Been a long time favorite of gem dealers and in recent years it has become very popular with gem collectors and jewelry enthusiasts as well. Spinel classifies a whole group of related minerals; but very few are of gemstone quality. Spinel crystals are so perfect, in Burma they are said to be ‘ nat thwe’ or “polished by the spirits.”
Spinel is quite rare and many gem dealers and gemologists believe that it has outstanding gemstone characteristics, which leads to the belief that spinel is highly undervalued. Fine spinel compares favorably with ruby and sapphire for brilliance, luster and fire and it is also a very durable gem with excellent hardness and indistinct cleavage.
Natural spinel continues to be one of the most undervalued of the finer gemstones and this is because they are historical. Since spinel is found in the same locations as corundum , specimens of spinel were often mistaken as ruby or sapphire. The most famous example is the Black Prince’s Ruby , a large uncut spinel mounted in the front of the Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom. This royal gem, weighing in at approximately 170 carats, has been in the possession of the British Royal Family since the 14th century, and until recently was believed to be a ruby.
Colours, Characteristics and Location
Spinels range from strong, deep colors to beautiful spring like pastels, coming in all shades of pink, lavender, red, red-orange, purple, blue, and even black. Although green and yellow seem to be absent or have yet to be discovered. These gems are found on almost every continent. The varieties are usually referred to by their color. The red and blue varieties are the most celebrated since they are classically identified as rubies and sapphires.
This gemstone forms as a contact metamorphic mineral in limestone. It is discovered as rolled pebbles in sand and gravel pits. Currently, spinel is mined primarily in Burma, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Tajikistan, often alongside corundum of ruby and sapphire. Large stones are very rare; ten carat sized Burmese spinel gems are practically nonexistent. Most of the Burmese spinel is under 2 carats, although some larger spinel gemstones come from Tanzania.
Spinel actually consists of a vast group of minerals: Gahnite, hercynite, ceylonite, picotite, and galaxite are all part of the spinel group. These materials are very dark and rarely used as gems. They’re all isometric oxides of magnesium, iron, and zinc, with traces of aluminum and other elements. Spinels are allochromatic gemstones, which means that when the mineral is pure, it’s colorless. Colors are derived only from the presence of trace elements acting as chromophores. Chromium, iron, and cobalt are the most common chromophores in spinel.
Blue Spinel is a very special gemstone because it is one of the few that occur naturally. While all Spinels are increasing in popularity, it is the rare blue variety that is starting to attract attention of avid gemstone buyers and collectors. Unlike the other blue gemstones such as Sapphire, Tanzanite and Aquamarine, there is no known treatments for Spinel. This means that every Spinel is completely natural and free from any modifications by humans.
The blue Spinel is colored from the impurity of Cobalt in the crystal lattice. These stones are commonly referred to as Cobalt Blue Spinel. In many locations such as Sri Lanka, the Spinel will have a higher iron content which tends to make the stones darker. This makes the stones look blue-gray to violet-blue in color instead of just the pure blue.
Spinel Gemstone Value and Prices
Because the supply of natural spinel is very limited, you are unlikely to find it at retail jewelry shops. The spinel trade is mainly the province of specialized gem dealers who trade in the finest stones.
Prices on fine spinel have spiked with increased demand, though spinel prices continue to be attractive compared to other sought after stones. When taking into consideration that almost all the spinel on the market is completely untreated, it is still quite a bargain compared to prices for unheated corundum. Since spinel has excellent hardness (8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale) , it is a gem suitable for all types of jewelry. Spinel prices are based on color, clarity, size and sometimes on place origin. Certain colors are more valuable, especially reds and strong pinks. Many spinels have a significant gray secondary hue, and these colors are much less valuable.
Fine spinels from Burma and Tanzania are still very affordable under 1 carat, with prices ranging from $200 – $500 a carat for good colors. But prices will go up exponentially with size. Top reds and pinks typically sell for $600 – $1,200 per carat in the 1-2 ct size, but increase dramatically over 2 carats. Top spinels in the 2 to 5 carat size will often sell for $3,000 to $5,000 a carat. And for the very rare stones over 5 carats, prices range from $8,000 to $10,000 per carat.
Care and Cleaning
To minimize scratching and wear, store each piece of fine jewelry separately in a soft cloth or padded container. Avoid exposure to intense heat as light-colored stones may fade.
Spinel jewelry is best cleaned with warm, sudsy water and a tightly woven microfiber or other soft cloth. Take all your fine jewelry to a professional jeweler at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning and inspection.
Facts and Lore
A faceted red spinel of more than 400 carats belonged to Empress Catherine II of Russia, and is now part of the Russian Treasure in the Kremlin. Spinel was recently added as an August birthstone, sharing this month with peridot and sardonyx. This gem is also used to commensurate the 22nd wedding anniversary. Spinel is used in the mental sphere of logical power and to help out in reducing or eliminating absent-mindedness. It helps in bringing the energy inside the body and cleansing the aura of the body. Violet Spinel is often associated with the development of spirituality.
This is a great stone for those on a fairly modest budget or a novice gemstone collector. All the beauty and sparkle of a sapphire or ruby for half the price!