Saturday, March 7, 2015

Royal Spinel - Balas Ruby

Spinel is the magnesium aluminium member of the larger spinel group of minerals. It has the formula MgAl2O4. Balas ruby is an old name for a rose-tinted variety.

After the 18th century the word ruby was only used for the red gem variety of the mineral corundum and the word spinel became used. "Balas" is derived from Balascia, the ancient name for Badakhshan. The Badakshan Province was for centuries the main source for red and pink spinels.
Spinel is most famous for its deep red variety that closely resembles ruby. The two gemstones can be very difficult to distinguish. Until the late 19th century, there was no distinction made between ruby and red spinel, as they look identical and are found in the same localities. Many famous old "rubies" were discovered to be spinel.

Mining in Afghanistan has a history over 2,000 years as gold, silver and precious stones were routinely mined. Afghanistan's ruby/spinel mines were mentioned in the writings of many early travellers.
The Badakhshan mines were of great importance during the period from 1000–1900 AD. They were the source of many of the finest early red spinels in gem collections around the world, such as those in the crown jewels of Iran, the collection in Istanbul's Topkapi, Russia's Kremlin and Diamond Fund, and England's Tower of London.
During the Soviet occupation, mining of all Afghan gem and mineral deposits was controlled by the state. However, since many mines lay in inaccessible areas, such mining became an important source of income for the rebels.
In the late 1980s, large reddish spinels were reported from the Pamir mountains of what is now Tajikistan. One 532 carat rough yielded cut gems of 146.43 and 27.81 carats. Ruby was also reported in eastern Tajikistan, near the border with China, in the early 1980s. Political difficulties and rugged terrain make Afghanistan a difficult country to explore, and Tajikistan is no better.
Fine "Balas Ruby" spinel is as sought after, and commands the same high prices, as ruby.

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