Choosing a Spinel Engagement Ring Stone
Our spinel engagement ring stone guide can help you learn about this beautiful, colorful, durable, but little-known gemstone.
9 Minute Read
What are the Most Popular Colors for Spinel Engagement Ring Stones?
In its pure form, spinel is colorless, but this occurs very rarely in nature. Instead, trace elements — like iron, chromium, and cobalt — can create various colors. In fact, you can find spinels in almost every color except pure green and yellow. What are the most popular colors? Not surprisingly, the most traditionally popular hues for colored gemstones — red and blue — top the list for spinels, but you'll also find trending colors like pink and purple.
Spinels can show red colors that rival rubies. Historically, red spinels were even considered a highly prized type of ruby: balas ruby. You may still find spinels with ruby-like colors sold as "ruby spinels." It wasn't until the late 1700s that scientists recognized spinel as a distinct gem species. As a result, spinels became popularly associated with the color red. Today, red remains the most prized color for these gems.
One of the rarest natural colors, blue is nevertheless a very popular choice for engagement ring stones. Blue spinels are a close second to reds in popularity. You can find spinels in any shade of blue, from pure blues to greenish and purplish blues. While red spinels may look like rubies, blue spinels can look like sapphires, aquamarines, topazes, and paraíba tourmalines. Spinels with an exceptionally pure blue hue and vivid saturation, caused by traces of cobalt and iron, are known as cobalt spinels. While rare, they're highly prized.
Orange "Flame" and Pink "Jedi Spinels"
Gems with warm colors, such as orange and pink, have seen a surge in interest over the past few decades. Couples looking for a romantic but out-of-the-ordinary engagement ring may find spinels with these colors very appealing.
Orange or orangey red spinels with a medium tone and strong saturation are known as "flame spinels."
Spinels can show a range of pink and pinkish colors in various tones. "Bubblegum" pink is a popular choice.
Discovered in 2001, hot pink spinels with a neon glow have come to be called "Jedi spinels." These gems have a very noticeable fluorescence, which creates that neon effect. Interest in these rare gems with an evocative trade name is growing.
Purple Spinels and More
Spinels with purple, violet, black, and gray colors aren't in high demand. However, they're perfect for people who want to make a dramatic statement with their engagement ring.
Spinel Phenomenal Effects
Spinels also offer opportunities for some rare displays. Some rare gems can exhibit phenomenal effects such as cat's eye, asterism, and color change.
How Durable are Spinels?
A recent survey revealed that over 80% of people wear their engagement ring all day, every day. Any item worn daily should be able to withstand abrasions and minor impacts. The gemstones in an engagement ring, especially the primary stone, are no exception. If this stone accumulates too many scratches and chips over time, its beauty and optical performance will suffer. There's also a risk that a stone may become so damaged that it will simply fall apart.
Clearly, gemstone durability is something consumers should consider when shopping for engagement rings. However, many don't know what this term means. Some consumers know about gemstone hardness, but that's only one factor in a gem's overall durability. A gemstone's durability reflects how well it will hold up over time. Gemologists evaluate a gem's durability by considering four factors: hardness, cleavage, tenacity, and stability. Spinel engagement ring stones score well across all these properties.
A gemstone's hardness measures its resistance to scratching. Scores on the Mohs scale of 7 or above mean the gem can resist scratching from household dust, a pervasive hazard of daily wear. Spinel has a Mohs value of 8, which means its facet junctions and surfaces should remain sharp and free of scratches for a long time.
How does spinel compare to more well-known engagement ring stones in terms of hardness? Spinel exceeds emerald (7.5-8) and quartz (7) and equals topaz (8). Among natural gemstones, ruby and sapphire (both 9) and diamond (10) have greater hardness.
Some gemstones tend to split along internal planes where their molecules aren't strongly bound. This is known as cleavage. Gems with a strong tendency to break along these planes are said to have "perfect" cleavage. Those gems with excellent resistance to breaking along those planes are said to have "poor" cleavage. In this case, poor is a good score.
Spinels have an even better score than poor. They have no weak internal planes, so they have no cleavage. Compare this to diamond, which has perfect cleavage despite having the greatest known hardness of any natural material.
Almost all commonly worn gemstones have the same tenacity: brittle. This means that most tend to break or shatter if struck. Like quartz, emerald, topaz, ruby, sapphire, and diamond, spinel has a brittle tenacity. Among commonly worn gemstones, only chalcedony (tough) and jadeite and nephrite (both very tough) have exceptional tenacity.
Brittle is the minimum tenacity you should accept for a daily wear gem. (Yes, there are gems with lower tenacity. For example, zircon ranks as "very brittle"). Just take reasonable precautions to protect your spinel engagement ring from accidental impacts.
Neither exposure to light nor common chemicals will harm spinels. That means you can wear your spinel engagement ring during most common activities without damaging it. Very high temperatures may cause the stone's color to fade. [However, everyday activities won't reach these temperatures.]
Are Spinels Easy to Clean?
Because of spinel's overall durability, you can easily clean this gem. This is an important consideration. If you plan to wear your engagement ring daily, it will accumulate grime. You can use steamers and ultrasonic machines to clean spinels safely if they have no significant fractures.
Spinel Engagement Ring Stone Prices and Value
You might come to consider a spinel engagement ring in two different ways. Perhaps you were already interested in this beautiful but little-known gemstone. On the other hand, maybe you had a color and carat in mind, but you just learned that your dream gemstone costs too much. You need a compromise. A professional jeweler can help you find an alternative stone that matches your desired color and size but still falls within your budget. As it turns out, spinels make fantastic substitutes for pricier gems, especially for rubies and sapphires.
Of course, some spinels are more expensive than others. What are the principal factors that influence spinel prices?
Colors and Carats
For individual spinels, color is the most important value factor, followed by carat. Depending on color, spinels with the same carat weight will have markedly different price-per-carat values. For example, a glowing pink spinel will be much more expensive than a grayish violet spinel of the same carat weight. At the same time, a large pink spinel will have a higher price-per-carat than a smaller pink spinel with the same color.
What are the Most Expensive Spinel Colors?
Historically, spinels with ruby-like red color command the highest prices. However, even the most expensive red spinels will be valued at a fraction of the cost of rubies with a similar appearance, color, and size. Don't be surprised to find a red spinel priced at about one-tenth of the cost of a similar-looking ruby. (Save your surprise for what the ruby would cost).
As blue spinels gain popularity, their prices increase accordingly. Most notably, some cobalt spinels can rival the price-per-carat cost of the best reds.
Large red or blue spinels of the highest quality may fetch up to $10,000 per carat, but bear in mind that such stones are very rare.
What Spinel Colors are Most Affordable?
At the other end of the value spectrum, spinels with less in-demand hues have more modest prices, especially in smaller carat weights. Greenish blue, violet, and pinkish purple spinels may cost just a few hundred dollars per carat. Gray spinels shine with quiet sophistication, but you might find them priced under $1,000 per carat even if they weigh over two carats.
Are Large Spinels Rare?
In today's marketplace, you'll seldom find faceted spinels that weigh more than five carats. As a result, the price-per-carat for spinels rises sharply as the stones get larger.
Since gem faceters recognize that larger spinels will command higher prices, they often cut these gems into non-standard shapes to preserve as much carat weight as possible.
Are Synthetic Spinels a Good Choice for Engagement Ring Stones?
Many consumers first encounter spinels not as natural stones but as synthetic gems. Affordable lab-made spinels are often used as simulants or "lookalikes" for other gem species, such as sapphires and aquamarines, especially in inexpensive jewelry. There's so much synthetic spinel on the market that some consumers may be surprised to learn that natural spinel is a gem in its own right.
Although gemologists can distinguish natural from synthetic spinels through standard tests and close examination, there's no notable difference in durability between natural and synthetic material. No one can tell just by looking at your ring that it has a synthetic center stone. If you're on an especially tight engagement ring budget, a low-cost synthetic spinel could be your best option for a large, beautiful center stone in almost any color you like.
As long as you're aware that you're purchasing a lab-made stone (and you're paying significantly less for it than an equivalent natural stone), there's nothing wrong with choosing a synthetic spinel for your engagement ring, especially if you plan on wearing it all day, every day.
Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.
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