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Spinel - The Official New Zealand Buyers Guide

Updated: Feb 13

The name "spinel" comes from the Latin word spinella, meaning "little thorn", referring to the sharp points of a spinel's crystal. Spinel was recognised as an individual gemstone in the mid-1800s. However, before this period it was classed as ruby as it was found in the same stream gravels as ruby, and it was near impossible to distinguish the difference without modern testing.


Spinel has been touted as the HOTTEST GEMSTONE of 2021. Jewellery and high fashion houses such as Tiffany & Co., Piaget, Chaumet, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Dior use spinel in their high-end jewellery designs. Due to the stellar rise in spinel popularity, prices have soared over the past 5 years. Now is the time to invest in spinel; sit back and watch your investment increase in value over time. Spinel will soon rival sapphires and rubies in popularity!


buy spinel gemstones new zealand
Spinel Gemstones in a range of colours

Spinel occurs in nearly all colours, from striking greys and lavenders to intense reds, midnight blues and hot pinks. A spinel gemstone consists of a magnesium-aluminium oxide, and in a cobalt spinel added high levels of zinc oxide. These minerals create a stunning metallic shimmer as light refracts through the gemstone, and this metallic shimmer is what visually differentiates a spinel from a sapphire.


buy blue spinel gemstone new zealand
2.97ct Blue Spinel Gemstone

Red spinel is considered the most valuable of the spinel colours, especially gemstones that come from Magok, Burma region. With rubies becoming harder to source and astronomical price tags on gems 2 carats in weight and over, the red spinel has become a highly sought after alternative to ruby. Cobalt blue spinel is also enjoying increased popularity. The high zinc content gives these midnight blue gemstones a wonderful shimmer and once again they are becoming a popular alternative to expensive blue sapphires. Recently in 2007, spinel deposits were discovered in a town called Mahenge in Tanzania. In this particular area, an intense neon pink spinel was discovered. With pure and highly saturated colour, Mahenge spinel has become highly coveted for its striking beauty, giving off a beautiful sparkle and glow even in low lighting (much like a Paraiba Tourmaline).


Spinel has a long and interesting history. The earliest spinel gemstone dated back to 100 BCE and was discovered in a Buddhist tomb in Afghanistan. It has since made numerous appearances throughout history.


Spinel gemstone in British Imperial Crown
British Imperial Crown showcasing the Black Princes "ruby"

There was a case of mistaken identity with The Black Princes ruby. This superb spinel was supposedly given to Edward, the Black Prince, the son of English King Edward III, by Peter the Cruel, king of Castile, after their joint victory at the battle of Najera in 1397. Another English king, Henry V, wore it and nearly lost it at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It was later set in the British Imperial State Crown. All this time The Black Princes Ruby was thought to be that - a ruby! In the 19th century it was tested and discovered that it was a case of mistaken identity. The ruby was actually a spinel!


Catherine the Great's "ruby" is the glittering showpiece of the Russian Imperial Crown. It is one of the "Seven Historic Stones", the rarest and most prized items in the royal collection of jewellery amassed by Peter the Great. Another case of mistaken identity this "ruby" was actually a 398.72-carat red spinel, the second-largest example in the world. At the time, spinel was known as "balas ruby", taking its name from a famous mine in present-day Afghanistan. Russian envoy Nikolai Spafary acquired the gemstone in China while conducting trade negotiations with the Emperor in 1676. He reportedly paid 2672 rubles for it (around USD 36.00). Catherine the Great commissioned the magnificent Imperial Russian Crown for her coronation. It was designed and fashioned by court jeweller Jérémie Pauzié, who removed the spinel from an earlier crown and added other jewels from the royal collection. Worn by Catherine and then her successors, it survived the 1917 Russian Revolution and is currently on display in Moscow at the Kremlin Armory's State Diamond Fund.


Russian Imperial Crown
Russian Imperial Crown showcasing a 398ct spinel

In modern times the main deposits for spinel are found in Burma (near Magok) and Sri Lanka (near Ratnapura) and more recently significant deposits in Tanzania have been found. Spinel has traditionally been cheaper to purchase than sapphires and rubies. However with the rising popularity of gemstones over 3 carats are fetching high prices—especially those that fall in the red, blue and hot pink colour range.


Spinel rates 7.5 - 8 on the Mohs hardness scale. This means it is durable enough for everyday wear. Spinel looks incredible when it is made into jewellery, and the options are endless. Create a spinel engagement ring with a halo of diamonds, spinel earrings or a spinel pendant. The Sapphire Merchant has New Zealand's largest range of spinel available. We stock spinel in all carat sizes, cuts and colours. If you have particular requirements and cannot find what you are looking for in our ONLINE SHOP, please CONTACT Gemma to discuss brokering options.



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