Cross-shaped pendant with five spinels
Pink and red spinels (100 carats), 18-carat gold and enamel pendant set
Mughal emperors have had, for centuries, a particular love for precious stones. The references found in numerous memoirs and chronicles of this period show the strong cultural belief in gemstone properties. The Timurids, ancestors of the Mughals, had begun the tradition of engraving titles and names on stones of outstanding quality and, along with diamonds and emeralds, large spinel beads were certainly their favorite. Emperors were commissioning special officials to search for spectacular stones with no expense spared, that they would then wear in multiples to adorn their outfits. As much as these gems were a symbol of the opulence and dignity of the empire, they were also treasured as protective talismans.
Even though the spinels on this pendant are not inscribed, they are ancient gems of excellent quality. Their purity perfectly fits the taste of the Mughals at the time.
These spinels were mainly originating from the Badakhshan mine, in the ‘Pamir’ region (on the frontier between Afghanistan and Tajikistan). This province gave its derived name to spinels, described as ‘Balas rubies’ for decades. The chemistry would demonstrate during the 19th Century that spinels and rubies are two different gems, but for long, any red stones were described as ‘ruby’. Hence, it is interesting to note that among the most famous historical engraved spinels are the ‘Timur Ruby’ (in fact a spinel), now in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England. Its numerous and long inscriptions give a rare insight into its history, including the name of Emperor Jahangir, and although it is now known that the stone is a spinel, its name has not been changed. Another important engraved spinel is the Carew Spinel, currently in the V&A Museum, (IM.243-1922) it weighs 133.5 ct. and is inscribed with the names of Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.
Akbar the Great (1542-1605), third Mughal emperor, collected spinels, wearing them most often directly on the skin, as a ‘life protector’ for their blood-red colour, mounted as pendants or bazubands (upper arm bracelets), or simply holding them in his hand. According to legend the rulers wore three spinels during battles to protect them from injuries and death.