Spinel Gemstone Properties

The most famous ruby in the world is actually a spinel! It is the “Prince Edward Ruby” which is the center of attention on British Crown of State: this crudely shaped cabochon weighs about 167 carats. It is a magnificent red color. Spinels and rubies are often found in the same gem gravels and for centuries they were thought to be the same gemstone.

Spinel, 2.30 carats, Burma
Photo by ICA/Bart Curren

Around 1900, synthetic spinels were made in a laboratory. These have been used for inexpensive “birthstone” jewelry. As a result of all this, spinel has greatly suffered from mistaken identity. Too many people still think of spinel as just a synthetic and are not aware of one of the mineral kingdom’s most exciting gemstones.

Photo by ICA/Bart Curren

The most expensive spinels are the hot colors–red, orange, and hot pink. These stones must have very intense colors without secondary brown tones. Clarity is important; eye clean spinels will fetch the highest price; some will have eye visible inclusions. Most of the “hot” colors are mined in Myanmar. A few exceptional blue stones are found in Sri Lanka; these resemble fine sapphires and command high prices. Bright intense pink stones are mined in Russia. Occasionally large spinels are found, but most are five carats or less. As the brightness of the color drops the price falls.

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Most stones will fall into the moderate price per carat range; exceptionally fine ones, especially if they are larger will be in the expensive per carat range. You may find some in the low price per carat if the colors are more muted pastels or the stone is small or flawed. Pastel spinels are currently overlooked by most gem buyers: but the pastel lavender, pinks, and peach colors can still be purchased at affordable prices if you can find them.

Gemstone Properties

Colors: Red, pink, orange, blue, violet, golden yellow, gray
R.I.: 1.71 – 1.72
Durability: Tough
S.G.: 3.57 – 3.90
Treatment: None known
Hardness: 8
Availability: Pastels common, intense color may be hard to find, most stones under 5 carats
Localities: Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, India and Russia
Price: Moderate to expensive
Common shapes: Mostly ovals, cushions and rounds

Examine the cut on spinels; Burmese spinels that are cut in Myanmar have terrible cutting! Most of these are recut in Bangkok before the hit the world gem market. The Russian spinels have primarily been cut in Europe and are well cut. Sri Lankan cutters are now producing some well cut spinels. Well cut spinels can be exceptional stones: they have a high refractive index and can be very brilliant. They have excellent transparency; rarely are they too dark. Since spinels are singly refractive they can have purity of color. Spinels are not particularly brittle and they have sufficient hardness to wear very well.

Now that you are ready to buy this exciting gemstone, first realize that they are not that easy to find and you may have to do some shopping to locate spinels. If you do it will be worth it.

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By Sondra Francis - Copyright © Sondra Francis, G.G. 1999
About the Author
Sondra Francis has scoured every major colored gemstone market in the world since 1978. She was a charter member of the American Gemstone Association and served as a board member. She was a founding member of the International Colored Gemstone Association. A true gem lover, Sondra has marketed her treasures on the wholesale and retail markets.
A special thanks to Pam Dulgar, Alex Edwards, Cheryl Kremkow, Kate Kirby, Helen Mitchell, Carol Morgan Page, David Pond, Elaine Proffitt, and Ray Zajicek for their help.
Photographs: Bart Curren and ICA Gembureau ; Alex Edwards, Pearl Sales Institute ; David Dikinis
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