Halloween has been one of my favorite times of year ever since I was kid. At first it was because of the candy, just like every other kid out there, but as I got older, it became about the idea of being able to dress up and be anything I wanted to be, no matter how absurd it was. (I once was a cow complete with an udder purse my mom creatively made!) Now, humans get to pretend, but what about gemstones? Let’s talk about The Great Imposter!
In the middle of the 14th century, the Arab Muslim Prince of Granada, was killed by Peter of Castile, also known as Don Pedro the Cruel. Don Pedro took a beautiful, large, red gemstone from among the Prince’s possessions for himself. Later, when Don Pedro bargained for help from England, he used the beautiful, large, red gemstone as payment to the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales. That gemstone became known as The Black Prince’s Ruby and was worn by Henry V into battle, and later, was placed on the Imperial State Crown for Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838. In 1937, the crown was remade into a lighter version but still holds The Black Prince’s Ruby. Everyone called the gemstone a ruby but was it?
Historically, gemstones were classified in terms of color. Everything blue was a sapphire, everything green was an emerald, and everything red was a ruby. As science has discovered, gemstones are minerals, and what sets minerals apart from each other is the combination of their crystal structure and chemical composition. In 1783, a “new” mineral, red spinel, was found to be a compound of magnesium, iron, & chromium setting it apart from ruby, or the mineral corundum, which is an aluminum oxide compound. Further testing on the crown jewels found The Black Prince’s Ruby to be a red spinel and not a ruby!
The red spinel adorning the Imperial State Crown is approx. 170cts and one of the largest uncut spinels in the world. At an earlier time, the spinel had a hole drilled so that it could hang as a necklace, but now, it has a small ruby covering the hole. The Russian Imperial Crown also has a red spinel sitting atop the crown that was thought to be a ruby at one point. When Catherine the Great ascended to the throne in 1762, she had the 414.30ct red orb placed on her crown where it remains to this day.
The Black Prince’s Ruby has been unmasked to reveal another wonderful gemstone, red spinel. Despite its intriguing history, spinel was a gemstone underappreciated by the public until recently. People are now discovering the rich colors and the strong durability of spinel! Spinel occurs naturally in various colors like pink, red, orange, purple, blue, grey, and black and rates an 8 on the Mohs Hardness scale. According to The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), distinguishing spinel from ruby gave birth to the science of gemology for which I am so grateful for! A few years ago, spinel became another birthstone for August, giving August babies lots of color options. With all its great qualities, I think it is a little unfair to call the crown jewel The Great Imposter, what about The Great Masquerader?
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