No spinel locality is more shrouded in mystery and history than that of Kuh-i-Lal, in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan province. Located in the rugged Pamir mountains astride the Afghan border, knowledge of this mine was hidden away by Cold War politics. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a few intrepid travelers made their way to this remote locality, thus bringing it to the attention of the world some 1400 years after its initial discovery.
According to the famous Arab polymath, al Beruni, the mines were discovered in the 7th century ad, when an earthquake caused a land slip, disgorging beautiful red stones in the process. Believing the stones to be useful for producing dyes, village women ground them to dust, but no color came out. They then showed the crystals to some men and word of the ravishing red gems of Kuh-i-Lal quickly spread. When the King learned of the deposit, he ordered organized mining to begin.
From that point on, “balas rubies” of the finest water were produced. Indeed, most of the famous “rubies” of yore were actually large red spinels from Kuh-i-Lal, including the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby. -