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Misnomers


Article by: , Ph.D., RPG


The Black Prince's Ruby in the Imperial State Crown

The "Black Prince's Ruby": One of the world's most famous misnomers is the "Black Prince's Ruby", which is mounted as the primary focal stone in the Imperial State Crown - part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. This beautiful bright red cabochon is not a ruby - it is actually a red spinel. It was mounted in the crown before ruby could be distinguished from spinel. This illustration was created by Cyril Davenport in 1919.

What is a Misnomer?

A misnomer is an incorrect name.

The names of gems, minerals and metals are often used incorrectly. These can be innocent mistakes, misidentifications, attempts to deceive a buyer, a derogatory reference, or a name inherited from the past. It can be impossible to determine the intent of the name.

Misnomers should be avoided because they are a barrier to clear, precise, and professional communication.

If you are a buyer of gems, mineral specimens, or jewelry, you should become familiar with what you are buying before making a transaction. Question names that are unfamiliar or names that you do not understand - they might be a misnomer. Treating unfamiliar names with caution can help you avoid financial loss and assure that you are getting what you are paying for.

Sellers of gems and jewelry should avoid the use of misnomers and correct them if they come up in transactional conversation. Misnomers should never be used when labeling a product or in any type of promotional communication. An incorrect representation of a product can result in more than a dissatisfied customer. It can result in civil liability, criminal liability, or a damaged reputation.

A Comprehensive List of Gem and Mineral Misnomers




  A




Grossularite Garnet

"African Jade": Many people would not know that the cabochon in the photograph above is grossularite garnet (or grossular garnet). Some people believe that it looks like a variety of jade, and because of that it has been called "African jade" or "Transvaal jade" after its location of origin.

"Adelaide ruby" is an incorrect name used for red pyrope garnets from South Australia, where Adelaide is the capital city.

"African emerald" is an incorrect name used for green tourmaline from Africa.

"African jade" is an incorrect name used for green grossularite garnet, a translucent to opaque variety of garnet that sometimes resembles jade. It is also called "Transvaal jade" after a province in northeastern South Africa. It can be hard to convince some people that this opaque, and often spotted, gem is actually a garnet. These misnomers have been around for a long time, and some people might think that this material is actually jade and therefore worth more than a common variety of garnet.

"Alabaster" is an incorrect name sometimes used for ornamental items made from calcite, marble, travertine, or ulexite.

"Alabaster Onyx" is an incorrect name used for banded calcite formed as a fracture filling, flowstone, or travertine.

"Alaska diamond" is one of the many geographic misnomers used for rock crystal.

"Alexandrine" is an incorrect name used for synthetic and imitation alexandrite.

"Alexandrite" can be a misnomer even when it is the name of a gem. It is a misnomer when synthetic or imitation materials are called "alexandrite." If you see a material of nice quality being offered as alexandrite, for a price of hundreds of dollars per carat, it is likely synthetic or imitation. Natural alexandrite should sell for over $1000 per carat. "Alexandrite" is one of the most commonly encountered misnomers today. Ask the seller to provide a report from a reputable laboratory that you can verify online before purchasing alexandrite.

"Alpine diamond" is an incorrect name that has been used for pyrite.

Amazonite cabochons

"Amazon Jade" is a misnomer used for amazonite, a member of the feldspar group of minerals, similar to microcline. These cabochons were made from material mined in Virginia.

"Amazon jade" is an incorrect name used for amazonite (in addition to not being jade, the material is not from the Amazon river basin). At first the material was called amazon stone, but some vendors began calling it "amazon jade" because they thought that it would make the material sound more valuable. Amazonite has also been incorrectly called "Pikes Peak jade".

"American jade" is an incorrect name used for californite, idocrase, or vesuvianite.

"American ruby" is an incorrect name used for red pyrope garnet found in the United States. The name might be considered derogatory because the United States does not have significant ruby production.

"Andalusite" is a name that was once used incorrectly in commerce for brown tourmaline.

"Arabian diamond" is one of the many geographic misnomers for rock crystal.

"Arizona ruby" is an incorrect name used for red pyrope garnet found in Arizona.

Arkansas diamonds

Genuine Arkansas Diamonds: Be careful if you hear the name "Arkansas diamond." Two things in Arkansas have that name - and both of them are famous. Arkansas is world famous for being a source of rock crystal and excellent quartz crystal mineral specimens. These have been given the misnomer nickname of "Arkansas diamonds". However, Arkansas is also famous for having the only active diamond mine in the United States - at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The diamonds in the photo above are genuine Arkansas diamonds - in colorless, yellow and brown hues.

"Arkansas diamond" is one of many geographic misnomers used for rock crystal. Arkansas has some of the world's most famous localities for finding specimen-quality quartz crystals. However, a person must be careful when they hear the name "Arkansas diamond", because Arkansas is the home of Crater of Diamonds, the only active diamond mine in the United States, and the only diamond mine in the world where you can be the miner. Rock crystal from Arkansas is also incorrectly called "Hot Springs diamond" after the state's most famous quartz locality. See our article about Arkansas gemstones.

"Atlas pearls" is an incorrect name for beads cut from satin spar calcite or gypsum.

"Australian ruby" is an incorrect name used for red garnets found in Australia.

gem silica cabochons

"Azurlite" and "Blue chrysoprase" are incorrect names for gem silica. Shown here are two gem silica cabochons cut from material produced at the Inspiration Mine, Gila County, Arizona.

"Azurlite" is an incorrect name for chalcedony that is colored blue by inclusions of chrysocolla. An acceptable name is "gem silica", the most valuable variety of chalcedony.



  B



"Balas ruby" is an incorrect name once used for red spinel.

"Bavarian cat's eye" is an incorrect name once used for chatoyant quartz mined in Bavaria.

"Bengal amethyst" is an incorrect name once used for purple sapphire.

"Black amber" is an incorrect name for jet.

"Black diamond" is an incorrect name that has been used for faceted hematite because of its bright metallic luster.

"Black moonstone" is an incorrect name for labradorite with a black bodycolor and adularescence.

"Black onyx" is a name that has been used for black chalcedony. The black color of this material has often been produced by treatment. It is a misnomer because the name onyx is properly used for banded calcite. The name "onyx" is one of the most common misnomers encountered today.

The Black Prince's Ruby in the Imperial State Crown

The "Black Prince's Ruby": One of the world's most famous misnomers is the "Black Prince's Ruby", which is mounted as the primary focal stone in the Imperial State Crown - part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. This beautiful bright red cabochon is not a ruby - it is actually a red spinel. It was mounted in the crown before ruby could be distinguished from spinel. This illustration was created by Cyril Davenport in 1919.

"Black Prince's Ruby" is one of the most famous misnomers. It is a beautiful bright red spinel mounted as the front focal gem in one of Britain's Royal Crowns. It was actually identified as a "ruby" long before spinel was discovered to be a gem separate from ruby. It would be an enormous error if done today, but a common error before the 18th century. This story is perhaps the best example of how a misnomer can be inherited through an identification that was done long ago. See our article about spinel.

"Blue alexandrite" is an incorrect name for color-change sapphire.

"Blue chrysoprase" is an incorrect name for chalcedony that is colored blue by inclusions of chrysocolla. An acceptable name is "gem silica", the most valuable variety of chalcedony.

"Blue malachite" is an incorrect name for azurite.

"Blue onyx" is an incorrect name for gray agate that has been dyed blue.

"Bohemian chrysolite" is an incorrect name for moldavite.

"Bohemian diamond" is an incorrect name that is used in two ways: 1) as a geographic misnomer for rock crystal from the Czech Republic; and, 2) as an incorrect name for rock crystal.

"Bohemian ruby" is an incorrect name for rose quartz.

"Bohemian topaz" is an incorrect name for citrine.

"Bone turquoise" is an incorrect name for bone that has been dyed blue to simulate turquoise.

"Bowenite jade" is an incorrect name used for the bowenite variety of serpentine that resembles nephrite.

"Brazilian chrysolite" is an incorrect name for chrysoberyl found in Brazil.

"Brazilian diamond" is one of the most commonly used geographic misnomers for rock crystal.

"Brazilian emerald" is an incorrect name for green tourmaline found in Brazil.

"Brazilian onyx" is an incorrect name for banded calcite or banded marble from Brazil.

"Brazilian peridot" is an incorrect name for yellowish green tourmaline from Brazil.


  C



"Chrysolite" is an incorrect name once used for greenish yellow to yellowish green gems such as peridot, chrysoberyl, and tourmaline.


  G



"German lapis" is an incorrect name for chalcedony that has been dyed blue to simulate lapis lazuli.

Grape Agate

Grape Agate is the name of a popular mineral specimen. The material is not agate; instead, a more proper name would be botryoidal quartz. Even though the name "grape agate" is a misnomer, mineral collectors have hung on to the name because it is more fun and memorable than "botryoidal amethyst". Photo copyright iStockphoto / halock.


"Grape agate" is an incorrect name used to promote mineral specimens of botryoidal amethyst. They are called "grape agate" because of their purple color and their similarity to a cluster of grapes - and because they were originally thought to be chalcedony. They are proven to be amethyst rather than agate because they have drusy surfaces.


  H



"Hot Springs Diamond" is an incorrect name used for quartz crystals found in the area around Hot Springs, Arkansas.


  N



"Nevada turquoise" is an incorrect name for variscite.


  S



"Swiss lapis" is an incorrect name for chalcedony that has been dyed blue to simulate lapis lazuli.


  T



"Transvaal jade" is an incorrect name used for green grossularite garnet, a translucent to opaque variety of garnet that sometimes resembles jade. It is also called "African jade". It can be hard to convince some people that this opaque, and often spotted, gem is actually a garnet. These misnomers have been around for a long time, and some people might think that this material is actually jade and therefore worth more than a common variety of garnet.




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