Timur Ruby

Origin of Name

The Timur Ruby gets its name from the greatest conqueror of the 14 century Timur Lenk (Tamerlane) who hailed  from the Central Asian region of Transoxania (Uzbekistan) with its capital at Samarkand. The military successes achieved and the lands conquered by Tamerlane within a period of three decades, that extended from Mongolia in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, India in the south and Russia in the North, was only second to that of Alexander the Great, of 3rd century BC.

Timur invaded India in September 1398 and after defeating the army of Sultan Mahmud Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate, he captured Delhi and reduced it to a mass of ruins, from which it took more than a century to emerge. Timur stayed in India for about six months and eventually when he left India in April 1399, carried with him an immense booty that included valuable jewels and jewelry, which included the renowned 361-carat “red ruby” which eventually came to be known as the “Timur Ruby.”

The Timur Ruby,one of the World’s Most Famous Gemstone


Characteristics of the stone

The “Timur Ruby” which is presently part of the British Crown Jewels, weighs 352.50 carats . The enormous red gemstone retains its original rough shape, and is unfaceted, having a  semi-polished flat face like a table-cut gemstone. The flat face of the gemstone carries Persian Inscriptions in Arabic script, referring to the previous owners of the renowned gemstone. In fact the stone remained in obscurity for almost 60 years, until it was recognized by researches who read the inscriptions.

The longest inscription reads as follows :- “This is the ruby from among the 25,000 genuine jewels of the King of Kings, the Sultan Sahib Qiran (Timur), which in the year 1153 A.H. (1740 A.D.) from the collection of jewels of Hindustan, reached this place (Isfahan).

The names of the five emperors  who owned the gemstone and got their names inscribed on it are given as follows :-

1) Akbar Shah Jahangir Shah (1605-27) – 1021 A,H (1612 A.D.)

2) Sahib Qiran Sani -Shah Jahaan (1628-58) – 1038 A.H. (1629 A.D.)

3) Alamgir Shah – Aurangzeb (1658-1707) – 1070 A.H. (1660 A.D.)

4) Badshah Gazi Muhammad Farukh Siyar (1713-1718) – 1125 A.H.(1713 A.D.)

5) Ahmad Shah – Durr-i Durrani (1748-1772) – 1168 A.H. (1755 A.D.)

Thus the Timur Ruby has an undeniable pedigree as clearly indicated by the inscriptions given above. The stone was believed to have been owned by Sultan Sahib Qiran (Timur), and later came into the possession of four Mogul Emperors, starting from Jahangir Shah (1605-27) from whom it passed down successively to Shah Jahaan (1628-58), Aurangzeb (1658-1707) and Farukh Siyar (1713-1718). The stone subsequently came into the possession of Ahmad Shah of Afghanistan, the Durr-i Durrani (Pearl of Pearls), who ruled between 1748 and 1772 A.D.


A case of mistaken identity

Up to the year 1851, the Timur Ruby was believed to be a Ruby and considered to be the largest known ruby in the world. But a study of the enormous red stone revealed that it is in fact a large spinel and not a ruby.

According to modern scientific knowledge we know that rubies cannot grow to enormous sizes as the chromium atoms incorporated in the Aluminum Oxide crystal, which is responsible for the red color of the rubies, also causes a multitude of cracks and fissures in the crystal. Thus to have an enormous ruby without cracks is virtually impossible, and if it occurs, it is extremely rare. Only a very few ruby crystals may receive the appropriate conditions in which they could grow undisturbed to considerable sizes and crystallize to form perfect gemstones. Thus the average size of rubies are about 3 carats and less. Rubies greater than 3 carats in size are very rare, and such rubies of good color and clarity sometimes achieve prices greater than that of diamonds of the same size.

In the early days before gemology developed as a science, gemstones were classified according to colors. Thus all red stones whether they were rubies, spinels, garnets or tourmalines, were known as Carbuncles or Rubinus Lapis, meaning “red stones” in Latin. All green stones were referred to as emeralds, and all blue stones as sapphires. Most of the blue sapphires in the Bible and old writings were not actually sapphires but Lapis Lazuli. Thus many large red stones belonging to the crown jewels of monarchies around the world, which were previously thought to be rubies, have now been found to be either spinels, garnets or tourmalines.

Most of the large red gemstones found in the Iranian Crown Jewels are actually large spinels. In fact the largest spinel in the world weighing 500 carats, with a blood-red color and polished uncut, known as the Samarian spinel is part of the Iranian Crown jewels. The collection also includes a 270-carat uncut polished spinel, which is perhaps the 4th largest spinel in the world.

Among the British Crown Jewels the two renowned large red spinels previously thought to be rubies are the 361-carat Timur “Ruby” and the 170-carat Black Prince “Ruby”. The Timur “Ruby” is the 3rd largest red spinel in the world.

The Russian Crown Jewels contain the second largest spinel in the world, weighing 398.72 carats, previously thought to be a ruby, and mounted on the Great Imperial Crown of Catherine the Great, and presently exhibited in the Museum of the Kremlin Diamond Fund.

Other famous spinels which were once thought to be rubies include the drop-shaped spinels in the Wittelsbach Crown, and the 105-carat red spinel in the Louvre Museum in Paris.


Identification of Spinel as a separate mineral from ruby in 1783

With the advancement of scientific knowledge and the development of Gemology and Mineralogy as a science, gems and minerals were classified on a scientific basis, taking into consideration their chemical composition, crystal structure and other properties. In the 1783 the French Mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle identified Spinel as a separate mineral from Ruby. Since then all the so called rubies of royal collections around the world had been subjected to thorough scrutiny and this led to the discovery that most of the large rubies in these collections were actually spinels and not rubies.

In 1802, another French mineralogist Count de Bouron discovered that sapphire and ruby were different varieties of the same mineral corundum, which is composed of aluminum oxide. He showed that the red color in rubies were caused by chromium, but in sapphires the various colors were caused by elements like titanium. vanadium, iron etc.


Comparison of properties of rubies and spinels




1Ruby is a variety of corundumSpinel is not a corundum
2Chemical composition-Aluminum Oxide-Al2O3Chemical composition-Magnesium Aluminate-MgAl2O4
3Color-various shades of redColor- various shades of red, pink, purple, violet, blue, green
4Red color caused by chromiumRed color caused by chromium and iron
5Crystal system-hexagonal (trigonal) prismsCrystal system-Isometric (cubic)
6Hardness 9 on Mohs scaleHardness 8 on Mohs scale
7Refractive index-1.76 to 1.78Refractive index-1.71 to 1.83 red spinel – 1.74
8Specific gravity – 3.99 to 4.02Specific gravity – 3.57 to 3.63
9Birefringence – 0.008-0.009Birefringence-None 0.000
10Dispersion – low, 0.018Dispersion – medium, 0.02

The high refractive index and good dispersion in spinel causes it to produce more fire than rubies. The confusion in not identifying rubies and spinels as separate minerals was due to their somewhat similar physical and optical properties, coupled with the fact that both minerals were usually found in the same gem gravel deposits.


Identification of spinels from rubies in Serendib, “the Land of Rubies”

But, even before gemology developed as a science spinels seem to have been recognized as a separate mineral in at least two source countries noted for the production of rubies since ancient times. These countries are Sri Lanka (Serendib) and Burma. Sri Lanka had produced rubies since time immemorial, probably dating back to the time of King Solomon in the 10th century BC. The Sri Lankan gem miners and dealers used the term “Kirinchi” for spinels, which they new were different from the more valuable rubies known as “rathu keta” or “Shohoppu” in the local language and “yakooth” in Arabic. Likewise even in Burma, famous for its Mogok rubies, where mining had been taking place since 1597, the Burmese miners were able to differentiate between rubies and spinels at least from the 17th century.

The fact that early Sri Lankans were able to differentiate between rubies and spinels does not come as a surprise because the country has had a long tradition of cutting and polishing gems which perhaps extends back to over a thousand years. An experienced cutter will be able to tell the difference between the two, based on their ease of cutting and polishing. Spinels were relatively soft and easy to work with, when compared to the much harder rubies. In this connection it must be remembered, that two of the popular gemstones in the world the Tourmaline and the Padparascha were first identified in Sri Lanka, and both names originate from the local languages of Sri Lanka, Tourmaline originating from the Sinhalese word “Thoramalli” and Padparascha being the Tamil word for lotus blossom, whose color represents the pinkish-orange color of the variety of corundum found only in Sri Lanka.


Source of the Timur “Ruby”

The source of the Timur “Ruby” like all other large spinels that were discovered during this period is believed to be the ancient mines of Badakhshan in Afghanistan, where the finest early red spinels seem to have been mined. The large spinels in the crown jewels of Iran, the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, the Kremlin Diamond Fund in Russia, and the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, are all believed to have originated in the Badakhshan mines.

Badakhshan is situated in the northeastern region of Afghanistan, which includes the northern spurs of the Hindu Kush mountains. The Badakhshan mines were situated in the upper valley of the Kowkcheh river, one of the principal tributaries of the Oxus river. Badakhshan was known as Balascia in ancient times, and the spinels produced here came to be known as Balas Rubies. According to Ibn Batuta (1354 AD), the Badakshan mines were not only famous for its Badakshi rubies, but also for its Lapis Lazuli.

“People generally attribute the Lapis stone (Lapis Lazuli, Arabic Lazward) to Khurasan, but in reality it is imported from the mountains of the province of Badakhshan, which has given its name also to the ruby called Badakhshi.”- The Travels of Ibn Batuta.

The Badakhshan mines were said to have been discovered suddenly after a massive earthquake hit the mountainous earthquake-prone region in ancient times. A mountain called  Syghinan was rent asunder by the earthquake, exposing large deposits of sparkling red and pink colored gemstone gravel some as big as the size of hen’s eggs. Women of the area collected the stones and attempted to extract colored dye from them, and being unsuccessful threw them away as worthless. However some jewelers realizing the worth of the stones tried to get them cut and polished, without any success as the material were quite soft and difficult to work with. However they discovered later that a material called marcasite or iron pyrites was suitable for polishing these gemstones, and since the color of the gemstones and hardness were inferior to the original rubies, they were considered to be less valuable than rubies.


History of the Timur Ruby

The Timur Ruby was originally part of the collection of jewelry belonging to Sultan Mahmud Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate. This was the period when Central Asia, Russia and the Middle East, had come under the sway of a mighty empire created by Timur Lenk or Tamerlane. In 1398, Timur turned his attention towards the powerful Delhi sultanate. He crossed the Indus river on September 24, 1398 and by December 17, had captured Delhi after defeating the army of Sultan Mahmud Taghluq. Delhi was totally destroyed from which it took more than a century to emerge. Timur returned to his capital Samarkand by April 1399, and carried a vast quantity of booty with him. The Timur Ruby was believed to be part of this enormous booty.


Timur Ruby inherited by Shah Rukh and Ulugh Beg

After Timur’s death the ruby was inherited by his son Shah Rukh, during whose reign the empire created by Timur was reunited, and he also won the allegiance of China and India. Shah Rukh’s reign (1405-1447) was a period of prosperity, during which the damages caused by Timur’s campaigns were repaired, and economic prosperity was restored. Herat was the capital city of the empire, and besides trading, artistic and literary  activities flourished during this period. Architecture also developed based on the Seljuq traditions and reached a climax during this period. Shah Rukh’s reign represents the zenith in intellectual and artistic development during the period of rule of the Timurid dynasty. Shah Rukh’s only son Ulugh Beg, who administered the city of Samarkand, converted the city into a center of Islamic culture and learning. Ulugh Beg was more of an intellectual than an administrator. His interests were history, poetry and Quranic studies, but, his greatest passion was astronomy. He built an observatory in 1428 in Samarkand, and was able to map out accurately the position of at least a thousand stars, which baffles even modern day astronomers. In his observations Ulugh beg was able to discover a number of errors in the computations of the 2nd century AD Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Even though Ulugh Beg was a great scientist he was a failure in affairs of the State. He succeeded his father Shah Rukh in 1447, but was not able to consolidate his power, and was eventually killed just two years after succeeding his father.


Timur Ruby inherited by Zahir-ud Din Babur ?

The Timur Ruby remained with the rulers of the Timurid dynasty, until it came into the possession of the last of the Timurids, either Hussain Bayqarah who ruled between 1478 and 1506, with his capital in Herat, or Babur who ruled at Samarkand. Both Babur and Hussain Bayqarah were ejected from their capitals by Uzbek leader Muhammad Shaybani Khan who formed the Shaybanid dynasty that ruled Uzbekistan from its capital Bukhara for at least a century. Zahir-ud-Din Babur later formed an army and moved down towards India, capturing Delhi and Agra in 1526, and established the line of the great Mughal emperors of India that ruled Northern India until the arrival of the British. It was possible that the Timur Ruby fell into the hands of Babur, and thus came into the possession of the Mughal emperors of India, among whom four emperors, Jahangir Shah, Shah Jahaan, Aurangzeb, and Faruk Siyar got their names inscribed on the renowned gemstone, as described above.


Timur Ruby captured by the rulers of the Shaybanid dynasty ?

Some Historians believe that the Timur Ruby fell into the hands of the Uzbek rulers of the Shaybanid dynasty after the downfall of the Timurid dynasty, and later came into the hands of Shah Abbas I of Iran in 1598 when he inflicted a major defeat on the Uzbeks in Khorasan and regained control of the province.


Timur Ruby comes into the possession of the Mogul Emperors

Subsequently Shah Abbas is reported to have presented the famous ruby in 1612 to his close friend Jahangir Shah, the Mughal emperor of India. At that time the stone was said to have been inscribed with the names of Timur’s son Shah Rukh, his grandson Ulugh Beg, and Shah Abbas I, but these inscriptions seem to have been erased after the stone came into the possession of Jahangir Shah. However, Jahangir Shah who was noted for inscribing his name on many diamonds and precious stones, did not leave the Timur Ruby untouched. He got his full name inscribed on the stone in 1612 A.D., that also included the name of his father Akbar Shah, the greatest of all  Mughul emperors. This is the first name appearing on the inscription.

The gemstone was then inherited by Jahangir Shah’s son and successor Shah Jahaan, the veritable builder of Taj Mahal fame, who reigned between 1628 and 1658. Shah Jahaan got his name inscribed on the stone in 1629 A.D. and is also reported to have mounted the enormous gemstone on his famous Peacock Throne. Then followed the last of the great Moghul Emperors of India, Aurangzeb (1658-1707), who too got his name inscribed on the stone in 1660 A.D. After Aurangzeb followed a series of successors who ruled for short periods of time. They include Bahadur Shah (1707-1712), Jahandar Shah (1712-1713), Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719) and Muhammad Shah (1719-1748). Out of these rulers it was only Farrukh Siyar who decided to get his name inscribed on the renowned stone, and he did so in 1713 A.D.


The Timur Ruby leaves India for Iran

During the rule of Muhammad Shah, the mighty conqueror of Iran, Nadir Shah invaded India, and captured the Moghul capitals of Delhi and Agra in February 1739. Nadir Shah’s expedition was said to be partly motivated by his desire to lay his hands on the enormous wealth of the Mughal empire, the richest empire in the world at that time, and partly as a punishment for the refusal of the Mughal emperors to return some items of jewelry that had entered their treasury, that were previously plundered from Iran, during the fall of the Safavid dynasty, after its last ruler Shah Sultan Hussain was defeated and executed in 1722, by the troops of the Kandahar ruler Mahmud.

Nadir Shah is said to have carried away a booty worth 700 million rupees, when he finally left Delhi in May 1739, just 3 months after he captured it. The enormous loot carried away by Nadir Shah included the renowned Peacock throne, belonging to Shah Jahaan, and several famous diamonds like the Koh-i-Noor, the Nur-ul-Ain, the Darya-i-Noor and also famous gemstones like the Timur Ruby, and also included several chests filled to the brim with gemstones like rubies, emeralds, pearls and diamonds. The arrival of the Timur Ruby in Esfahan, the capital city of Iran at that time, is recorded in one of the inscriptions on the stone.

This is the ruby from among the 25,000 genuine jewels of the King of Kings, the Sultan Sahib Qiran (Timur), which in the year 1153 A.H. (1740 A.D.) from the collection of jewels of Hindustan reached this place Isfahan.


The Timur Ruby leaves Iran for Afghanistan

The Timur ruby remained in the Iranian treasury up to 1747, the year Nadir Shah was assassinated. Nadir Shah did not get his name inscribed on the famous gemstone. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Nadir Shah, most of the jewels in the treasury were looted, including the Peacock throne, and the commander of his 4,000-strong Afghan body guard, Ahmed Khan Abdali, took into his possession some of the more valuable gemstones in the treasury such as the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the Timur Ruby and other stones. Some authorities say, that the family of Nadir Shah willingly gifted the gemstones to Ahmad Khan Abdali, as a token of gratitude for saving their lives during the period of upheaval.

Ahmad Khan Abdali returned to Afghanistan, to his native city of Kandahar, where a council of elders installed him as the Shah, with the title of Durr-i-Durrani (Pearl of Pearls). Ahmad Khan Abdali who ruled from 1748 to 1772, got his name inscribed on the Timur Ruby in 1755 A.D. Ahmed Khan Abdali embarked on a series of conquests and set up an empire which was the second largest Muslim Empire in the second half of the 18th century, after the Ottoman Empire. The history of the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Timur Ruby follow a parallel course after their arrival in Afghanistan.


The Timur Ruby returns back to India

After the death of Ahmad Khan Abdali, the Timur Ruby was owned by Zaman Shah and Shah Shoja, who eventually escape to Lahore with the Koh-i-Noor and the Timur Ruby, after Shah Shoja was deposed by his brother, Mahmud Shah in 1810. The two brothers were given asylum by the Sikh ruler of Punjab Ranjit Singh, who was also known as the “Lion of Punjab.” Ranjit Singh later acquired both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Timur Ruby from Shah Shoja, but resorting to coercion and employing pressure tactics, like cutting off food supplies to the family, placing the family under house arrest and other means.


Timur Ruby leaves India for Great Britain together with the Koh-i-Noor

After the death of Ranjith Singh in 1839, there was a struggle for succession, and at least three kings were installed but later murdered. Finally Dulip Singh a minor and the last of Ranjit Singh’s sons was installed as king, with his mother Jindan Kaur as regent. The British attacked the Punjab during this period and eventually captured it in March 29th, 1849. The British also took into their possession the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond, and the Timur Ruby, and the surrender of the Koh-i-Noor by the Maharajah of Punjab to the Queen of England was formalized, by the inclusion of a clause in the Treaty of Lahore, the agreement that legalized the occupation of Punjab. The particular clause reads as follows :-

“The gem called the Koh-i-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”

Lord Dalhousie the Governor General of India at the time eventually took possession of the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Timur Ruby, and dispatched them to London in the steamer H.M.S. Medea, that left Bombay on the 6th of April 1850. Subsequently after the steamer reached England, the diamond and the ruby was handed over to Queen Victoria on July 3rd 1850, at the Buckingham Palace. In the year 1851, both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Timur Ruby were put on public display at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace.

The Timur Ruby now resides in the private collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Timur Ruby was officially cataloged as a “short necklace of four very large spinel rubies.” The stone remained unrecognized for 60 years together with the other three spinel rubies in the necklace, until around 1910, researches translated the engraved inscriptions, and established it was the “Timur Ruby.”

Related: The Koh-i-Noor Diamond


References :

1)Encyclopedia Britannica 2006

2)H.A.R. Gibb, 1971, Vol. 3, The Travels of Ibn Battuta

3)Hughes, R.W. (1990) Corundum. Butterworths Gem Books, Butterworth-Heinemann

4)Hughes, R.W-The Rubies and Spinels of Afghanistan.A brief history 2004.

5)Dr M.A.M Shukri (1986) Muslims of Sri Lanka -Avenues to Antiquity.



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