Although used in jewelry since ancient times, spinel has been underappreciated for a long time. The decline of its reputation among general consumers can be attributed to several factors as when jewelry enthusiasts found out that their rubies and sapphires were actually spinels and the widespread use of inexpensive synthetic versions of spinel.
As more gem information comes to light and demand for ruby alternatives grows, general consumers have rekindled their appreciation for spinel’s rich red color and history. After knowing the extensive and invasive enhancements that rubies and sapphires have to undergo to reach their desired color and clarity, more people came to appreciate spinel’s natural beauty. Today, natural spinels in the market are almost all untreated, available in nearly any color, suitable for most types of jewelry, and come at relatively modest prices, making them more inviting to any jewelry enthusiast.
History of spinel gemstone
In ancient times, large crystals of spinel were mined in central and Southeast Asia. These stones, known to be Balas rubies, served as one of the treasured properties of kings and emperors. They appeared in different periods in the past and were often passed on to different hands as spoils of wars.
One of the most famous appearances of spinel is in England’s Imperial State Crown. The crown’s spinel is described as a crimson-red gem, which is smoothly polished and has a roughly octagonal shape. They are believed to be mined in Afghanistan. Based on historical records, this popularly known “Black Prince’s ruby” first appeared in fourteenth-century Spain, where it was originally possessed by a succession of Moorish and Spanish Kings before it was used as payment for Nájera battle victory to Edward, Prince of Wales, also known as the Black Prince, in 1367. This gem is the biggest uncut spinel.
Since then, it has been passed on to many other English monarchs, including Henry VII. It has survived fires, attempted theft, and bombing raids of World War II throughout these periods, and is now one of the centerpieces of England’s Crown Jewels along with the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
Characteristics of spinel gemstone
Spinelis a singly refractive gem that belongs to the cubic crystal system. Fairly common in nature, well-formed crystal spinel has an octahedron crystal shape, which looks like back-to-back pyramids. Occasionally, this gem can also form flattened crystals when the pyramids rotate against each other during growth.
This durable gemstone has a hardness of 8.0 on the Moh’s Hardness scale (2 less than diamond). It can be cut in many shapes and sizes.
With the allochromatic property of spinel, it normally appears colorless in its pure form. However, the conditions where this gem forms in nature mostly include trace elements like chromium, iron, and cobalt, which give spinel its variety of colors. This makes colorless natural spinel a rare and valuable gem for collectors.
It ranges from strong, deep colors to very light pastels in various shades of red, blue, pink, lavender, purple, and black. Spinels with a strong red hue have higher chromium content while blue and purple ones contain trace amounts of iron. Among these colors, red and blue are often most celebrated because they were historically identified as rubies and sapphires.
What is the value of a spinel gemstone?
The “Black Prince’s Ruby”, considered the most famous spinel, weighs 170 carat. Another British crown jewel, Timur Ruby, on the other hand, is 361 carat. These gems, once thought to be rubies, are rarer than rubies but are still less expensive.
In 2016, spinel was added as a third August birthstone, making its popularity grow and its demand higher. Due to this, spinel’s value is also increasing.
It’s hard to say how much a spinel exactly costs due to many factors. However, there are surprisingly expensive ones that have shown up recently. In 2019, a spinel ring from Cartier was sold $334,500—three times its expected price. In an auction in the same year, an imperial spinel necklace offered by Christie’s went for more than $3 million.
Where does spinel gemstone come from?
Spinel can be found on different continents—South America, Africa, and the southern portion of Asia. It is mainly and commonly found in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. This gem has recently been discovered in different sites in Tanzania, Kenya, Australia, Vietnam, and Russia.
Spinels are mined from alluvial or placer deposits instead of hard rock primary deposits from which they form. The rough and tumble action as eroded material is washed downstream allows the smoothening of the crystals into rounded shapes and the removal of fractured parts of the gem rough. This alluvial rough can be easily recovered and is great for faceting.
Although they naturally form in nature, spinels can also be made synthetically via the flame fusion process (a similar process used in other gems like sapphire) in a laboratory. Spinels produced here make great diamond simulants and are more economical but still possess the clarity and beauty of the natural spinel.
How to take care of spinel gemstone
Since spinels are hard and durable gemstones, cleaning or care is not much of a worry. But since spinel jewelry comes with other materials, some tips below for cleaning and taking care of spinels can be useful:
- Since light-colored stones may fade, avoid exposing spinel to extreme heat
- Store each piece of fine jewelry in a separate padded container or soft cloth to avoid scratching
- Clean spinel jewelry with warm water and microfiber or soft cloth
- Have fine jewelry thoroughly cleaned and inspected by a professional jeweler at least twice a year
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