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Spinel FAQs – Everything You Need to Know Before You Shop

Spinel gemstone faq

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Found in nearly every color, spinel has become a popular alternative to precious stones like rubies and emeralds, as well as other gemstones with similar appearance. If you’re looking for an affordable alternative for your favorite gemstone, you might want to consider opting for a spinel. In this article, we’ve covered ten important things you need to know about spinel gemstones before you go shopping for one.

What is spinel?

Spinel is a large group of minerals composed of magnesium aluminum oxide, but only a few of them are suitable for jewelry use. Its name is derived from the Latin word ‘spinella’ which means ‘little thorn’, which is fitting since its crystals have sharp points. Gem quality spinels are typically transparent and can be found in almost every color, from intense “stoplight” red to orange, pink, blue, purple, and even bluish green.

As an allochromatic gemstone, spinel is colorless in its pure state and only gets color from impurities in the stone. The red and pink hues are caused by traces of chromium, in which the higher the amount of the element, the more intense red it will be. Purple and orange spinels have a mixture of chromium and iron, while vibrant blue spinel contains trace amounts of cobalt.

Spinel gemstones are commonly sourced from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Madagascar, Tanzania, Africa, Australia and Russia. Myanmar is said to be the source of fine pink spinel which are ‘nat thwe’ or ‘polished by the spirits’, since its crystals are so perfect. In the past, it was mistaken to be a ruby or sapphire due to its strong resemblance to these gemstones.

What are the quality factors of spinel?

Even if red, pink, orange and blue varieties are the most valuable, clarity and carat weight also have a significant effect on the value of spinel gemstones.

Color

While you may choose any spinel color that you like, some colors are rarer and more valuable than others. Since vibrant red spinel looks similar to rubies, it’s regarded as the most desirable, followed by sapphire-like cobalt blue spinel. Hot pink and vibrant orange stones are also highly coveted. Generally, the more saturated the color is, the more valuable the gemstone.

For this reason, paler colors like lavender tend to be less attractive, less in demand and more inexpensive than vivid shades. In fact, most stones have low saturation and others tend to have a grayish look. When choosing a gem, opt for something that’s not too light or too dark in tone. In fact, dark toned spinels are common and regarded less valuable.

Clarity

Generally, spinel has no inclusions visible to the eye, so if there are any prominent inclusions in the stone, it’ll decrease its value considerably.  Spinel inclusions are distinctive, like rows and swirls that resemble the appearance of a human fingerprint. Some inclusions are octahedron-shaped while others are thin, wispy cracks.  

However, well-placed inclusions can give optical effects to the stone. Some stones have a chatoyant effect (also known as the cat’s eye effect), asterism or star shaped pattern, or even change color under fluorescent and incandescent light.

Cut

Gem cutters typically decide on the final shape of the stone depending on how much of its weight they can recover from the rough. Spinel is cut in a variety of shapes and cutting styles, particularly cushion and oval shapes. Spinel has a high refractive index which is why it displays a high level of brilliance when properly cut. It can also be found in squares, octagons, rounds and pears, as well as heart shapes. However, matched sets of large, high-quality spinels are very rare.

Carat Weight

Spinels themselves are rare in their natural form, so it’s hard to find high quality spinels in larger sizes. In fact, most of the fine-quality rough are cut to non-standard sizes in order to save weight, so you’ll hardly find spinels above 5 carats. If you’re shopping for spinel jewelry, sizes up to 2 carats are readily available in any color. However, prices of larger sizes rise up dramatically, especially on high quality red and pink spinel above 3 carats.

How much does spinel cost?

Natural spinel is a rare gemstone, but one that’s not popularly used for jewelry which is why it’s fairly expensive. Some spinel colors are more or less valuable and rare than others. For instance, red spinel is considered to be the most desirable type of spinel and is much rarer than rubies, but there’s little demand for it and it sells at a much lower price. In fact, even the finest quality 5-carat red spinel can cost around a tenth the price of a ruby stone.

Burmese red spinels rival the color of ruby stones, and their prices can range from $1000 to $5000 for 1 to 3 carats, while stones below 5 carats can cost around $9000. On the other hand, vivid pink spinels of 1 to 5 carats can cost around $500 to $5000.

Is spinel enhanced or treated?

Up until recently, spinels stones were never enhance or treated, which is one of the best things about these gems. Natural spinel that’s mined and available on the market holds its stability and natural color and doesn’t need to undergo any treatments.

However, some say that heating spinel gemstones can improve its color by removing brown and orange tones, as well as increasing its color saturation. This form of treatment is gradually becoming a new trend. Although it isn’t currently very popular around the world, there are some jewelers who prefer to use it on the spinel stones and jewelry they sell.

What is the rarest spinel?

All spinel stones are rare, but the rarest of them all is the blue spinel. In fact, it’s so rare that most jewelers know very little to nothing about this stone, having never encountered it. Vietnamese spinel is currently regarded as the finest spinel in the world but you can also find high end spinel in Sri Lanka, Burma and Madagascar.

What is a synthetic spinel?

Synthetic spinel has the same physical and chemical properties as the natural stone, but it’s man-made and created in laboratory. It’s common and inexpensive too, so be careful about paying high prices for a synthetic spinel.

Synthetic spinel is usually created through the flame fusion process, the same process for making synthetic sapphire. It can be made to reproduce almost every color except purple, so it has frequently been used as a simulant for other gemstones in jewelry. Natural colorless spinels are extremely rare, so most colorless varieties in the market are most likely synthetic.

Synthetic spinel is commonly used to imitate other gemstones such as moonstone, alexandrite, ruby, sapphire, zircon, peridot. Sometimes, it’s mixed with gold flakes to imitate lapis lazuli. You can easily distinguish a synthetic spinel, as it appears too perfect and doesn’t have inclusions like a natural stone would. Also, it tends to have chalky, whitish green fluorescence when held under certain lights.

Is spinel a durable stone for jewelry?

Spinel ranks 8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which means it’s durable enough to be worn in all types of jewelry. However, most spinel jewelry is small and dainty and large statement pieces are hard to find. Spinel gemstones are ideal for engagement rings due to their hardness, especially if you find black stones appealing. They’re also a great choice for any kind of jewelry that’s worn daily.

How to spot a fake spinel?

Since natural spinels are very rare, most of the spinel gemstones available on the market are imitations. In fact, the stone itself is more often used as a simulant for other more expensive gemstones. Unlike the other gemstones, spinel needs to be examined by a professional. Most of the time, natural spinel is distinguished from the fake through its inclusions like gas bubbles and refractive index.

Another way to check if a spinel stone is real or fake is by holding it under UV light. If the stone is particularly glowy, it’s most likely an imitation. However, all spinel stones are different and some may shine more than others. Red spinel has a stronger, natural glow so you’d probably need a professional with a trained eye to be able to tell the difference.

What are the symbolic meanings of spinel?

Spinel gemstones carry different meanings depending on their color. It’s said that red spinels represent desire, passion and harmony, as well as strength and courage. Orange spinel symbolizes creativity and joy, while blue spinel is associated with peace and tranquility. Black spinels are typically associated with protection and gray varieties represent balance.

In some cultures, spinel is regarded as the stone of immortality, and is strongly associated with joy of life, spiritual evolution, compassion and devotion. It’s said that the gemstone would bring happiness to the wearer, eliminating feelings of anxiety and negativity.

In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, the spinel is regarded an almost perfect chakra gemstone, as it’s found in many different colors that correspond to each chakra. In crystal healing, it’s this stone is said to influence one’s physical and mental wellbeing which is probably why it’s so often used in yoga and meditation.

How do you clean and care for spinel?

Spinel is tough and durable stone, but it can be sensitivity to high heat which can cause its color to fade. Avoid exposing your stone to extreme temperatures, though it’s generally stable when exposed to chemicals and light. To clean it at home, soak the jewelry piece in a solution of warm water and dish detergent, and use a soft brush to remove dirt. While steam and ultrasonic cleaners are usually safe, avoid using it on fracture-filled spinel.

It’s best to store your spinel jewelry in a soft cloth bag to avoid contact with other stones. Even if spinel is scratch resistant, it can still be scratched by diamonds and other harder gemstones like sapphires and rubies, so you’d like to keep it away from them. Avoid keeping it with softer stones like opals, pearls, amethysts, aquamarines, emeralds, garnets, turquoises and other gems that fall lower on the Mohs scale since it can scratch and damage them.

Is spinel jewelry good for gift giving?

Winged heart necklace spinel

Its beauty, rarity and wide range of colors make spinel jewelry an exciting choice for jewelry collectors and gemstone enthusiasts. After all, people usually desire things that are unique and hard to find. The best thing about spinel gemstones is that they’re priced lower than sapphires and rubies, yet exude almost the same brilliance and elegance.

If you’re looking for jewelry gift for history lovers, a spinel gemstone would be ideal since it’s historically significant. It was once regarded as a valuable stone worn in British crowns and other royal collections. If someone you know was born in the month of August, spinel is one of their birthstones, along with peridot and sardonyx, so you can gift them birthstone jewelry. Spinel is also the traditional stone and gift for the 22nd wedding anniversary.

Wrapping Up

Natural spinel has always been rare and beautiful and its varied colors have been admired for hundreds of years. Even if it’s become known as a great imposter of gemstones, it has been making a name on its own. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and versatile piece to add to your collection, spinel jewelry is a stunning choice!