If you’ve ever laid eyes on a spinel stone, you may well have wondered if, in fact, you were holding a ruby. Spinel gemstones are renowned for their ruby-like deep red coloring. When it comes to spinel vs ruby, distinguishing them outside of a lab is difficult even for skilled lapidaries and gemologists.
If not a ruby, what is spinel stone? There is no disputing that spinel is a widely misunderstood gemstone, often living in the shadows of precious gems like sapphire and ruby. When the 19th century brought about a greater understanding of these minerals, spinel’s reputation suffered as long-thought rubies and sapphires were exposed as spinel varieties.
However, this doesn’t redact from the fact that spinel gemstones are a class all their own and deserve a spotlight.
In this comprehensive guide, we’re shining a light on spinel stones, their meanings and values, and the qualities that make them stand out against the crowd — even if they look like a spinel in ruby’s clothing.
One of the reasons spinels were long thought to be sapphires and rubies was because they were incorrectly categorized as corundum, a mineral mined alongside spinels in abundance.
Spinel minerals are isometric oxides composed of iron, zinc, magnesium, and trace elements like aluminum that give them their destined coloring.
Like the many sapphire colors, spinels exude various colors, from light pink, lavender, and purple pastels to rich, vibrant reds, blues, oranges, and sometimes, black. Also similar to varieties of beryl (aquamarine, morganite, emerald) as well as corundum (ruby, sapphire), and topaz, pure spinel is naturally allochromatic (colorless), only gaining these beautiful colors once exposed to other elements and impurities such as chromium, cobalt, and iron. What makes spinel continue to rise in popularity is its naturally saturated coloration.
See, most sapphires and rubies today undergo enhancements to make their naturally dull colors appear more vivid and striking. Spinel, on the other hand, requires no such treatments to illuminate its gorgeous colors.
Spinels are also widely available and sourced from mines around the globe, giving them market accessibility and affordable price points.
If spinel gemstones haven’t caught your eye yet, it’s time to do a double-take. Spinel isn’t one mineral but a cluster of minerals, including gahnite, hercynite, picotite, galaxite, gahnospinel, ceylonite, and pleonaste.
It might interest you to know that the spinel birthstone belongs to August, along with peridot. In astrology, the spinel gemstone is the zodiac stone falling under the signs of Aries, Scorpio, Taurus, and Sagittarius.
Spinel has many uses and benefits and is a popular jewelry gemstone thanks to its dependable ranking of 7.5-8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.
Are you sold on spinel yet? We sure are! With a vivid color portfolio, high durability, and overall versatility, it seems there is a spinel variety for everyone.
Below, we’ve outlined a quick list of the different types of spinel and their associated colors:
Spinel: Pure variety except for green and yellow spinel.
Picotite: A mixture of magnesium and chromium, seen in dark green to black spinel stone and brown spinel.
Galaxite: Manganese-rich variety in dark red spinel to black spinel.
Gahnite: Zinc variety in rich, dark green.
Ceylonite and Pleonaste: Intensely dark spinel varieties containing magnesium and iron traces
Hercynite: An iron variety in dark colors like black spinel, also called chromohercynite
Gahnospinel: A solid-state blended species combining spinel and gahnite to produce blue and dark blue varieties
Pleonast: Opaque spinels in colors like dark blue, green, and black.
Ruby Spinel: a translucent red gemstone (spinel)
Alexandrite Spinel: Grayish blue in daylight and violet in incandescent light
Next, let’s zoom in on the chemical composition and geological specs of spinel stones.
You might wonder: is spinel a precious gemstone? That’s a great question! Spinel doesn’t fall into the traditional category of precious gems, including diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. That said, it’s an undervalued jewel next to these prestigious gemstones, and not rightfully so, considering its relative hardness, durability, clarity, and beauty. Although unique, spinels share many characteristics of corundum varieties, but they are not the same.
Chemical Formula: MgAl2O4
Color: Red, blue, black, gray, lilac, green, purple, brown, orange, orangish-red, colorless, and pink.
Crystal Structure: Isometric with octahedral crystals
Transparency: Mostly transparent but can be opaque
Refractive Index: 1.719 to 1.920, depending on the variety
Treatments: Naturally untreated, but can be heat treated
Inclusions: Rare, but sometimes silk, spangles, feathers, or swirls.
We will expand on some of these spinel features ahead. But first, let’s talk about spinel’s etymology and background.
Spinel meaning may come from the Latin term, spina, which translates to “thorn.” The theory is that the stone’s spine-shaped crystals are reminiscent of a thorn found in nature. However, if you look closer at spinel’s composition, it’s unlikely to find spine-shaped crystals. Therefore, the name itself is more of a legend than fact.
It’s not outside of the realm of possibility, considering the stone’s ancient origins, and that primitive analysis of gemstones was speculative rather than scientific.
Sadly, spinel has long been called “the great imposter” once discovered that plenty of famous rubies were actually spinels. But thankfully, spinel is finally being taken seriously as a fine jewelry gemstone thanks to its high luster, hardness, and brilliance.
What does spinel symbolize today? Spinel has many holistic benefits, including metaphysical healing properties, which we’ll unfold in greater detail next.
What healing properties does spinel have? Like other red gemstones, spinel’s fiery red coloring embodies passion as well as longevity. Spinel stone meaning is the embodiment of hope, joy, and vitality, and it has strong associations to the chakras (energy centers in the body).
Most closely, red spinel connects to the Root Chakra, the center of grounding and stamina. Mentally, spinel stone benefits the mind by instilling it with intellectual capabilities. Spinel also balances emotions, bestowing people with the power to self-soothe and heal from personal traumas. If you’re susceptible to bad influences, the spinel stone acts as a protective barrier against negative influences and energies. Spinel has high energy capabilities, making it an ideal conduit for healing the body, mind, and spirit. Physically, spinel properties can soothe inflammation, particularly of the nerves, with its vibrational calming frequencies.
What is spinel used for outside of crystal healing? There are myriad spinel stone benefits, but most popularly, spinel continues to rise in popularity as a gemstone used for fine jewelry.
Because of this, it’s wise to acquaint yourself with the properties you’ll come across when buying spinel.
All gem-quality gemstones are evaluated by the 4C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. And while these factors are important, if you plan to buy spinel gemstones, you’ll want to understand the treatments and be wary of ever-abundant synthetics.
Thanks to their strong durability and hardness, spinel gemstones come in all shapes and sizes. With such high clarity and refractive index, the most popular cuts include round brilliant, emerald, cushion, and oval. Interestingly, spinels naturally have octahedral (eight-sided) crystals, and gem cutters will commonly cut the stones into octahedrons, which look like an eight-sided diamond shape, to best display the crystals.
We’ve already talked a lot about spinel colors and varieties, but now we’ll share the spectral color qualities used for identification purposes.
Pink and red spinel: These gemstones contain chromium (the same mineral that makes rubies red). These red and pink varieties have a broad color band and easily absorb violet.
Blue spinel: Instead of chromium, trace iron elements make these spinels blue. The same goes for light blue and mauve varieties, which have a similar, but weaker, color spectrum.
Black spinel: Magnesium aluminum oxide turns this opaque stone into an inky black.
Beyond these three popular color categories, various elements interplay with spinel minerals to procure a vast array of hues.
Spinel has a high refractive index, meaning the light passes and leaves the stone brilliantly, making for a striking, sparkly stone when cut and polished.
Spinel indeed encounters impurities, which in other gems can diminish the stone’s clarity. Spinel, however, only becomes more beautiful when interacting with elements. It’s the stone’s impurities that color it into a red, blue, orange, or even black variety.
As far as inclusions go, most spinel is virtually eye-clean and free of all inclusions.
While spinel stones are abundant in nature, you won’t come across them as frequently in the gem trade. Unfortunately, this is a result of their imposter-like qualities that associate them with rubies. That said, most gem-quality fine spinels are cut non-standard in weight. Doing this saves carat weight.
Most fine-quality spinels are mixed-cut in oval shapes to standard sizes like 6x4 and 7x5 mm. These sizes lend themselves best to center stones used in fine jewelry rings. That said, the larger the carat weight, the higher the price-per-carat. The most prestigious spinels weigh five carats in colors like red, blue, and pink. Spinels can even weigh hundreds of carats, as seen in famous gemstones displayed in museums and royal jewelry archives.
Thanks to the elements that beautifully color spinel stones, they rarely receive treatments, and if so, heat treatments are common.
Synthetic spinels are created using the flame fusion process, which has been used since the late 1800s. The process was initially designed to craft synthetic sapphire. Because naturally colorless spinels are elusive, if you come across one, it is likely a synthetic. Making things tricky are flame fusion or flux grown synthetics, which look nearly indistinguishable from cobalt blue spinels. You can tell them apart if a chalky white/green fluorescence appears. Synthetics also display birefringent “snakelike” or “crosshatched” patterns under cross-polarized light.
However, if you’re not a gemologist, it may be tricky to tell if a spinel is real, which is why it’s vital to purchase your gemstones from reputable, verified dealers.
We’ve talked a lot about the various confusions and misconceptions encircling the spinel gemstone. The truth is, spinels lived in the shadows of rubies for centuries. How did they finally emerge as a unique entity? It wasn’t until 1783 when French mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle finally discovered the identifiable differences between rubies and spinels. With this revelation, a crescendo of events ensued in the gem world. Taking a more complex look at all of the famous red rubies, a collection of prestigious and even royal “rubies” were discovered actually to be spinels!
Despite this breakthrough, spinels had been around for centuries, known as “Balas ruby” in Northern India.
A notable example includes the famous Timur Ruby, a whopping 352.5-carat center stone that’s now identified as a spinel.
When Friedrich Mohs published the hardness scale in 1812, poor spinel was downgraded to a 7.5-8 ranking. Because rubies rank at 9, the hardest next to diamonds, spinel was instantly categorized as an imposter jewel less worthy of adoration.
Because royal crown jewels had been exposed as spinels, the gem’s reputation suffered and became relegated to B-status. But despite spinel’s marred past, it is finally coming into its own and pulling up a seat at the esteemed gemstone table.
The flashy 80s saw a comeback in bright, colorful jewels, and spinel briefly surged into the spotlight. Today, spinel’s are no longer thought of as imposter jewels but well-regarded for their intrinsic value and beauty, and jewelry designers are reaching for them over rubies and sapphires more and more.
Spinels first came from mines in Asia and the Middle East, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Recently, deposits have been discovered worldwide in localities such as Russia, Australia, Vietnam, and Africa.
Miners don’t excavate spinel specimens from host rock deposits, though. Instead, they find them in gem gravels that have been washed downstream from alluvial deposits that eroded from the host rock.
Because of this, miners can find them with relatively simple methods, including sluicing the stream gravel with baskets.
By now, you know that spinel is a hard, durable gemstone, right? That means that spinel care is effortless! The gems are hard, meaning they won’t easily tarnish, crack, or scratch. However, daily wear means that buildup of skin oils and grime can dull the luster. That’s why it’s wise to wash your stones with warm water and a mild detergent every so often. Use a soft-bristled brush and gently scrub away the residue.
Are spinels valuable? Yes, and no. It ultimately depends on what type of spinel you’re talking about. For instance, pure, colorless spinel is one of the rarest kinds, scarcely found, making it a hot commodity. That’s because spinel is hardly found without having encountered elements and impurities that saturate it with color.
Spinel stone prices largely depend on the variety, color, and quality of the stone. Fine blue spinels range from $78 to $1,250 per carat, while fine red spinels jump up to $200 to $2,000 per carat. Fine purple spinels average $350 per carat, while other colors range from $11 to $100 per carat. Star spinels average about $200 per carat.
There’s no disputing it: spinels are gorgeous gemstones that deserve to shine for their inherent qualities, including luster, brilliance, hardness, and versatility. Spinel is no imposter gem; it’s a striking jewel that’s catching well-deserved attention from jewelry designers and consumers alike. If you’re looking for a high-quality gemstone that’s beautifully saturated and durable, look no further than spinel.
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