The Natural Beauty of the Spinel Gemstone

The Natural Beauty of the Spinel Gemstone

Posted by Mariel Baker on 24th May 2023

Spinel gemstones are a unique and beautiful natural gemstone that has been much-loved for centuries. Actually, for centuries they were thought to be sapphires. Much rarer than sapphires (and half the cost), the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) calls them the world’s most underappreciated gemstone.

The history of spinels dates to the time when Marco Polo crossed the sea to discover gems of the Orient (c. 1280s). Historical records indicate that spinel was widely used for jewelry in India and the Middle East. The word “spinel” itself was derived from the Latin word for ‘spark’, indicating the gemstone’s spectacular sparkle.

The Crown Jewels of Great Britain will use the Imperial Crown in the upcoming coronation of King Charles III. Center in the crown is the Black Prince’s Ruby, which dates to the middle of the 14th century and is 170 carats of beauty – except for one thing – it’s actually not a ruby, but a spinel. In the late 1700s the science community noticed that there were some differences between spinels and sapphires. Spinels mimic sapphires so closely that their unique sparkle, variety of colors, and deposit locations easily made them appear as rubies and sapphires. They are found in many areas around the world, including India, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.

Spinels are a little different than sapphires – they contain magnesium (sapphires do not). They also are singly refractive while sapphires are doubly refractive (light penetrates the gemstone and splits as it bounces off a facet, creating two ‘sparks’ from one). Spinels have a higher (light) dispersion than sapphires – displaying more of a rainbow of colors in their sparkle – a brighter prism effect. Sapphires are very hard gemstones, second only to diamonds, but spinels are very hard too – 8 on the Mohs’ scale of mineral hardness (sapphires are 9 and diamonds are 10). Spinel gemstones are a great choice when it comes to durability. They are harder than most gemstones, making them ideal for everyday wear.

All of these factors make natural spinels highly sought-after for avid gemstone connoisseurs and knowledgeable jewelry buyers. Did I mention that they are half the price of sapphires? The beauty of spinel gemstones is indisputable. With their beautiful, radiant sparkle, it’s no wonder that many people are drawn to them. They come in a range of colors, from pink and red to blue, green and black, offering plenty of choice for any taste. Red spinels were also known as ‘Balas rubies’. They have grown in popularity recently as an alternative engagement ring. Aside from their stunning beauty, spinel gems are believed have a range of metaphysical properties. Folklore believes that these gems have a calming effect on the wearer, helping to bring inner peace and harmony. They are also believed to promote positive energy, enhance creativity, and help in overcoming depression. Spinel gemstones are a beautiful addition to any jewelry collection. Whether you are looking for a ‘pop’ of color or a more subtle look, there is a spinel for you. There are even color changing

spinels – we have several that are as rare as Alexandrites. They change color from royal blue (in LED and sunlight) to royal purple (in incandescent and candlelight).

The Mahenge Spinel

Mahenge (Ma-hen-gee) Spinel is the gemstone that changed the gem world and knocked it off its feet. In August, 2007 the world of gemology and jewelry was about to change. In a farmer’s field in Ipanko, near the town of Mahenge, Tanzania, workers were trying to move a large boulder from a field. When the boulder tipped over, it revealed an amazing colored gemstone - it was a giant pyramid-shaped Spinel crystal weighing 52 Kgs (114 Pounds). This Mahenge Spinel crystal displayed a unique neon vibrant orangey, pinkish red color that is now famous as ‘The Mahenge Spinel’. The crystal was highly included, but chunks of top quality stone were able to be faceted in Bangkok and distributed to the world market. From this point on, the Mahenge Spinel was thrust into the spotlight as one of the most famous, beautiful and vibrant gemstones of all time.

The remarkable glow that makes the Mahenge spinel is entirely unique and spectacular. Like high quality Paraiba tourmaline, the Mahenge spinel seems to possess a kind of energy that glows even under low light conditions. It glows (fluoresces) bright red like a neon sign under UV light. It is one of the most spectacular gemstones in any lighting. Unfortunately, they never found any more of this beautiful material.

From their rare sparkling beauty to their versatile metaphysical properties and durability, these gems are sure to make a statement and an heirloom. We typically design spinel jewelry with colorless diamonds, which complement them perfectly in all the colors of 18K gold.