Comprehensive Book on Precious Stones – Al Biruni




Of all the stones the yaqut (ruby) has the first place in grade, beauty, and rank. God has likened the houris of Paradise to it: (In beauty) like the jacynth and the coral-stone. (33)  The best variety of the ruby comprises several kinds: the white, dust-coloured, black, yellow, and red.

Of these kinds the red is regarded as the best, as the dust-coloured and black appear unsuitable upon the face and the skin. Such a colour recalls to mind a person who has been strangled and slapped. Pallor is associated with persons who have been wakeful or terrified.

Hamzah bin al-Hasan al-Isfahani says that in Persian it is designated by the name of yakund and yaqut is its Arabicised name. Persians call it the subj-i-asmitr too, which means the plague-remover and also subj only. Among the treatises indited upon the red kind, the name employed by Hamzah has been reproduced. The people of India call it the padarn rah, and liken it to a stone that is clear and red.

It seems rag is its name and padarn is its characteristic. In their language the red water-lily is known as padam and the white ruby has been frequently used in their aqueducts and reservoirs. The dust-coloured variety which is called the nil is not used there. We have not seen this kind in India unless imported from somewhere.

The dustcoloured kind appears red at night, but this red colour is not real; it is imaginary. It reappears as dust-coloured when sunlight shines on it. Every flower that is dust-coloured has this characteristic, e.g., the water-lily. If vinegar be rubbed upon the dust-coloured variety, it appears red like the red rose which on getting drenched with water, appears greenish, if dust and the dross of lead are sprinkled over it and rubbed lightly, it assumes a colour that is intermediate to that of verdigris and the pistachio.

There are two grades of the red ruby. One is of a very high grade and is popular among people. The second grade is very inferior which no one likes. The best grade is that of the ‘uinmani kind, followed by the bahramani, arghaivani, lahrni, gulnari and wardi kinds. Some authors have also mentioned the banafshi, a kind between the arghawani and lahmi kinds.

But people in general do not distinguish between the arghaivani and lahmi kinds. The grades we have mentioned are by way of similitude. Each country and nation has its own names for these grades.  Some have held that the rummani (pomegranate — like) and the bahraniani (safflower-like) varieties are identical.

But the people of “Iraq use the name, rummani, while the people of the Persian ‘Iraq and Khurasan call it bahraniani. Al-Kindi’s arrangement of the grades testifies to the latter designation, as he regards the bahraniani kind as the best.

It has been said about the pomegranate-like colour of the ruby that, if scarlet blood is sprinkled and spread over a clean piece of silver, the resultant coloration would be like that of the pomegranate-coloured ruby. Scarlet blood is that which is temperate and healthy and besides,
flows in the veins. The blood of the right ventricle is scarlet.

Al-Kindi has described the wardi (rose-coloured) variety first. It is rose-coloured with a little whiteness, but he has accorded preference to the khayri (Hollyhock-hued) kind over the wardi. Above this is the ahmar ‘usfuri (red saffron-coloured) kind which has the colour of bright saffron with a tinge of yellow. Then there is the bahraniani ‘usfuri kind which is pure, and is devoid of any starchy colour.

The yellow kind becomes progressively precious as the red colour becomes dominant until it reaches full redness. This is the bahraniani kind. All these stones possess different characteristics with respect to brightness of the colour, clarity, glitter, sheen, reflection, and purity from blemishes, and their prices go up according to these characteristics.

Nasr, while enumerating these kinds, says, “The wardi mushamma’ (waxed red) is the kind that is clear, glittering and rosy. The fourth kind is the jamri, which is bright like a cinder. I am inclined to believe that the khayri variety mentioned in Al-Kindi’s book is actually jamri which is bright like a cinder, and the copyist has made an error (God is the Knower). The rummani kind is the one that ranges between the wardi And. jamri kinds.

Bahraman means the saffron, e.g., thaubbahram, that is, cloth dyed with saffron. The glitter which we speak of in connexion with the ruby is not saffron’s lustre, as it is pale, and dry like flesh but that colour which is assumed by a liquid which has had its starch leached out, and which is the first fermented drink made from that liquor.

Anything dyed with saffron has its association with the pomegranate; and its wine (jiryal) would be good only if it is pomegranate-coloured. As time passes the wine assumes a bouquet of different kinds. Sometimes the jiryal is regarded as a synonym for saffron, as in the following verse by Nabighah Ja’dl: ‘ ” ‘ ‘

I left the one with her clothes in such a state that it seemed as if her attire had been drenched with the colour of saffron. The word, jiryal, is also employed for rawuq (old wine). At times this word is used to denote the colour and at others the bearer of the colour. As’ha says metaphorically about wine: And the old Babylonian wine in the jar had the incarnadine colour of sacrificial blood, which I seized.

Kbafi! bin Ahmad says that bahrarnan is a variety of saffron, if this is true, the bahramani variety would be the best, as it would be a worthy attribute in the ruby. Sarri al-Raffa’ in the Kitab al-Maslimum (The Book of Per fumes) writes that the word, usfur, is a Himyarian word. On the other hand, Hamzah holds ‘usfur to be an Arabic variation of the Persian word, haskfar, as the usfur plant is known as hask and the safflower seed is designated in Persian as haskdanah.

….. more to follow …..

Prices of Genuine Jewels

The prices of jewels are not stable. There is no law governing their prices, and there is no reason why these prices should not fluctuate with time and place. Each country, each nation carries its own temper. Furthermore, at one time nobles begin to sell them off and at  others, to stock them. Stones are plentiful at one time and scarce at another. God grants honour to some and disgrace to others. We shall be describing the prices of these jewels in relation to our own time and the period that has just preceded it, as also to the city of Ghaznah and its environs.

As regards gold, we shall adopt the Hirati standard, as the prices of jewels are determined by means of this standard. Should we come across any other information, we shall also provide it. The ancients say that,the price of a mithqal of the bahramanian variety of ruby is five thousand dinars, and a higher price cannot even be imagined. Half a mithqal fetches a price of two thousand dinars, while the bahramanian variety weighing two mithqals is priceless, and its price cannot be computed. It is up to the purchaser to fix its price.

The jewellers of today price the rummanian variety of ruby, which is of deep colour, free from perforations, blemishes, cloudiness, and admixture, and is, additionally, level, square, or elongated (as these are the designs that are popular), as the best. This is followed by the midrabi (arched) variety, the lower part of which is like the anvil. Such a stone is characterised by all the desirable attributes. They compare it to the Najm (the plant).

If the comparison has any truth, then the Najm should be called the pearl (lu’lu). One tass’uj 48 of this stone costs five dinars and a weight twice the above two times this price. One daniq 49 would cost 50 dinars. By daniq I mean one-sixth of a mithqal; the price of twice this is four times higher. One mithqal costs a thousand dinars and one mithqal and a half, two thousand dinars.

Jewellers claim that they have not seen a bigger ruby incorporating these characteristics. In addition, a ruby weighing one mithqal is rare like the excellent variety of the pearl of this weight. One daniq of ruby exceeds the price of one daniq of pearl. The present-day jewellers claim that the bahramanian variety which has already been described is of a lesser grade than the rummanian variety.

Its price is 800 dinars. The Arghawanian variety fetches 500 dinars, while the najmian and the gulnarian varieties each cost 100 dinars. The rose-coloured variety also fetches approximate prices. With the exception of the rummanian variety, all the ruby varieties have, on rare occasions, been found in weights of 20—50 mithqals.

Al-Kindi observes: I have seen the largest piece of the red variety weigh one mithqal and a half or a little more. As pieces of fiction, we have been told of this variety weighing ten mithqals. Of the ward! variety, the largest piece which I have seen weighed is 30 mithqals.

Nasr states: The beauty of the ruby depends upon the depth of its colour, the perfection of its clarity and brightness, refulgence, and its purity.

Taking this as the standard, the rise in the price of a ruby is dependent upon these attributes. The baliramanian variety is the most precious, followed by the ‘nsfuri, jamri, and the wardi Everyone knows that the wardi, mu’asfari, and the lahmi (flesh-like) varieties, because of their varying colour, comprise different varieties.

The ward! is totally white. Another of its variety is slightly reddish, with the redness gradually increasing till it assumes the rosiness of the cheeks, increasing to an extent that it becomes reddish like the red anemone and a little blackish.

In order to establish the value of a ruby, people coin different similes and metaphors for it. Those keen upon comprehending the attributes of the ruby should describe its kinds, attributes, habitat and characteristics. I have come across a book written during the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik bin Marwan. It has described several points about the art (of jewellery), and prices of that age have also been given.

The book shows that the price of the black variety of ruby was equal to that of two race-stallions. I shall draw upon this source book whenever necessary.

Ruby-Like Gems

One of the stones resembling the red ruby variety is karkind or the yaqut-i-asamm, meaning the hard cornelian, so named because it happens to be solid, less clear, and turbid. This stone does not fetch a higher price than the dusty ruby variety.