Famous Rubies and Sapphires

By Margaret Burgon Klemp

Marbode, the eleventh century Bishop of Rennes in France is still honored as a master researcher by gem enthusiasts and scholars alike. In his wonderful work, The Lapidary he described the Sapphire as follows: Sapphire has an appearance similar to the heavenly throne; The manuscript depicts the heart of simple men waiting with sure hope, in whose life and ways the Highest is pleased.

Shakespeare in his play Measure By Measure writes, "The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies." And in his poem Venus and Adonis he wrote:

"Once more the ruby-colour'd portal open'd

Which to his speech did honey passage yield;

Like a red morn, that ever yet betokend'd

Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field.

Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,

Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds."

Rubies and Sapphires have consistently made an appearance in great literature, religious texts, historical references and folklore. In the controversial biblical text Song of Solomon is a description of a bejeweled bridegroom. "His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires." The book has been interpreted in a variety of ways by theologians and biblical scholars.

One of the most famous rubies in history was known as The Black Prince's Ruby, and was given to Edward of Woodstock by Don Pedro of Castille in return for military services rendered in Spain. This stone, however, was not a true ruby but a spinel instead. The transparent red spinels are called spinel-rubies or balas-rubies and were often confused with actual rubies in ancient times. Distinctions between the two were not clarified until more recent times. A ruby is harder and has a greater density than a spinel which has a clearer color than rich red of a true ruby. Edward was the eldest son of Edward III and a very good military leader. His exploits made him an elite and popular member of the royal family. He never ascended to the English throne because he died one year before Edward III at the age of 46.

A lot of the most famous rubies are truly spinels, but became known by the reputation of the true ruby. The Timur Ruby which can be traced back to an early owner, known as Tamerlane or Timur a tartar conqueror in 1398, is not a ruby but a spinel. It has been called The Timur Ruby from that time. In 1851 authorities discovered that it is actually a spinel. For a long time it remained in the hands of the East India Company after they took possession of it in 1849. The stone was part of a short necklace that had 4 rubies in it, including The Timur Ruby. When curators started studying the inscriptions on the piece more was discovered about the history of the gem. According to the inscription the Persian ruler, Nadir Shah secured the ruby when he invaded Delhi in 1739, and took it back to Persia with him. After that it follows the same historical trail as the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Well-known sapphires have been more easily verified. The most famous sapphire is The Star of India star sapphire and is considered the largest in the world. It was formed 2 billion years ago, and then subsequently discovered in the gem beds in Sri Lanka 300 years ago. This sapphire is well-known because of its mineral rutile and the asterism, which is caused by the reflection of incoming light on a three-fold mineral pattern in the stone. The Star of India was front page news in 1964 when it was stolen from the New York Museum of National History along with The Delong Star Ruby by an infamous jewel thief. Both gems were recovered with The Delong Star Ruby being dropped off for ransom at a phone booth in Florida.

The Queen Marie of Romania Sapphire is the largest sapphire to be auctioned off at Christies in Geneva. It sold for 1.3 million dollars. It was sold as a pendant, and is said to have been originally found in Sri Lanka. It was owned by the Romanian royal family. King Ferdinand of Romania purchased the pendant for his wife, Queen Marie. She wore it at his coronation on October 15, 1922. She often wore it as a complimentary piece of jewelry that matched her sapphire tiara, and she chose them as ornaments when she posed for her official portrait. Her grandson, King Michael, left Romania in 1947 and subsequently sold it to Henry Winston, well-known collector of rare gems and jewels.

The Stuart Sapphire was most likely owned by the English king, Charles II. This particular sapphire has a fine blue color, and has a lot of historical value. When James II fled England he took the stone with him to France, and then he passed it on to his son Charles Edward, and then he passed it on to his son Henry Bentinck. When the Stuart cause ended, all of the royal relics were given to King George III. Today The Stuart Sapphire is set in the back side of the Imperial State Crown.


Gems: A Lively Guide for the Casual Collector, Daniel J. Dennis Jr., 1999 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, New York

Gemstones: Symbols of Beauty and Power, Eduard Gubelin and Franz-Xaver Erni, Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona

Gems in Myth, Legend and Lore Revised Edition , Bruce G. Knuth, Jewelers Press, Thornton, Colorado

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