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What is spinel?

Red as a ruby spinelWhen you think of red gemstones the first one to spring to mind is the ruby, naturally.  This gemstone is one of the rarest and most valuable, by carat weight, of all precious gems however, which pushes it out of reach of many budgets.  You might therefore want to consider spinel as an alternative.

What is spinel?  Spinel is a gemstone that comes in a variety of colours, from light pink through deep red to mauve, lilac, lavender, blue, green and yellow.  Often mistaken for ruby or sapphire, they are in fact found in the same places, but are of a different crystalline construct.

The most sought after are the deep reds, cobalt blue, bright pink and bright orange stones, with the paler shades less rare and so less valuable.

Spinel has been mined for centuries and one of the most famous spinel gemstones is known as the Black Prince’s Ruby.  This jaw-dropping stone weighs in at a magnificent 170 carats and is cabochon rather than cut, meaning smooth rather than faceted. It is the largest uncut spinel in the world and is set into George V’s Imperial State Crown and is held at the Tower of London.  Its history stretches back to the Middle Ages, when it appears in the 14th century as belonging to Abū Sa’īd one of the last Princes of Granada, in southern Spain.  The spinel was stolen from him by a duplicitous Spanish count, who tricked Abū Sa’īd into meeting with him in Seville, whereupon he was promptly murdered and all his belonging stolen – among them this glorious spinel.  The robber Count – also known to history as Don Pedro the Cruel (sounds like a super chap) found himself under threat by his own brother and in 1367 sought help from the the son of Edward III of England, also known as The Black Prince, possibly due to the black armour he wore in battle. Don Pedro’s brother was beaten and the Black Prince demanded the ruby in exchange for services rendered.

The Black Prince's Ruby is actually a red spinelThe red gemstone isn’t heard of again until 1415, when it appears as one of the gems that encrusted the helmet of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.  During the battle Henry was struck on the head with a battle axe, nearly losing both head and helmet.  Luckily the battle was won by Henry’s forces and the Black Prince’s Ruby was saved.   It is believed that Richard III wore the gem in his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth, where it wasn’t so lucky for him and he died, giving control of the country to the Tudors.  And we all know where that took us!

The gemstone is recorded as being among Henry VIIIs royal collection and then disappears again when Cromwell threw out the monarchy and auctioned off the crown jewels, but mysteriously reappears with Charles II – we can only imagine a sympathiser bought it and presented it to Charles upon his restoration.

At Christopher Evans we create many stunning bespoke pieces for clients seeking to add a unique piece of jewellery to their own collections.  If you want a ruby but the budget won’t stretch, spinel might be a choice you can make that will work within your budget.  Why not pop in and ask?

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