I’m not sure if you know, but about two years ago spinel was added to the list of birthstones. It now accompanies peridot on the August list, making for a lovely variety of colors in addition to green for those who are born in August but don’t like that color.
Spinel exhibits a lovely color variety of almost anything under the sun (even green), but most spinel ranges from red to blue with all the intermediate colors: pink, lavender, purple, etc. Most spinel has a grey modifier, and a large quantity of spinel is actually mainly grey with modifiers of pink, blue, purple, and lavender. Only a few localities show fairly pure colors.
Spinel is a fairly hard stone, easy to work with, and up till now there’s no known treatment to either enhance the color or melt away inclusions. Generally spinel is fairly clean anyway, so that is another plus.
There’s a ton to say about spinel, but I think the easiest way to get an idea of what this gem has to offer is to go through the various localities of origin and look at the individual qualities and colors available there. For a personal twist, I’m going to talk about this in the order in which I was introduced to spinel.
Sri Lanka. My first exposure to spinels was around the fall of 2009, when I saw what looked to me (at first) like pink to purple sapphires with a few purplish blues. Back then they were so cheap because it was a very underappreciated gem. Very few people knew about it. Most spinels from Sri Lanka have a stronger greyish cast, which is why I have gotten away from selling them over time but some of the better more saturated purples and blues come from this country. There are even a few gems with cobalt content (this is what makes spinels blue) though it’s not as strong as the cobalt blue from Vietnam.
Here are some spinels from Sri Lanka that I owned back in 2012:
Mogok, Burma. This area is mostly known for it’s bright red spinels. But you can also get all the pink tones there, and most of the now popular greys are from that area as well. Grey spinel is very abundant, even in larger sizes, and despite it’s popularity I don’t list very much of it. Basically, this is because grey spinel is not rare, and I don’t want to overstock and then sit on them as the popularity wanes. I can source greys of almost any size and shape without any problem, if need arises. The Man Sin mine in Mogok is famous for it’s Jedi spinel, a reddish pink, or pinkish red (depending on personal preference) that is especially neon color. My personal preference are the reddish pinks, not the pinkish reds because those are the most neon of all. But the true reds and reddish pinks are pretty much equally expensive. Of note: the black prince’s ruby in the British crown jewels is a spinel. Click here for a fantastic article about Jedi spinels. You may recognize Hemi Englisher, a fairly well known gemstone wholesaler who exhibits in Tucson. These days, Hemi sells other gems more, though he still moves quite a bit of spinel. His Mogok material has long ago wandered into other hands, though.
Click here for some neon red spinel currently available in our Etsy shop.
Burma Spinel Earrings and Loose Jedi Spinel:
Mahenge, Tanzania. It was the summer of 2010, when I went to the JA Show in New York city, browsing through the AGTA section. All the way in the back there was a young man from India, proudly showing off some very neonish pink gems that looked very similar to the red spinel I had seen, yet had a unique shade of their own: more of a warm pink by comparison, and except for a little bit of overlap between the colors, fairly easy to distinguish from Burmese material after a little practice. The young man turned out to be Jaimeen Shah from Prima Gems, whose uncle (an Indian born in Kenya, who lives in Arusha, Tanzania) had bought up most of the initial claim back in 2007. Previously the family had mostly dealt in Tsavorite and some Tanzanite, but the find in Mahenge changed everything. Now fairly mined out, Mahenge spinel has brought much deserved attention to this beautiful gem, and drove up the price from $50 a carat wholesale in 2010 for half carat pieces to over ten times that in 2020.
Here's some Mahenge spinel from 2014, all sold.
Click here for mahenge spinel currently available in our Etsy shop.
Here is the latest YouTube video I made explaining the differences between Sri Lankan, Burmese, & Mahenge spinels:
And another exploring Burmese and Mahenge Spinels even further:
Tunduru, Tanzania. Jaimeen also introduced me to spinel from the south of Tanzania, close to the border to Mozambique. Tunduru spinel, to my eye, has much in common with Sri Lankan spinel. Ranging from baby pinks to (a few) lavenders and purples to blue, much of it has a grey cast. However, you can find more of the blue tones in the Tunduru region, usually lighter pastel blues, and these do have a bit less grey than Sri Lankan spinel. If you see parcels of each side by side, you will be able to distinguish between them fairly easily. Tunduru spinel will be lighter in color, and it will have more blue mixed in.
For more on Tanzanian spinels, you can watch this video I posted to my YouTube channel:
Luc Yen Region, Vietnam. About five years ago, when I first met Hemi, he had shared his booth with a young Israeli residing in Bangkok named Nir. This is where I first saw Vietnamese spinel. The colors were the purest lavender I had ever seen, and the neon pinks had a very unique tone to them as well. Having looked at oodles of spinel in half a decade, I immediately noticed that these were different in tone with much less grey on average (though the less valuable material also has some grey). There are also lilac tones, just a slightly more pinkish color than lavender, which are amazing and probably my personal favorite. The most famous Vietnamese spinel, however, is the cobalt blue color, which now fetches prices of up to $50.000 a carat wholesale for 1-2 carat pieces, and up to $30,000 wholesale for well matched suites of smaller sizes. This Luc Yen find has since disappeared. There was a smaller find of blues in the summer of 2019, which was bought up very quickly. Most of that material, however, did not have quite the same intensity. I have a purplish blue almost two carat (AGL certified for Cobalt) in my personal collection that will remain with me, probably forever.
Cobalt Spinel from the 2019 find:
For more on Vietnamese spinels, you can watch this video I posted to my YouTube channel:
Ilakaka, Madagascar. Until I went to Madagascar, I didn’t actually know that spinel originated from there because this origin is not always identified. Also, Madagascar is a relatively young mining country, not very organized. Lately, spinel is mainly found as a byproduct of ruby and sapphire in Ilakaka, but also in many other regions (Itrafo and others) as well. Much of this spinel looks very very similar to Sri Lankan spinel, just like Madagascar sapphire looks very similar to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) sapphire. The two were actually confused by well known gem laboratories until enough of a database could be established. Most of what I have seen is purple to grey, blue to grey, and the occasional pink. This material livens up considerably when well cut (I’ve gotten some from Nomads that I have loved).
Click here for lavender spinel currently available in our Etsy shop.
Madagascar Spinel on the Left, the rest is Burmese
Mozambique. This is a relatively new source of spinel (see this article). So far all of the specimens I have seen from Mozambique are pink with the occasional secondary hue of lavender, and they have very fine silky inclusions. Ordinarily this is material I would have dismissed, as I favor clean stones like most people, but this material is unusually attractive and the silkiness enhances the appearance instead of distracting from it.
Here is the finest I have seen in this listing here:
Tajikistan. Another unusual origin, and rarely seen in the market because the area isn’t that safe or easy to travel. I have seen very little material from there with my own eyes, but what I have seen is also less grey, a nice medium saturation pink. Orangy tones from the area are also very famous but I’ve not yet seen one in person. Maybe some day…
This is my only spinel from Tajikistan.