When the British plundered the Lahore treasury, after they annexed Punjab in 1849, not only did they take the famous Kohinoor to England, they also took with them the most historic gem in India. Weighing a whopping 353.5 carats, the Timur Ruby traces back to the Turco-Mongol , Timur who invaded India in 1398 CE. The Mughals traced their lineage to Timur and no wonder then that his Ruby was a prized possession. In fact, if you asked them, it was far more valuable than the Kohinoor. The largest known ruby in the world at that time, the Timur Ruby was also the most historic. Today, in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II of England the Timur Ruby has a fascinating history. Firstly it is not technically a ruby.
While popularly called Timur Ruby and considered to be a ruby till 1851, the gemstone is actually what geologists call a ‘spinel’. Rubies and spinels look exactly the same and have the similar structure and chemical compositions. The difference is that when light enters a ruby, it splits into two, while in a spinel, it remains a single ray. Though it is just a technicality, the Timur Spinel, is still popularly referred to as the Timur Ruby.
It is said that the ‘ruby’ was part of the hoard that Timur took from India when he invaded it in 1398 CE. When he reached Delhi, Timur had set up his camp on the banks of the Hauz Khas in Delhi and watched over as his army plundered the city for three days. He carried enormous wealth with him which included this stone. We do not know who originally owned the stone. This ruby was passed on through his descendants and sometime in 17th century CE, it fell into the hands of the Safavid Emperor of Persia, Shah Abbas.
The Safavid Empire of Persia had cordial relations with the Mughal Empire in India. In fact, Shah Abbas and Mughal Emperor Jahangir were fond of exchanging rare gifts. Most famously, in 1621 CE Jahangir had gifted a zebra to Shah Abbas, after having it washed to check if it was not a horse painted with stripes! Nine years before, in the year 1612 CE, Shah Abbas gifted the Timur Ruby to Jahangir. As was the Mughal practice, Jahangir engraved his name on the ruby, along with that of his father, Akbar. It was inherited by his son and successor Shah Jahan and was set in the Peacock Throne.
Like Jahangir, every Mughal Emperor from Shah Jahan to Farrukhsiyar inscribed their names on the stones. Emperor Farrukhsiyar, only ruled for 6 years from 1713 CE to 1719 CE and was deposed soon after. He was followed by a succession of weak emperors who were puppets in the hands of powerful courtiers. In 1719 CE, Muhammad Shah Rangila, became the Emperor under whose reign Nadir Shah, the ruler of Persia invaded India in 1739 CE.
Nadir Shah sacked Delhi and carried away the entire Mughal treasure with him to Persia. This included the Kohinoor, the Darya-i-Noor , the Orlov, the entire Peacock Throne and a tent made of pearls. Nadir Shah has the following inscription inscribed on the stone –
Sultan Saheb Qiran is what Timur was popularly known as in Persia and Central Asia. It is this inscription by Nadir Shah that helped historians trace the antiquity of the ruby right up to Timur. Nadir Shah named this ruby ‘Ain-al-Hur’ or ‘Eye of a Fairy’.
From here on, the Timur Ruby and Kohinoor diamond have a shared history. After the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747 CE, it fell into the possession of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the ruler of Afghanistan. It was inherited by Abdali’s grandson, Shah Shuja, who wore the ruby as an armlet. In 1809 CE, Shah Shuja was deposed from the throne and he fled to India with his jewels including the Kohinoor diamond and the Timur ruby and took refuge with Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Maharaja Ranjit Singh acquired the jewels in 1813 CE, and the ruby, along with the Kohinoor, was kept for some time in the Gobindgarh Fort at Amritsar.
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh and annexed Punjab in 1849 CE. They took possession of the Kohinoor and Timur Ruby and dispatched the jewels to London in the steamer H.M.S. Medea, that left Bombay on the 6th of April 1850.
These treasures were gifted to Queen Victoria on July 3rd 1850 CE, at the Buckingham Palace. The following year, the Timur Ruby as well as Kohinoor were put on public display at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is said that Queen Victoria was more pleased with the ruby than the Kohinoor. The book Victoria & Albert: Art & Love by Jonathan Marsden has an extract from Queen Victoria’s journal dated 23 October 1851 CE. She writes
The crown jewelers to the royal family, Garrad’s set the Timur ruby along with three other spinels into a spectacular necklace. The Timur Ruby. one of the most historic gemstones of India, is now in the private possession of Queen Elizabeth of England.
With a few deft tugs and pulls, some music and folk tales, the Kathputliwalas or puppeteers ruled the imagination of common folk and royalty in Rajasthan across the centuries. Explore this fascinating performing art, or Kathputli ka Khel, now sadly on the verge of being lost.
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