Balas Rubies – From rome to china
Balas rubies have been found all the way from the royal courts of Rome to the imperial courts of China. “These fine stones became … the treasured property of kings and emperors…” states the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). And this is not surprising. The rough crystals are often formed in the shape of two pyramids, conjoined at the flat level surface in the shape of an octahedron. This allows them to be free of imperfections, and at the same time display an intense color. Because of this, they had been referred to as “Nat Thwe”, meaning “polished by the spirits”.
One of the most illustrious Balas Rubie’s known to men is the Balck Prince. It is part of the British Imperial State Crown, thus belonging to the Crown Jewels of England. Guarded in the Tower of London, “it first appeared in the historical records of fourteenth-century Spain, and was owned by a succession of Moorish and Spanish Kings before Edward, Prince of Wales … received the stone in 1367” the GIA reports.
1783 – a new mineral and surprising colors
It was in the year 1783 in which the mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle surprised the world with his discovery. “Mr. de Lisle came to the conclusion that the so-called Balas Rubies, found in south-east Asia, differ slightly in mineralogical terms from the rubies of Burma or Sri Lanka. Which raises the question: If these exceptionally clear, and colorful gemstones are not really rubies or sapphires, what are they?” explains Alexander Kreis, a gemologist at KREIS. As it turned out, these gems cannot be categorized into any existing gemstone category. In fact, they are a mineral of their very own, called “spinel”.
“As a result, some of the world’s most illustrious “rubies” are actually spinel” (GIA), and the Black Prince is one of them.
“What followed was a time of curiosity. After centuries of categorizing many gems as rubies or sapphires, a new frontier of exploration opened up. People were curious as to whether or not the gems they hold dear are made of this new mineral, spinel. And the results brought to light were quite astonishing. Over the course of the next centuries, we would find out that spinel can have many hues. Almost all the shades of red, pink, purple, blue, violet, but also color combinations such as bluish green”, tells Alexander Kreis
“Intense reds and pinks are caused by traces of chromium. The higher the chromium content, the stronger the red hue. Orange and purple stones owe their color to a mixture of iron and chromium. Violet to blue spinel can be colored by trace amounts of iron, and vibrant blues owe their saturated color to trace amounts of cobalt” states the GIA.
Finding spinel is a difficult endeavor. This is particularly due to its extraordinary scarcity. As the GIA reports: “Spinel is generally highly sought after by gem connoisseurs, and well-formed spinel crystals are in high demand among collectors”. Thus, if a gem has been found, it is usually cut in such a way to save as much weight as humanly possible. The gem will be “out of shape”, proportions aren’t right and this is to the detriment of its sparkle.
“Cutting these gemstones in an “out of shape” fashion is similar to buying a suit made for everyone and no-one in particular. We do it exactly the other way around. For us, it is not about the difficulty or the time that goes into our work. It is about getting the perfect fit”, explains Alexander Kreis. A philosophy echoed throughout KREIS, as Vanessa Kreis continues to say: “We set our spinel in such a way, that it floats above the finger, thus allowing as much light as possible to illuminate the gemstone. Further, we did cut the gem in perfect proportions, to reach the pinnacle of the intense color and sparkle”.
[Spinel ring by KREIS Jewellery]
[The British Imperial State Crown displaying the Black Prince spinel – illustration by Cyril Davenport (1848 – 1941)]
[A rough crystal of a spinel – by GIA]