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How to choose spinel: varieties, cutting, clarity

June 24, 2021

In the photo: faceted red and blue spinel

Natural gem-quality spinel has been rapidly rising in popularity in recent years as a rare precious and semi-precious stone. In the market there is a situation of increasing demand on spinel in conditions of limited supply.

In the world mineralogical community, it is known under the English term “spinel”. The name of this mineral has Latin roots and comes from the term “spinella”, which means “spine” in translation. This is a direct indication of the shape of the crystals, the octahedron and the dodecahedron, in the form of which the mineral is formed in nature. Its properties as a gem are wonderful. Spinel has a strong vitreous luster, due to which it perfectly accepts polishing and is very beautiful in faceting. Also high dispersion of 0.026 is an excellent property for precious stone. The hardness of the mineral is very high, on the Mohs scale of about 8, which is close to the values of beryl, topaz and slightly less than that of noble corundums, ruby and sapphire.

Among the characteristics of this stone, the most important is the color. Red shades, pink and blue are especially appreciated. In addition, clarity, cut quality, weight and origin influence the cost.

We will tell you more about how to choose this precious stone in this buyer’s guide, and in the second part of the guide we will summarize how much is a natural cut spinel.

Color and varieties of spinel

The correct answer to the question: “what color is spinel?” – “almost any” will be. Her palette is incredibly diverse: pink, red, orange, blue, blue, purple, black. Sometimes stones are colorless, yellow and green. The color of the mineral depends on the content of various elements in the structure. The most valuable is considered a bright red variety. A rare neon-blue cobalt spinel is also high appreciated; in faceted form, it rarely exceeds a couple of carats. Next, we consider features of each color type of spinel:

Red

The most valuable natural spinel variety is often referred as «lal” in the literature. According to the visual description, red spinel is extremely similar to a red ruby. Sometimes it is referred as chrome spinel, as the color appears due to the presence of chromium in the structure.

Red color can be of different saturations, from light to dark, almost black, sometimes color contains additional shades: orange, brown, purple. Being present in large quantities, they may significantly reduce the cost of the sample, therefore, for investment purposes, pure red color of medium and high saturation are most suitable.

In the photo: natural saturated red spinel sample

Appearance of single Jedi spinels from Burma on the market have attracted a lot of attention of gem lovers public recently. It shows beautiful colors and internal shine. As a rule, weight of such gems does not exceed 2 carats.

Pink

A worthy romantic pink gemstone is suitable for creating world-class women’s jewelry. Pink spinel surrounded by white diamonds is especially amazing.

The most famous source is located in the Pamirs, Tajikistan. Pamir pink spinel is good due to a pure light pink shade, without additional tones. This is valuable because of the closely of the color of such spinel to the tone of the pink diamond: a bit cool, not bright, but not pale. Among other places of mining are Vietnam, Burma, Tanzania. Stones from Tanzania (Mahenge) can reach juicy neon red-pink. An untrained eye may consider such a stones as synthetics.

Avoid violet, orange shades, they affect the declining values of pink spinel.

Orange

Orange is a rare color for this mineral, it may mix with red or yellow shades. In cut stones it appear fresh and juicy and have lovely play.

Blue

Blue spinel is one of the most valuable varieties of the mineral. If the color of the sample is caused by impurities of cobalt, the commercial variety will be referred as “cobalt” spinel. Color range is from dark blue to bright neon and light blue. Often, blue spinel can have a grayish or violet tint, and even have a slightly color change effect depending on the type of lighting. Excessive darkness of blue color serves as a price-reducing factor, therefore, when choosing spinel, we recommend that you avoid dark stones.

Light blue

Light blue neon spinel is usually associated with the Luk-Yen field of mining in Vietnam. Due to its rarity, blue neon spinel of this origin is an object of hunting for collectors of minerals and gems.

Purple

The pleasant purple color of the mineral, sometimes with a small content of pink or steel gray, looks elegant and delicate in jewelry. In light lilac and lavender specimens, the play of color on the faces – dispersion – is beautifully revealed.

Black and Gray

Black spinel is an inexpensive common semi-precious stone, generously used in silver jewelry, beads and jewelry. This variety is interesting in that in cut it looks like a black diamond. It happens from gray transparent to black opaque, the carefully polished black variety has excellent gloss.

In the photo: steel gray spinels

Green

This green stone is little studied and rare. Its color range varies from bright green to dark green, the color is often of weak saturation, slightly grayish. The offers of truly attractive gem-quality on the market are few.

White (colorless)

A rare white variety of this gem looks colorless, however, sometimes there may be a slight shade of pink, gray, lavender, which can occur under different lighting. In the structure of white spinel, coloring impurities are absent or minimal; it has high transparency.

colorless stone in cushion - cutcolorless stone in cushion - cut

In the photo: colorless stone in cushion - cut

Like other colorless stones, for example, sapphires, beryls, topazes, danburites, in faceted form it resembles a diamond.

Cutting

Spinel has a strong virtuous luster, it perfectly accepts polishing and is very beautiful in faceting. Also a great advantage is the high dispersion. Keep in mind that in saturated red, pink and blue stones it is not practically expressed and is revealed only in faceted spinel of light, gray, light pinkish and bluish colors. The following shapes of cutting are the most popular:

  • oval,
  • cushion,
  • emerald cut,
  • radiant.

More rare individual samples are cut in round, pear, marquise, trilliant and heart shapes. Selection of three and more stones for sets require skills and knowledge of the market. For more widespread varieties like gray, for instance, it is not difficult to collect a set. But selection of rare red, pink, purple and blue spinels weighed over 2 ct is a quite tricky challenge. Stones in set may have insignificant distinguishes in color, clarity, cut, and sometimes stones need to be recut for close appearance and size.

Clarity

Only a small share of the mined raw material in crystals and fragments has gem quality and is suitable for cutting. A precious spinel sample must have high purity, a small amount of inclusions and small cracks that do not effect the appearance of a sample are permissible. The presence of large, noticeable inclusions and cracks reduces the value of the spinel.

How to distinct real spinel from a fake?

This is an actual question, as there is a large amount of imitation and fakes in the market nowadays. Such artifictial materials as glass (pasta), sitall, cubic zirconia (CZ).

Particular attention should be paid to the synthetic analogue – spinel obtained in laboratory conditions. Thanks to the addition of coloring impurity elements during the synthesis, scientists receive a wide range of colors and shades: green, blue, red, pink, purple, white, etc. It is most reliable to distinguish a natural mineral from a fake and a synthetic analogue in laboratory conditions, using gemological methods and appropriate equipment. All lots presented in the Gem Lovers catalog are carefully studied by the gemologists of the company. The buyer can also order a certificate or gem report in a reputable certification center.

Such minerals as garnets (almandine, pyrope, rhodolite), tourmaline rubellite, zircon, fancy sapphire may look closely to red and pink spinel varieties. The following gemstones looking similar to blue spinel are: blue sapphire, Cambodian zircon, tourmaline indicolite.

Go to the 2nd part of the article, in which we tell about prices per carat.

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