and used it in the fabled Breastplates of Aaron described in the Bible (Exodus 28, 15-30). The breastplate was a ceremonial religious garment set with twelve gemstones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel and corresponded with the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve months of the year. Aaron, Berenice and  Cleopatra are all but gone, but The largest cut Peridot, weighs 310 carats is still on display in the Smithsonian, was found on  Serpent Isle, later known as St. John Island.

During the Ottoman Empire (1300-1918) Turkish sultans amassed the world’s largest collection. They were competing with the Crusaders, returning home from their holy journeys with large Peridots as part of the loot. Fine gems from this era remain today in a number of European sanctuaries including the Treasury of the Three Magi in Cologne and the Vatican. The precious stones and jewelry collection in the Tower of London also contains large Peridot gems.

The source of the name Peridot is not very clear. It could be derived from the Greek “peridona”, meaning “giving plenty”, or from the Arabic word Faridat, although the current name in Arabic is Zabargad. To add up to confusion, the old Farsi name Zamroot means emerald which is Izmargad in ancient Hebrew. Later the stone was known as Topazion. Probably around the 18th century, the French were the first to call the yellowish-green stone Peridote, although the English have similar claim,
It was probably, regarding their history, more of a French name.

Peridot belongs to the forsterite-fayalite (most of the gem variety is predominantly foresterite, named after the German naturalist, John Forester.) mineral series which is part of the Olivine group. It is one of the “idiochromatic” gems, meaning the color created by the basic chemical composition of the mineral itself, not from minor impurities, and therefore will only be found in shades of green.
Its chemical formula is given by: (Mg,Fe)2SiO4.

Peridot is found in many corners of the world and beyond, that is from meteorites. In Russia, few cut Peridots were produced out of a meteorite which fell in 1749 in east Siberia. The most unusual olive green gem that comes from meteorites called Pallasites. Moldavite is found in the Czech Republic and believed to have arrived from space in a meteor about 14.8 million years ago. Because this stone contains crystals of Olivine and has a similar color it is often confused with Peridot. Some of these extraterrestrial gems are very beautiful though and have been faceted and set into jewelry.

Because Peridot was created during volcanic action, occasionally, those green crystals are found on the black sands of Hawaii.

The United States was for many years the largest producer of this green material, and the value of production in 1993 was estimated at $1.5 million. Peridot Mesa, located on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation east of Globe in Gila County, is the most productive locality for Peridot in the world. Gem-quality Peridot can be found in deposits at three different locations in New Mexico. The deposits are in the Buell Park area in McKinley County in the northwestern part of the state and in Kilbourne Hole and Potrillo Mar depression.

Very large, super fine-quality Peridot gems are produced from deposits in Mogok area in Burma. These deposits were well known for their 20- to 80-carat cut stones of superb color and clarity, but since the “socialist” government came to power, supply dwindled and Burmese Peridot became all but rare collectors’ item.

In the early 1990s, the rough mountainsides of Nanga Parbat, stretching far west of the Himalayas, start producing fine crystals in a deep and breathtakingly beautiful green. unique stones of over 100 carats were found. Soon enough these stones have been termed “Cashmere Peridot”.

Since the late 90’s and early 2000, the bread and butter Peridot is being mined,  cut and sold out of China. Although on the yellowish side and mostly in the 1 to 3 carats size range, with china’s untapped labor reserves and aggressive business tactics, Chinese Peridot has an excellent price point. It is clearly taking over the commercial slice in the global Peridot pie.

The ancient Romans were quite fond of the gemstone and coveted the brilliant green sparkle, which does not change either in artificial light. They already named the stone “Evening Emerald”. Today, the airy, slightly golden bright green of Peridot could not escape the attention of contemporary designers in the jewelry and fashion industries. Its fine pistachio green or olive green goes perfectly with many summer collections. No wonder that Peridot is assigned to the summer month of August.

If you are still in doubt you should consider the reputation Peridot has at the New Age circles: Peridot protects against nervousness; helps alleviate spiritual fear; aids in healing hurt feelings & bruised egos; incurs strength & physical vitality; aligns subtle bodies; amplifies other vibrational energies & positive emotional outlook; helps liver & adrenal function. If you are married do not forget that Peridot is the anniversary gemstone for the 16th year of marriage. And above all it is supposed to bring the wearer success, peace, good luck, and most importantly, helps his or her dreams to become true.


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