An excellent alternative to sapphire or ruby is spinel, an underrated gemstone that is found in several parts of Asia and Africa, historically in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma, as well as more recent deposits in Vietnam, Madagascar and Tanzania.
Spinel comes in a wide variety of colours including blue, black, green, grey, purple, violet, orange and pink. This range of colours comes from several trace elements within the gemstone, such as iron and chromium. They are often untreated, although some can be subjected to simple heat treatment.
Spinel is an oxide mineral, comprising of magnesium, aluminium and oxygen. It is a very durable gemstone, having a hardness rating of 8 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. This excellent resistance to scratching combined with an impressive lustre makes spinel ideal for all jewellery uses. It can also resist high temperatures without changing colour or breaking.
Spinel can be faceted in many different ways and looks stunning in rings, earrings and pendants.
One of the most highly-prized colours for spinel is a beautiful, deep red, which was historically mistaken for ruby (the two stones are often found together in the same gemstone deposits), because there was no scientific method to tell them apart. In fact, the Black Prince’s “ruby” that now adorns the State Crown of England is actually not a ruby at all, but a magnificent, 170-carat red spinel. Another fine example is the Samarian Spinel, which is the largest known spinel in the world, weighing in at a massive 500 carats (100g). This stone is part of the Iranian Crown Jewels.
Spinel is one of the birthstones for those people born in the month of August. The origin of the name for this fascinating gemstone is not clear, but it is commonly thought to come from either the Greek word “spinther” meaning “spark”, due to the impressive lustre of many faceted spinels, or the Latin word, "spina", meaning thorn or arrow, due to its pointed crystal form.
It is believed that spinel can help bring clarity to one’s thoughts and enhance creative ideas. Each of the different colours has their own meaning and associated properties. For example, red spinel, perhaps unsurprisingly, is said to improve one’s confidence and promote qualities of leadership.