The Spinel is a most interesting gem. Maybe you know it? But could you identify it in a group of gems where there is no caption to say which is which or see it on a TV show where the name is withheld? I’ll bet you couldn’t identify it or point it out. Why? Because the Spinel frequently masquerades as other gemstones it has no relationship with or connection to and earned it the title, the Great Impostor of the Gem World.
The reason for this is the trace element chromium that gives the stone its colour and is common to other gemstones such as ruby, sapphire, and emerald. Therefore, you could ask the question, when is a ruby not a ruby? Answer: when it is a Spinel. Similarly, when is a sapphire not a sapphire or an emerald not an emerald?
Answer: when it is a Spinel. Identifying one as the other, though, was not a deliberate fraud but rather an error because of the time frame, pre 1850, when all gems were identified and classified by colour, not by their composition, crystal structure or refraction.
Though the Spinel gemstone was known about 1,000 years ago its history is unclear and limited because of it being classified as some other gem. This is particularly true of the red stone but because of the wrong classification, designating it as a ruby, the science of gemmology was born. The results of this misclassification are therefore as intriguing as the Spinel itself because red stones thought to be rubies are in fact Spinels. The most notable or famous are the 14h century 170-carat Black Prince’s Ruby in the British Imperial Crown and the 350-carat Timur Ruby that adorns Queen Elizabeth’s crown.
The latter too is engraved with the names of emperors who owned it in the past authenticating it and giving it indisputable provenance. But here’s the rub: these magnificent gems are not rubies at all but ruby-red Spinels. And there is yet another so-called ruby now part of the Iranian Crown Jewels which, according to legend, once adorned the neck of the Biblical Golden calf. It weighs 500 carats and is over 2 inches in width. It too is a red Spinel.
Spinel’s colours are vivid red, cobalt blue, bright orange, bright pink, purple, violet-blue, green, greenish-blue, pale pink, mauve, yellow, greyish, brown, and black. So, if colour were the only yardstick to determining what a particular gem is, it is easy to see, with this amazing range of colours, why and how the Spinel masquerades as a gem it is not. Certainly, any gem can be imitated – lab created – to impersonate a particular gem but the Spinel is the genuine article and a true gemstone in its own right and having been known for 1,000 years it has acquired its own beliefs, powers and myths.
Here too, as with classification, Spinel’s colours are the main identifiers to certain beliefs and healing powers. Example, red Spinel is the vitality stone with the pink and green Spinels the compassion stones while yellow Spinels are linked to the intellect and violet Spinels are associated with spiritual development.
Whatever your beliefs or gemstone preferences, the Spinel in whatever colour, registering an 8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, is ideal for all types of jewellery and looks equally impressive on any of the precious metals. But, do please take my advice, buy only from a qualified gemologist – I recommend Joe at LL Private Jewellers – who has the knowledge necessary to differentiate a true Spinel from all other gemstones.
For more information about Spinel please visit LL Private Jewellers or call us at 604-683-3918.