Spectacular Spinels

Hope Spinel. 50.13 carats. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Practically everyone has heard of the Hope Diamond, the large, blue, supposedly accursed diamond now in the Smithsonian Institution. But a couple years ago, the London office of the auction house Bonhams sold the 50.13 ct. Hope Spinel, presumably un-cursed.

Spinels have been largely unknown among mainstream gemstone customers. Even those who had heard of the stones thought of them as lesser versions of rubies and sapphires, two gemstones that share colors with spinels. Part of the problem in the past was that spinel supply was often spotty and undependable. Many historical stones came from Tajikistan, at the border of Afghanistan, geographically difficult and often politically dangerous to get to. But in 2007, there was a find of red spinel in Tanzania that flooded the market with top quality stones and people started to notice.

3.78 carat red Burmese (Myanmar) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Rising popularity led to rising prices. Then when the costs of sapphires and rubies went through the roof, everyone “discovered” spinels. Unfortunately, that means the costs of fine red or deep blue spinels have also gone up–significantly–but you can still find the less intensely colored spinels that may not break the bank. (Colors other than reds are can range from $25 per carat to $500 per carat; commercial grade red stones may be as low as $700 per carat.)

Spinel-producing regions tend to have their own peculiar color range, according to Hemi Englisher owner of Gemcal Co. Ltd, in Bangkok. Burma (Myanmar) produces “the best reds in the world,” pink, purple, Sienna orange, brown, blue, gray, and colorless stones, he says. From Vietnam: orangey red, blue, cobalt blue, baby pink, “the best lavenders in the world,” and purple. From Tanzania: pink, pinkish red, and red stones that “tend to be slightly foggy or silky.” Small gray and silver material comes from Madagascar. Blue, lavender, change color, and purple stones, “most with a dark shade to them,” are produced by Sri Lanka.

4.68 carat cobalt blue Ceylon (Sri Lanka) spinel. Photo courtesy Gemcal.

Who’s buying spinels? Says Englisher: “Non-traditional buyers, rich hipsters, ex- hippies, and designers.”