Spinel is the great imposter of gemstone history: many famous rubies
in crown jewels around the world are actually spinel. The most
famous is the Black Prince's Ruby, a magnificent 170-carat red
spinel that currently adorns the Imperial State Crown in the British
Crown Jewels after a long history: Henry V even wore it on his
battle helmet! The Timur Ruby, a 352-carat red spinel now owned by
Queen Elizabeth, has the names of some of the Mughal emperors who
previously owned it engraved on its face, an undeniable pedigree!
In Burma (Myanmar), where some of the most beautiful colors are
mined, spinel was recognized as a separate gem species as early as
1587. In other countires the masquerade lasted for hundreds of years
after that. Spinels were most often referred to as "balas rubies"
which may have referred to color or to country of origin.
Now treasured for its own sake, spinel is a favorite of gem dealers
and gem collectors due to its brilliance, hardness and wide range of
spectacular colors. In addition to beautiful rich reds, spinel can
be found in a range of beautiful pastel shades of pink and purple.
Of particular interest is a vivid hot pink with a tinge of orange
that is mined in Burma that is one of the most spectacular gemstone
colors in any gem species. Spinel also comes in beautiful blues
which are sometimes called cobalt spinel, but these are very very
Because spinels made in a laboratory are often used for imitation
birthstone rings, many people think "synthetic" when they hear the
name "spinel." They have often never even seen the real thing.
In fact, the main thing holding back greater recognition for spinel
is rarity. Fine spinels are now more rare than the rubies they used
to imitate. Strangely, they are also more affordable: in the gem
world, too rare can be a drawback because so few people even get a
chance to grow to love these gem varieties.
In addition to Burma, now known as Myanmar, spinel is mined in Sri
Lanka, Tanzania, and Tadjikstan, part of the former Soviet Union.
Spinel is a durable gemstone that is perfect for all jewelry uses.
It is most often faceted in oval, round, or cushion shapes and is
not currently found in calibrated sizes due to its rarity.