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Home Precious stones Spinel


Shpinel_01Spinel has lots of varieties but the same chemical composition: magnesium aluminate. The name of this gemstone is due to its octahedral shape and comes from the German spinell , meaning “thorn.” The name also derives from its beautiful shine and play of the crystal, from the Greek spintes, “spark.” Spinel, or magnesium aluminate (MgAl2O4) is a bit harder than emerald–8 on Moh’s scale of hardness–and is absolutely transparent in its pure form.

This fantastic mineral can be of any color of the rainbow, but those are more hues than actual colors. Orange is always a bit pinky, blue looks rather electric, and green has a bluish touch. Mere words cannot describe the hue of a gray spinel, though. In the jewelry business, the most valuable varieties of spinel are pigeon-blood “ruby” stones and orange-red rubicelle. Also, light-blue, indigo, green, brown, yellow, and black varieties of spinel are known; many of them have their own names: pleonast (or ceylonite), gahnospinel, chlorospinel etc.

There are no natural counterparts to spinel's colors, partly because each color has a different play in different sources of light. For example, red may become pinkish, crimson, brown, or orange. The stone itself is very tricky, each one has its own coloring, and therefore it is quite difficult to pair two spinels. There are no one-colored beads of rather large spinel gemstones at all.

Spinel in the rockSpinel in the rock Spinel: a concise color rangeSpinel: a concise color range

People know this stone from the very ancient times, but it has remained hidden among other gems. For a very long time, it had been referred to as anthrax (ruby). Agricola wrote: “If anthrax has a wonderful red color and perfect shine, it is called a spinel.” In the Pamirs, there is a mountain named Lale, where the so-called “badakhshan lale” (ancient name for spinel) has been mined since the 9th century. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote about the “ruby mines” in Badakhshan: “This is the land where such wonderful and valuable gemstones as rubies are mined. They occur in the mountains, and to find them, people make huge caverns similar to the ones used for mining of silver. There is one mountain named Sighinan where they are born. The tsar takes them for himself, and then sends them as gifts to other tsars. He tries to preserve the great value of the rubies, because if he had allowed mining to everybody, there would have appeared a lot of such gemstones in the world and they would have lost their value.” This wise behavior of the rulers of the past is sure a thing to learn for those who now mine gemstones.

Many red gemstones referred to as rubies for centuries are in fact spinels. Before 1850, nobody recognized ruby and spinel as two different gemstones. Now, when many gemologists study them, lots of rubies fail to pass the compliance test. Most often, it happens to the larger stones, and no wonder, as large rubies are extremely rare. At the same time, many of them are now important parts of world history or represent national symbols.

Shpinel_09 Necklace with the Timur RubyNecklace with the Timur Ruby

One of these such gems is the famous “Black Prince Ruby,” a unique spinel weighing 150 carats. This gem was once owned by the Arabian emirs, who were the rulers of Granada. In the 14th century, Pedro the Cruel, the king of Castile, under the pretext of negotiations, drew into ambush the emir Abu Said and ruthlessly murdered him. He stabbed Abu Said with a dagger, then, without even wiping blood from his hands, snatched the desirable gem. But he did not enjoy the treasure for too long. The Castilians, resentful about Pedro the Cruel’s reign, rose in rebellion. The blood-thirsty king got help from his English colleague, though. The troops under command of Edward the Black Prince, heir to the British throne, arrived in Castile. An exceptional military leader, Edward, who received his nickname from the color of his favorite armor, swept up the rebels in 1376 and restored Don Pedro to power. Edward asked for the ruby in return for his services, but the crimson-red crystal turned out to be a jinx for the Black Prince: Edward never became a king. Neither was it lucky for King Richard III of England, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. The Black Prince's Ruby adorned his helmet during the Battle of Bosworth Field, where he was killed.

In the 17th Century during the English Revolution, a lot of treasuries of the royal court were sold. But after the Restoration, Charles II managed to find the jeweler who bought the Black Prince’s Ruby and was able to buy the family heirloom back. The gemstone became the symbol of royal power and was set in the British Imperial Crown.

Shpinel_05 Spinel. 6,18 ctSpinel. 6,18 ct Shpinel_03

Another famous English spinel, the Timur Ruby, weighs 361 carats. It was once owned by the fearsome Timur, known in Europe as Tamerlane. He discovered the crystal during the seizure of Delhi and ordered his name to be carved in it. Ulugbek (Ulugh Beg), Timur’s grandson, who was famous for his wisdom, followed his grandfather’s example. Later, the stone returned to India with the army of the Great Mogul. Here, Shah Jahan immortalized his name in the gem. He ordered his jewelers to make the Peacock Throne inlaid with precious stones, and the Timur Ruby was its star. This throne changed hands of many conquerors, and with Nader Shah it traveled to Persia, but was eventually returned to India, to Punjab. There, the Peacock Throne was seized by the British in 1849. But the invaders failed to deliver their trophy to England to place it at feet of the Queen Victoria. The ship carrying the throne sunk in the Indian Ocean, and only the most valuable stones, which had been carefully removed beforehand were saved. These were offered to the Queen, along with the Timur Ruby.

However, in the Diamond Fund of Russia, we can see even bigger spinel. The crown made by Jeremia Pauzie, the court jeweler of Catherine II, is topped with a huge--398.72 carats!--dark-red spinel with a diamond cross set in its top. Nicholas Spafary, the Russian envoy to China, bought this gemstone for Tsar Alexis I of Russia. He purchased it from a high-ranking Chinese official and secretly took it out, as in China it was forbidden to sell “rubies” to the foreigners, as they must only belong to the Emperor. The State Diamond Fund has two more large spinels, one 100 carets and the other 56 carats, in gold setting.

A tutti-frutti necklace – all gems present are color varieties of spinelA tutti-frutti necklace – all gems present are color varieties of spinel Shpinel_04

In Tehran, among the treasures of the Iranian Shah, there were preserved two big red spinels weighing 500 and 225 carats. In the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. there are four beautiful cut spinels: a purple (45.8 carats) and a violet (29,7 carats), both from Ceylon; and an indigo (36,1 carat) and a red (34 carats) from Myanmar. In the Museum of Natural History in London, we can see two octahedron-shaped red crystals with curved edges, weighing 520 and 355 carats. In the Louvre collection, there is a beautiful red spinel weighing 105 carats, and in the Museum of Natural History in New York, there is a red spinel from Sri Lanka weighing 71.5 carats.

Almost 95 per cent of the world’s spinels are mined in Myanmar at the generously blessed Mogok deposit. In Tajikistan, only the pink stones are mined, but they are of great weight and superior quality. Vietnamese spinel is more diverse in color; in Vietnam, you can find two hues: pink-burgundy and red-brown. But these stones are rather flat and small and are known to lose their beauty after cutting because they shine through too much.

Recently, a black spinel was found in Thailand, and the crystals were quite large--up to 100 carats. This variety of spinel looks like a black sapphire, but due to its name, it costs a lot less. However, in the near future, this spinel can easily compete with black brilliants.

Not so long ago, spinel was quite cheap; a three-carat stone cost just $100. Today, however, the same stone would cost $3000, without question. A five-carat stone of better color will cost the same $3000--per carat. And last year at Sotheby’s, a 7.03-carat violet-burgundy stone was sold in Geneva for 62,000 Swiss francs! The most expensive color is red--large stones of this color are quite rare—followed by deep red, pink, and blue, with the latter also being rather rare.

Spinel occurs in nature as lozenge-shaped crystals. There are almost no inclusions, and the few that are present are of dotty type; there are no cracks. Unlike other precious stones, spinel is not subject to enhancement; neither temperature nor radiation is able to make it better. This gem is beautiful as it is.