Rocktober Gem of the Week: Spinel
This ROCKTOBER we chose to feature Spinel because it is a gemstone that many people have never heard of, but has actually played a MAJOR part in history. The reason being spinel is commonly mistaken for rubies! In actuality all red gemstones up until the 1800s were considered “Balas rubies.” That’s because it wasn’t until the early 1800s that it was discovered as a separate gem species. So when you see those giant red gemstones on the Crown Jewels in England or the royal jewels in Russia, guess what those are….that’s right, Spinel!
Our first example is the “Black Prince’s Ruby,” a large 170 carat irregularly shaped red predominately placed on the Imperial State Crown of the Crown Jewels, which dates back to the 14th century. Another well known, commonly misidentified, historical spinel was the “Timur Ruby” in the Crown Jewels, which weighs over 350 carats.
Spinel often grows as large, strongly formed crystals that are mostly inclusion free, making them a lovely gemstone to be faceted and used in jewelry. Spinel is found in a variety of colors, from all shades of desaturated blue, grey and purple, to vibrant pink and intense orange and red. Red tends to be the most desirable hue of spinel due to the intensity of color available. It is also an attractive and relatively reasonably priced alternative to ruby. Spinel forms in a same environment as sapphire (corundum) and the two gemstones are often found in conjunction in Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Kenya, and Tanzania and often colored by the same trace elements, such as chromium. The phenomenal varieties of spinel are star spinel and color change spinel, but they are usually limited to collectors.
Despite it’s beauty and variety of colors available, spinel is still a somewhat unknown, and under appreciated gemstone that’s beauty can rival that of a ruby in its best form.