This wonderful gem takes its name from the Latin word ‘spina’ or thorn and is greatly admired for its beauty and durability lending it the properties to hold a superb lustre. A Magnesium Aluminium Oxide, it is a predecessor in mineralization of its close brethren Ruby and Sapphire. Unsurprisingly all three gems also commonly occur together in gem deposits.
Having ever since been greatly appreciated by rulers and nobility, Spinel was often mistaken in its red version for ruby such as is the case with the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ set in the Imperial State Crown of England. This led to its alias ‘Balas ruby’ alluding to its origin in modern-day Balochistan.
Since the turn of this century, Spinel has seen a much-deserved resurgence in interest which has been fuelled by new, spectacular finds and continuously rising demand, a success of the great reanchoring efforts of both traders and gem lovers alike. As a result, fine quality spinels have seen a dramatic price appreciation over the last decade.
Spinel occurs in a wide colour palette – however, large, clean and bright stones remain a rare find. The most highly desired and valued colour varieties are Red, pinkish Red and Vivid Pink in appearance. All three aforementioned hues are imparted by the trace element Chromium. Another greatly desired colour is true Cobalt Blue.
Unfortunately, much too often specimens that either turn murky due to iron and may look greyish or brownish are seen. These modifiers inhibit full-colour expression and reduce the ‘life’ of this otherwise fabulous gem. Stones afflicted in such a way are best avoided, as are heated stones which are fortunately fairly uncommon.
Spinel is found at localities throughout the world. Notable origins include Burma with Namya known for its hot pink spinels, and Man Sin for very pure bright Pink-Red to Red stones. Sri Lanka, the island of gems, since antiquities produces a wide array of colours including Purples, Pinks and some Blues. Tajikistan and its Pamir Mountains have historically been fabled for its impressive Pink to Red material. Tajik spinels are often large and though both very bright and deep rich colours exist, some lighter pinks, particularly from modern-day production feature a distinct slight greyish cast. Tanzania, Umba in particular, is another important producer of all colours imaginable. Further to the south, the Ruvuma river deposits are origin to an unusual colour change variety.
However, the one name that stands out in Tanzania above all is Mahenge, now famous for their unrivalled candy-coloured neon pinks and astonishing reds. Another source of electric coloured spinels is Luc Yen in Vietnam, from which electric pinks, lilacs, lavenders and most notably very rare superb cobalt blue spinels hail.
It is these last two deposits that have once again firmly cemented Spinel’s place amongst the most precious of gemstones!