Gemstone of the Week: Spinel

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Spinel Gemstone

Regarded as a precious gemstone for centuries, Spinel is a form of magnesium aluminium oxide. While the stone is often mistaken for sapphire or ruby, Spinel holds an array of unique properties – making it worthy of vast appreciation. Though Spinel is often red, the stone occurs in a range of colours, including pastel pink, lavender, violet, light to deep blue, orange, yellow, and even black.

Deriving from the Latin word ‘Spina’, Spinel is thought to translate to the word ‘thorn’. When considering the stones pointed crystal form, this name seems relative and well-chosen. While the precious stone has been mined for centuries, historically the gem was often thought to be ruby. One particular example of this is ‘the Black Prince’s Ruby’, owned by Edward, the Prince of Wales. As the name suggests, the stone was thought to be a ruby. Set into England’s state crown, the precious piece of spinel is held at the Tower of London, now receiving appreciation for its true identity. In this article, we explore Spinel in more detail, looking into how to identify the expensive stone, and the wide array of healing benefits it brings with it.

How to Identify Spinel

For thousands of years, Spinel gemstones have been confused with ruby and sapphire. So spectacular in appearance, many of those stones have been mounted onto the crown jewels and other pieces of significant jewellery under the assumption that they were sapphire or ruby. Typically, spinel occurs in the same colours and ruby and sapphire (red and blue). In addition to the similarities in colour, both stones are also found in many of the same locations – Hence why they were so commonly confused.

While it may be difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate between spinel and ruby or sapphire, for a gemologist the process is easy. Although Spinel may have a similar appearance to corundum (ruby and sapphire), it has many different chemical and physical properties. In addition to Spinel being much softer than corundum, the stone also has many discrete differences. Most notably, the two have a very different crystal structure; unlike corundum, Spinel is refractive and belongs to the cubic system. To the trained eye, the quickest way to distinguish between the two is to look for double refraction or its absence.

Different Varieties of Spinel

While there aren’t any specific varieties of Spinel, the stone falls under a different trade name depending on its colour. Below, the explore a couple of the most common colour groups and their accompanying trade names.

  • Flame spinel – Flame Spinel is typically fluorescent orange to orange-red. This colour group can also be referred to as ‘rubicelle’.
  • Balas spinel – Balas Spinel is pale red. Years ago, stones from this group were mistakenly named ‘Balas Ruby’.
  • Pleonaste – Containing traces of Iron, Pleonaste Spinal is usually almost black in appearance. Sometimes the group is called ‘Ceylonite’, instead.
  • Hercynite – Similarly to Pleonaste, Hercynite contains traces of iron. Slighter lighter in appearance than stones in the Pleonaste category, Hercynite is typically dark-green.
  • Gahnite – Also referred to as ‘zinc spinel’, Gahnite is blue, violet or dark green.
  • Picotite – Typically, Picotite Spinel is dark brown in appearance. Sometimes this group is referred to as ‘chrome spinel’, instead.

Where is Spinel Found?

Typically, Spinel is located in some of the most inaccessible areas of the world. While Burma and Sri Lanka are two of the best-recorded spinel sources, the precious stone is also found in Kenya, Madagascar, Cambodia, Tanzania, Thailand, and Vietnam. As all of the mentioned countries are sources of corundum too, it’s no surprise that for many years the two stones were confused.

Due to the adverse locations that Spinel is currently found, the stone remains incredibly rare. With rarity, comes increased value; this means that a piece of jewellery containing high-quality Spinel is highly sought after, bringing with it a hefty price tag.

Healing Properties of Spinel

A piece of Spinel is thought to boast an array of benefits to the body and mind. Mentally, the stone is believed to reduce forgetfulness, making it beneficial for those suffering from age-related conditions such as dementia. In gemstone healing, Spinel is used to stabilise the Root Chakra. With this comes a sense of calm, useful for reducing stress when one is faced with a challenging situation. The stone can also be beneficial for those suffering from depression and anxiety, with a Spinel beaded bracelet working wonders to provide the wearer with a sense of calm. In addition to this, when cleansing the Root Chakra the stone can increase physical energy, vitality and stamina, as well as benefit the teeth, mouth and gums. In some cases, Spinel is thought to be a stone of immortality, although this belief is generally disregarded; instead, the gem is thought to bring with it a life-long essence of vitality. In gemstone healing, a gem essence is often concocted using black or red spinel. Used to boost stamina, the elixir is optimal for overcoming an array or energy-depleting health conditions. As always, it’s important to note that crystal healing should be used alongside the help of a medical professional, rather than on its own.

In Summary

Whether you are interested in Spinel for its incredible rarity, hoping to get your hands on a piece of sought-after gemstone jewellery; or you’re suffering from an energy-sapping health issue and are looking to use a spinel elixir as a quick pick-me-up, Spinel is a great gemstone to add to your kitchen cupboard or jewellery collection – bringing with it an array of wondrous health benefits to both the body and mind.

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