The great imposter, no more.


A story of redemption

You may not have heard of them, but it is quite possible that you have already encountered a famous spinel or two.

Spinels were history’s greatest imposters. The famous ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ on the British Crown is in fact a large 170 carat red spinel. The exceptionally large ruby on the Imperial Russian Crown is in fact a 399 carat red spinel.

In centuries past, our ancestors found spinels in ancient mines alongside rubies and sapphires. With their equally riveting colours and presence, it was no surprise that our ancestors made a fair assumption that these gems were rubies and sapphires.

It was not until the late 1700s, our ancestors finally learnt that spinels were a different gem in their own right. Unfortunately, this unexpected revelation left an unfair and long bias against spinels until the late 1900s.

But the story of spinels is a story of modern redemption. Spinels have started making a comeback in recent years. Their mystical beauty, scintillating brilliance and prism of colours have recaptured the imagination of jewellers and artisans.

Their future awaits.

'Nat Thwe' - Polished by the spirits

What are spinels

‘Spinel’ originates from the Latin word ‘spinella’. It refers to the ‘spine’ of pointed ‘octahedral’ crystals that spinels generally form in.

Their natural rough crystals are often found polished, such that the Burmese consider them to be 'Nat Thwe' - polished by the spirits.

Chemically, spinels are a class of oxide minerals that commonly are found with a composition of MgAl2O4. They also form in many different and rarer altered chemical compositions (e.g. ‘Ghano spinels’).

After diamonds, sapphires and rubies, they are nature’s next hardest substance. This durability combined with its scintillating brilliance, vibrant fire, natural spectra of colours and relative affordability (to sapphires and rubies) makes it an excellent choice as a coloured gemstone in any jewellery. 

Where are they found?

Gem grade come from Burma, Tanzania, Vietnam and Sri Lanka

Natural spinels are born in our earth under immense pressure, heat and natural forces over thousands of years to form a beautiful and precious gemstone. Their natural shape, inclusions and colour reflect their individual journeys across earth and time.

Gemstone grade spinels with unique colours are only found in a handful of countries. Burma is renowned for its vivid red spinels and jedi spinels. Tanzania is famous for its rare, vibrant neon pink ‘mahenge’ spinel. Vietnam and Sri Lanka are the primary source of ‘cobalt spinels’ with their electrifying cornflower blues. Burma and Sri Lanka are also home to the increasingly popular lavender and grey spinels.

Magic of colour

Another dance of chemistry

Like sapphires, spinels in their pure form are colourless. It naturally forms in a spectrum of colours when touched by the presence of rarer trace elements. Blue, grey, violet, purple and black spinels are generally coloured by a delicate balance between cobalt, iron and manganese. Like rubies and pink sapphires, chromium sparks pink and red in spinels.

Red spinels are most prized, followed by ‘cobalt’ blue, vivid pink and sunset orange spinels. In recent years, grey and lavender spinels have grown rapidly in popularity. High quality, large sized red and blue spinels are known to be even rarer than equivalent sapphires and rubies.

Red spinels historically were known as ‘Balas rubies’. ‘Balas’ was derived from the word, Balascia, which in turn may have originated from the Sankrit word, bālasūryaka -  ‘crimson coloured morning sun’

Any human treatments?

Still mostly natural, but always check

Historically and to date, most spinels are not treated. Their beauty has been completely earth made. However, in recent times given the rising popularity of spinels, there have been some instances of heat treatment and surface diffusion treatments in spinels, particularly those with the rare cobalt blue colour.

Spinels can be created synthetically in a lab. Synthetic spinels are used in jewellery. Like lab grown sapphires, we believe synthetic spinels do not have the magic, presence, beauty and long term value of natural spinels. Hence, we do not stock or sell synthetic spinels.

As always, we recommend that you always buy spinels that have been certified by a lab to be natural and disclose all treatments (if any) on the gemstone.

Magic of coloured stones

Continue your journey

Learn about other coloured stones

Magic of colour

Learn about coloured gemstones