Regarded by many as one of the most underappreciated gemstones, spinel has a long history of mistaken identity that has led it to be frequently dismissed. In recent years it has enjoyed more popularity; available in a wide range of colours and with fabulous brilliance it is a beautiful stone and is also durable enough for regular wear. It has recently been added as a birthstone for August providing a versatile alternative to peridot.
Although it forms in virtually any colour except for pure green or yellow, spinel is most famous for its intense shades of red and pink and a rare variety of cobalt-coloured vibrant blues. Red spinel can look remarkably like ruby and until the advent of modern gemmology in the nineteenth century it was very difficult to tell the two gems apart. There are several famous historical ‘rubies’ in royal collections that are actually spinel. The most famous of these is the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ in the British Imperial State Crown, a large polished stone with an intense red hue.
The idea that spinel is merely a stone that imitates other, more valuable, gems is one reason why it has not achieved the fame and popularity that its beauty deserves. Another reason is the availability and low cost of synthetic spinel. Spinel has been synthesised since the early twentieth century using similar methods to those employed to manufacture synthetic ruby and sapphire. The synthetic material is available in almost any colour although interestingly it is red that is the most difficult colour to produce. We most often see synthetic spinel as a colourless stone in eternity rings; although it has now been superseded by cubic zirconia, it was used as an inexpensive alternative to diamond for many years. We also come across synthetic spinel in a range of colours in cocktail rings and other dress jewellery. These stones imitate a range of gems and can be very convincing until tested.
Natural spinel is really a fascinating and beautiful gemstone. It commonly occurs in the octahedral form, looking like two square pyramids placed base to base. These can have an incredibly bright lustre and often form in such perfect shapes that they are highly sought after by collectors. The gem is found in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Afghanistan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan is famous for large, fine red stones; many of the historical stones in royal collections are thought to originate from the country. Sri Lanka is the sole location for the rare blue stones containing cobalt that are incredibly desirable to gem collectors.
If you are choosing a spinel, the more intense and vibrant colours are more valuable while paler colours will offer a more affordable option. If you are looking for a sparkling red or pink gemstone then spinel can offer a great alternative to ruby or pink sapphire, often having superior clarity and a lower price when compared to the other gems. Spinel is also almost always untreated (the opposite is true of rubies and sapphires). This natural beauty combined with its good durability makes it a fantastic choice for jewellery.
You can view spinel jewellery on our website or in our showroom, where our highly qualified and experienced team will be able to answer any questions you may have about this fascinating gemstone.