Is spinel gemstone just a collector’s stone? The answer is an emphatic no! Spinel makes for a great addition to any jewellery collection and gemstone enthusiast. Read on for all you need to know to buy your own spinel.
What is spinel?
Spinel has been mined since ancient times as a gemstone but it was only relatively recently that it was identified as a stone in its own right. Although spinel has been around for centuries, it was commonly mistaken for corundum. This was because spinel was found in the same mines and also looked very similar to corundum, especially rubies and sapphires.
Only with the rise of modern day gemological technology has spinel been properly identified. Spinel is made of magnesium aluminate, and gains its colors through the presence of chromium and iron. Its structure is formed in octahedral shaped cubic crystals, similar to diamonds. Today, most spinel come from Burma, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
Spinel earned itself a bad reputation when it was found that it wasn’t the precious sapphires or rubies that people thought it was. It has been the great imposter in the world of gemstones. Even the famous crown of England contained a large red spinel which at the time was thought to be a ruby. This crown jewel was later nicknamed The Black Prince’s Ruby.
How to evaluate the spinel gemstone?
Like many gemstones, the value of spinel can be measured through its cut, color, clarity and carat.
Evaluating the color of spinel
Spinel comes in a variety of hues, including black, blue, pastels, pink, orange and brown. However, the most popular and valued colors are red, pink and orange. Red spinel looks strikingly similar to rubies. Interestingly, red spinel is much rarer than rubies, but due to its extreme rarity there is little demand for it and therefore it is not as valuable.
As with any gemstone, spinel with even saturation and intense hue are the most valuable.
Clarity levels of spinel
Spinel with fewer inclusions is more valuable than those with a high amount of impurities. Generally, spinel has high clarity levels and most stones are eye-clean. Some spinel gemstones have very distinct and beautiful inclusions.
Sometimes spinel can contain inclusions of long thin wispy cracks. When cut en cabachon, these impurities can create a star-like effect on the surface of the stone, known as asterism. These are rare and very beautiful.
The cut of spinel
Spinel can be cut into a range of shapes and styles, such as round, oval, cushion and pear. The best way to cut a spinel is by faceting. Because spinel has a high refractive index and dispersion, it is a brilliant and fiery stone. Expert cutting will emphasize these factors and maximize the beauty of the stone.
Because spinel is very rare, most cutters choose the cut and size in order to use as much of the rough as possible. This is why many spinel stones on the market are not cut to standard sizes.
Choosing your carat
Typically, in the gemstone world, the bigger the stone, the higher the value. This is true for spinel as well. Because spinels are already rare in their natural form, it is so difficult to find high quality spinel in sizes larger than 1 carat. The price of spinel rises significantly with the increase in size.
Is spinel valuable?
It is an interesting fact in the jewellery world that sometimes, the rarer the gemstone, the lower the value. Because spinel is found in such limited quantities, it is not a popular stone for jewellery. Even though it’s as good as a ruby or sapphire in beauty and durability, spinel can sell for up to 60% less.
Imitations and Synthetic Spinel
One of the best things about spinel is that it is never treated or enhanced. Any mined spinel you buy on the market holds its natural color and stability.
Although there are no spinel treatments, scientists have been able to replicate spinel in labs, introducing synthetic spinel to the market. Synthetic doesn’t mean fake. It has the same chemical, physical and optical properties as natural spinel, with the only difference being that it is lab-created.
Synthetic spinel is very affordable and easily found. Just ensure that you know the origin of your spinel to avoid paying high prices for a synthetic stone.
Red spinel vs ruby
As we’ve mentioned a few times already, red spinel is strikingly similar to ruby. They have similarities in density, luster and even chemical composition as both stones receive their red hue from the presence of chromium.
Here are a few ways to distinguish the two:
- Rubies are doubly refractive while spinel is singly refractive. If you hold spinel up towards a source of light and look for the refraction within the stone, you will see a single ray of light. If it is a ruby, there will be two rays of light. Because spinel is singly refractive, it tends to have a purer and more vivid red hue when compared to rubies.
- Because rubies are an extremely expensive gemstone, most rubies on the market are heated and enhanced. This is a standard industry practice for rubies. Spinel never undergoes treatment.
- Rubies are much more expensive than spinel. Typically, a spinel gemstone can retail for up to 60% less than a ruby.
- Rubies contain distinct cleavage and are prone to cracking and chipping. Spinel does not contain any cleavage.
Choosing spinel jewellery
Spinel is a good choice for jewellery because it holds up well to rough wear. Most spinel jewellery on the market is small and dainty; it is difficult to find large statement pieces made of natural spinel.
If you’re into minimalist designs and looking for an everyday piece, consider choosing simple spinel stud earrings. These are elegant and stylish and pair well with every outfit.
For a dressier look, choose dangle or drop earrings. These add a touch of class to your outfit and immediately dresses up your look!
Spinel pendants and necklaces
A small classy spinel pendant can be an every day piece for casual and work wear. It ads a touch of neutral elegance to your overall look and fits with any outfit.
Taking care of spinel
Spinel ranks 8 on the Mohs scale, making it quite a hard and durable gemstone. Spinel does not handle heat well which can cause the color to fade, so keep your spinel jewellery away from heat sources.
To maintain the shine and luster of spinel, wash it when needed using soap and warm water. Once washed, make sure the soap is rinsed off and the stone is dried thoroughly. It is not recommended that you use ultrasonic cleaners as these can damage a spinel, especially if it contains inclusions.
When storing spinel, wrap it in a cotton or velvet cloth. This keeps it free from dust and from being scratched by other items. It can get scratched by harder items such as diamonds and sapphires, if stored together.
Keep spinel (and any gemstone) away from chemicals such as harsh detergents, bleach and cosmetics. It is always better to take off any gemstone jewellery when handling chemicals or engaging in outdoor/physical activities.
The symbolism and meanings of spinel
Spinel is a popular stone in crystal healing. It is believed to foster your positive qualities. It is often associated with internal struggle and psychological trauma. Different spinel colors are believed to have different meanings and heal different mental struggles. Spinel is especially connected to renewal of energy.
The most popular spinel color, red, is believed to give you strength and courage to face your fears. On the other hand, blue spinel is thought to be useful in improving communication.
Where and how to buy spinel?
Bearing in mind that this is a rare gemstone, you can find spinel at brick-and-mortar stores, but you are bound to have more options if you take your search online.
Always make sure you purchase from a reputable vendor to avoid being ripped off. Ask about the origin of the stone, which should be disclosed to you. Also check the after sales policies just in case you aren’t quite satisfied with your purchase.