This little-known gem has been mistaken for Ruby for centuries but is a truly special treasure in its own right.
Spinel is such an intriguing gemstone, which has managed to be both strongly undervalued and fly under the radar for decades. Even some of the most famous Spinels in the world, including the Timur Ruby, which is over 350 carats, and the Black Prince’s Ruby, which sits atop the Imperial State Crown, were thought to be Rubies for most of their life. Spinel wasn’t even classified as its own mineral species until the 1800s—before then it was simply known as “Balas Ruby.”
One of the most special attributes of gem-quality Spinel is that it’s part of the cubic crystal system, along with Diamond and Garnet. This means its singly refractive and can exhibit wonderful light reflection and sparkle. Similarly to Garnet, Spinel has the immense benefits of often growing in large crystal sizes with strong, saturated colours and relatively few inclusions. In fact, they can be so naturally perfect that they are often included in jewellery designs without even being cut or polished first. Spinel also comes in a wide variety of lush colours, including intense blue, green, violet, grey, orange, pink, and of course, red.
Red and Pink Spinel are some of the most valuable and many are found in the same metamorphic deposits as Ruby, including Myanmar and Vietnam, where they famously grow in marble. Their strong hues are also caused by the same ultra-rare trace element—chromium. Blue Spinel is created by trace amounts of iron, however iron alone tends to create greyish-blue hues. For Blue Spinel to have bright, saturated colours that can compete with Sapphire, traces of cobalt with lower iron content tend to be preferred. These stones are often sought-after in similar sources to Sapphire, including Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Pakistan. Also, similar to Sapphire, it’s possible to find both Star Spinel and colour-change Spinel, however they are much less common.
Since Spinel is still not widely known about, it can offer amazing value benefits. While a bright red Spinel might easily be mistaken for Ruby in both colour and quality, a sizeable carat weight will often sell for a fraction of the price as a Ruby of the same size. However, highly saturated, nearly neon-coloured Pink Spinel is slowly becoming more in-demand, and its rarity has made it more expensive. Some Pink, Red and Blue Spinel can sometimes be treated to improve their colour, however most Spinel are generally left untreated.
Overall, this bright and sparkling gem, which is also considered a birthstone for August, offers incredible attributes for such a little-known variety and is a delightful choice you’ll never regret.