Spinel Gemstone | Gemopedia


Naturally beautiful spinel suffers as a result of its own beauty and rarity. Because they were so vibrantly red, many spinels were believed to be rubies, so true spinel has an unfortunately brief history and is still often considered a "substitute" for ruby. Ironically, fine spinel is rarer than the ruby it "imitates" but is less expensive. Because it is so rare, it has hardly had a chance to become popular, and that lack of demand has kept the price low--for now. Alternately, spinel's affordability has led to the misconception that it isn't as valuable as it truly is, and once again spinel ends up being used as a substitute. Spinel is one of few gemstones that require no special treatments; their beautiful, vivid colors and clarity are entirely natural.


Easy-going spinel can usually be safely cleaned in ultrasonic or steam cleaners, or with simple warm soapy water. Light-colored spinel may fade if exposed to extreme heat, but otherwise, its good hardness and toughness make spinel an ideal stone for jewelry.


Spinel occurs naturally colorless as well as in every color, including reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, blues, violets, greens, black, and brown.











Like most stones, a spinel's color generally determines its value. In addition to the intensity and saturation of its color, though, the gem's hue itself is important in valuing spinel, because certain spinel hues are more valuable than others due to their rarity. Pure red or slightly purplish-red spinel with medium to medium-dark tone is typically the most in-demand and valuable color of spinel, followed closely by cobalt blues (especially those from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Pakistan), as well as almost neon hot pinks and flaming oranges (especially those from Burma/Myanmar). Finest spinel blues are said to be of medium to medium-dark saturation and resembling blue sapphires; the most desired neon pinks and hot oranges are so fluorescent that it affects even their "standard" appearance, making them appear to glow even in broad daylight. Spinel in these colors over five carats are scarcely available and priced accordingly.

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Name Origin and Meaning

The name "spinel" is believed to come from spina, the Latin word for "thorn," likely chosen because of spinel's angular, thorn-shaped crystals, like those shown at the top of this page. Some believe that the name comes from the Greek word meaning "spark," possibly because spinel is usually red. Today the name "spinel" refers to both a group of minerals and to the specific few that are gem quality. "Balas ruby," another name for spinel, comes from an ancient word meaning Badakhshan, in honor of the famed Badakhshan mines where many of them were mined.


Spinel has only been recognized as such since around 1850. Before that, spinels--like most red stones--were considered rubies, because early gemology classified stones only by color. Consequently, spinel has an unclear, unfortunately limited history. Many of the world's historically famous "rubies" are actually ruby-red spinels, including the 170-carat Black Prince's Ruby, currently set in the Imperial Crown of England, and the Timur Ruby, now adorning Queen Elizabeth's crown and weighing more than 350 carats. Lending it an undeniable provenance, the Timur Ruby is engraved with names of the emperors who have owned it in the past. Those famous spinels were probably mined in the legendary Badakhshan mines, likely located on the present-day border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the source of many large, fine spinels between 1000 and 1900 AD. There are no definitive records about the Badakhshan mines, other than the numerous legends about the gems it yielded.

Phenomenon: Star Spinel
In rare instances, spinel cabochons can display asterism (stars) or chatoyancy (the cat's-eye effect).

In addition to asterism and chatoyancy, spinel can also exhibit color-change abilities, usually in cool hues like blue to purple or greenish-blue to purple.

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According to legend, the Samarian Spinel--the world's largest spinel, weighing 500 carats and measuring over 2 inches in width--once adorned the neck of the Biblical golden calf. It is now part of the Iranian crown jewels. Spinel has been confused for ruby and misunderstood by man for most of its journey throughout history. Read more about spinel.


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