Jedi SpinelJedi Spinel

What is Jedi Spinel?

Jedi spinel makes a beautiful jewelry stone. Learn how it got its name and what qualities make this vivid pinkish red gem so popular.

11 Minute Read

With a trade name sure to attract attention, Jedi spinel has become a very popular gemstone. Jeffrey Bergman of 8th Dimension Gems tells how these spinels got their name and explains their properties. He also discusses how they're mined, shows us many beautiful examples of Jedi spinel jewelry, and the efforts of the AIGS to develop grading standards for Jedi spinels.
Gold Burmese bracelet with Jedi spinel crystals
"Spirit-polished" Jedi spinel crystals in one of Richard Biran's Burmese bracelets. Photo by Ansar Ahmed. © Jeffery Bergman.

Spinel Gemstones

Historically sourced from Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and more recently from Vietnam and Tanzania, spinels have a long history as jewelry stones. However, over the past several decades, the vivid pink and red spinels of Namya (also known as Nanyazeik) and Mogok's Man Sin mine in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) have fueled the increasing demand for spinels. Although Namya and Man Sin are renowned for their vivid red and pinkish red spinels, these neon colors can be found in any spinel-producing areas in Myanmar, Vietnam, and Tanzania.

Spinel mines in Myanmar. Illustration © Cuiling Zhen.

How did Jedi Spinel Get its Trade Name?

In the early 2000s, renowned field gemologist Vincent Pardieu was shown some exceptional spinels in Myanmar by gemstone dealer Yuval "Hemi" Englisher of Gemcal Co., Ltd., Bangkok. Pardieu was stunned by their vivid pinkish red hues that exhibited a neon-like glow he had never encountered in spinels of any origin. Playing off the immense popularity of the Star Wars film series, he began calling these glowing hot pink to red gems "Jedi" spinel, as they were untouched by the "dark side of the Force." This au courant nickname quickly caught on in the gem trade and contributed significantly to spinel's current popularity.

Spinel's Physical Properties

Historically, peoples in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East classified red spinels as "balas rubies," a type of ruby prized for its exceptional size, especially by royalty. Modern mineralogy scientifically distinguished spinel as a mineral species distinct from corundum (ruby) in 1783.

Spinel is a magnesium aluminum oxide with a chemical formula of MgAl2O4 and an isometric or cubic crystal structure. Crystals typically have an octahedral shape, which resembles two pyramids base-to-base, no cleavage, and a conchoidal fracture.

Spinel crystal shapes. Illustration © SSEF.

Spinel has a hardness of 7.5-8, a specific gravity of 3.6-4.1, and a single refractive index of 1.719. Trace element chromophores of iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), vanadium (V), manganese (Mn), and cobalt (Co) can produce a range of natural colors in spinels, including black, brown, red, pink, orange, blue, purple, and, very rarely, green and yellow. Ultraviolet fluorescence ranges from inert to weak or strong red or, very infrequently, green.

fluorescence scale for red and pink spinels
Pink and red spinel fluorescence scale. Illustration © Cuiling Zhen.

What Causes Red Color in Jedi Spinel?

Chromium is the coloring agent responsible for red color and fluorescence in spinels, including Jedi spinels.

What Causes the "Dark Side" in Red Spinel?

Trace amounts of iron darken the red color in spinels and reduce their fluorescence. The more iron in a spinel, the darker and less fluorescent it will be. Thus, iron induces the "dark side of the Force" in spinels, so to speak.

Jedi spinels and large
Thirteen vivid pinkish red to vivid red low-iron Jedi spinel nat thwe crystals around one large high-iron "dark side of the Force" red crystal. Photo by Arjuna Irsutti. © Jeffery Bergman.

What Inclusions are Found in Spinels?

The inclusions found within spinels reflect the geological environment in which spinels form. Crystal inclusions of minerals such as calcite and apatite are quite common. Many spinels contain well-formed negative octahedral crystals (cavities shaped like octahedral crystals) that, in turn, contain other minerals, liquids, or both.

fluid inclusion in spinel
Fluid inclusions like these are typically found in spinel from Myanmar. The yellowish orange cavity is likely filled with a sulfur-rich liquid. Photo by E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Occasionally, spinels also have inclusions of needle-like and/or plate-like growths of rutile. These rutile inclusions can cause asterism or the "star stone" effect in spinels.

What are Burmese Nat Thwe Spinel Crystals?

The mines of Mogok and Namya are renowned for producing euhedral spinel crystals. Euhedral crystals have well-developed faces that appear faceted, although they occur naturally. The local trade expression for these euhedral spinel crystals is nat thwe, which means "polished by the spirits."

Jedi spinel nat thwe crystals from Mogok
Nine vivid pinkish red Jedi spinel nat thwe crystals from Mogok. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Despite centuries of Buddhist practice, spirit worship (animism) continues alongside classic Buddhism in Burmese culture. The Burmese spirit world has thirty-seven nats or spirits.

Carved and gilt wooden Burmese temple nat
Carved and gilt wooden Burmese temple nat in the collection of Jeffery Bergman. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Spinel Mining in Myanmar

Spinel mining operations in Myanmar vary greatly. Methods include:

  • Mechanized deep tunnels large enough for dump trucks
  • Massive open-pit mines utilizing bulldozers, backhoes, and dump trucks
  • Simple panning in streams

However, government-issued mining permits have not been renewed for nearly a decade. As a result, all recent mining in Mogok and Namya has been artisanal and illegal. Miners armed with picks, shovels, and washing pans pay the local military and/or police a small fee for ignoring their activities.

Gem mining in Myanmar has a time-honored tradition of allowing locals to try their luck at finding gems in the tailings of larger mechanized mines. Known as kanase, these workers —  traditionally women but occasionally men — break open marble host rock or sieve and pan in the streams below the mines. They hope to find a ruby, sapphire, or spinel overlooked by the big mining operations.

kanase woman - Mogok
Kanase woman panning for gems in the runoff below the Man Sin mine in Mogok. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Gem Mounting for Export

Loose gemstones, rough or cut, are illegal to export from Myanmar. Therefore, traditionally, the Burmese mount all cut stones in the simplest of styles. These gems include ruby, sapphire, spinel, jadeite, peridot, zircon, beryl, and quartz. To facilitate legal export, low-cost gems are set in thin, handmade brass mountings that cost only a few dollars to manufacture. More expensive gems are typically mounted in simple 22k yellow gold with no accent stones. Dealers and brokers wear the finished necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pendants to sell them internationally. The gems can be removed from the settings, and the gold can be melted and sold. Since labor costs are so low in Myanmar, mounting gemstones creates minimal additional costs.

Richard Diran, GG: Ethnographer and Photographer of Burmese Culture

Author, photographer, artist, and gemologist Richard Diran was in the first graduating class of the California Institute of the Arts in 1972. He also graduated from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 1978, becoming a Graduate Gemologist (GG). Diran first visited Myanmar in 1980 to buy gemstones. Over the following decades, he traveled extensively to remote regions of Myanmar and photographed tribal groups, capturing images of cultures on the brink of disappearing.

Richard Diran in Myanmar with a woman from the Kayan tribe
Richard Diran in Myanmar with a woman from the Kayan tribe, also known as Padaung. Photo © Karl Krieger.

Twenty-five years of visiting disparate ethnic groups culminated in his widely acclaimed book, The Vanishing Tribes of Burma. The work features 70 photographs, which, according to Diran, include people from "at least 40 distinct ethnic groups, documented over more than 25 years and constituting 'the most comprehensive study of Burmese ethnography since [Sir George] Scott more than 100 years ago.'" Asiaweek described the book as "the most comprehensive visual record of Myanmar's many ethnic groups."

One of Richard Diran's Burmese-style 22k gold bracelets featuring Jedi spinel nat thwe crystals, photographed in front of his book, The Vanishing Tribes of Burma. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Over 70 of Diran's acclaimed photographs are permanently displayed at Yangon's National Museum.

Jedi Spinel Crystal Gold Bracelets

On one of Diran's early trips to Myanmar, he acquired a stunning matched pair of Burmese gold bracelets featuring 28 nat thwe Jedi spinels for his wife, Junko. The crystals weighed an estimated 10 carats total per bracelet. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History acquired a similar matched pair of Burmese gold bracelets featuring nat thwe spinel crystals (catalog number NMNH G8832) in 1981.

matched pair of gold bracelets with Jedi spinel crystals
Richard Diran acquired this matched pair of 22k gold classic Burmese style bracelets with vivid pinkish red Jedi spinel nat thwe crystals in Myanmar in the 1980s. Photo © Richard Diran.

One of Diran's spinel bracelets is now in the personal collection of Billie Hughes, FGA, an award-winning photomicrographer and in-house gemologist for Lotus Gemology. Seth and Lisa Rosen of the International Gem Society (IGS) acquired the other bracelet.

Billie Hughes commented:

When I saw these nat thwe bracelets, I was instantly drawn to them. The vivid, pinkish red colors stand out even at a distance, and what makes them so charming is that the crystal forms of these spinels have been preserved instead of having been cut and polished like in other spinel jewelry. I (had) hoped to find a nat thwe jewel for several years, and feel extremely fortunate to have come across this piece.

fluorescent Jedi spinels under UV light
Closeup shot of the Jedi spinel crystals in one of Richard Diran's Burmese bracelets exhibiting strong red fluorescence under UV light. Photo by Ansar Ahmed © Jeffery Bergman

Nat Thwe Spinel Crystals in Fine Jewelry

Gemstone lovers often bemoan seeing nat thwe Jedi spinel crystals faceted. Aficionados prefer to see them remain in their natural "spirit-polished" state. However, these uncut beauties create problems for traditional jewelry styles. When mounted in jewelry, their natural, sharp corners are far easier to damage than those of faceted spinels.

uncut Jedi spinel
One perfect uncut, hot-pink octahedral nat thwe spinel crystal offered for sale in Mogok's Umbrella market. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Paula Crevoshay's Starfish Pendant

Compared to a ring or bracelet, a brooch or pendant obviously affords some degree of safety from incidental impact damage. World-renowned, multiple award-winning jewelry artist Paula Crevoshay accomplished this in her stunning starfish pendant. Featured on the cover of her book The Shape of Matter - Through an Artist's Eye, the pendant contains 4.04 carats of rubies, 5.06 carats of lavender sapphires, 9.40 carats of purple sapphires, 3.87 carats of fuchsia sapphires, 6.79 carats of nat thwe spinel crystals supplied by Jeffery Bergman, and 0.43 carats of amethyst set in 18K yellow gold.

Jedi spinel starfish pendant
Paula Crevoshay's starfish pendant on the hand of the author. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Jedi Spinel Crystals and Sapphire Watch Glass

Author Jeffery Bergman of Eighth Dimension Gems in Bangkok created an interesting jewelry set featuring 47 carats of natural Jedi spinel nat thwe octahedrons mounted in 18k gold by French jeweler Francis Barthe. The crystals are encased between two synthetic sapphire watch glasses. Since sapphires have a Mohs hardness of 9 and spinels a hardness of 8, the spinels won't scratch them. This clever presentation lets the viewer see all the tiny red spinel crystals clearly while preserving their natural features in a durable and secure setting.

Jedi spinel and synthetic sapphire jewelry
Natural Jedi spinel nat thwe octahedrons mounted in 18k gold by French jeweler Francis Barthe, designed and commissioned by Jeffery Bergman of Eighth Dimension Gems in Bangkok. Photo by Arjuna Irsutti © Jeffery Bergman.

AIGS-Graded Jedi Spinel

Burmese gem trader Waing Kong "WK" Ho moved his family to Thailand in 1964 with only $30 in his pocket. By 1978, WK and his sons Henry and Kennedy had founded the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences  (AIGS) in Bangkok. In 1979, the AIGS graduated its first class of Accredited Gemologists. Renowned author and photographer Richard Hughes, AG, FGA, graduated from the AIGS in 1980 and became the director of AIGS during the 1980s. Richard later founded Lotus Gemology in Bangkok with his wife, Wimon Manorotkul, AG, FGA, and their daughter, E. Billie Hughes, FGA.

In 2021, the AIGS launched its Jedi spinel grading reports to transform the "Jedi" trade name into a strict quality standard. The Jedi grade for spinel from AIGS is not just a color code but a comprehensive quality evaluation regarding six aspects:

  • Color
  • Fluorescence
  • Clarity
  • Cut
  • Brilliance
  • Treatment
  • Origin

The AIGS's standard for Jedi spinel refers to natural, untreated, faceted spinels with evenly distributed hues of red, pinkish red, reddish pink to orangey red, in medium to high saturation and without dark tones. AIGS-graded Jedi spinel gemstones have eye-clean clarity, excellent brilliance, and medium to strong fluorescence. They also come exclusively from mining areas in Myanmar.

AIGS Jedi spinel color grading chart
Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) Jedi spinel color grading chart. Illustration © AIGS.


Spinels are in high demand as jewelry stones due to their durability, rarity, and often exceptional clarity. Of course, they also come in many colors, from pastels to richly saturated ones. While vivid cobalt blues, lavenders, padparadscha-like orangey-pinks, and classic red spinels have had appreciative receptions from consumers, the neon-like glow of vivid pinkish-red and red Jedi spinel has undoubtedly contributed the most to spinel's new-found popularity among dealers, jewelers, auction houses, jewelry buyers, and collectors around the world.

Jedi spinel rough - Man Sin mine
This freshly mined 4-carat vivid neon pinkish red Man Sin mine Jedi spinel is in the hands of the author, Jeffery Bergman. Man Sin means "pure glass" in Burmese, so no surprise this near ideal-shaped rough will cut a loupe-clean stone of at least 2 carats. Note that the frosted surface is the result of tumbling in a stream or river and imparts an impression of greater saturation than will be observed after faceting. Photo © Jeffery Bergman.

Note: E. Billie Hughes contributed to this article.

References and Further Reading for Jedi Spinel

Italian Gemological Review. (2022). "AIGS launches Jedi spinel grading reports." (Accessed 6/10/24)

Smithsonian Institution. (n.d.). Spinel Bracelet. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Bergman, J. (2021). SPINEL - History, Origins, Treatments, Marketing and Pricing. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Gao, Y. et al. (2023) "Jedi Spinel from Man Sin, Myanmar: Color, Inclusion, and Chemical Features." Mineralogical Crystallography, 3rd Edition. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Kane, R. et al. (1992). "Status of Ruby and Sapphire Mining in the Mogok Stone Tract." Gems & Gemology, Fall 1992. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Pardieu, V, et al. (2008). Spinel • Resurrection of a Classic • Lotus Gemology. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Pardieu, V. (2014). "Hunting for 'Jedi' Spinels in Mogok." Gems & Gemology, Spring 2014, Vol. 50. (Accessed 6/10/24)

Phyo, M. M. et al. (2019). "Spinel from Mogok, Myanmar—A Detailed Inclusion Study by Raman Microspectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy." The Journal of Gemmology, 36(5), 2019. (Accessed 6/10/24)

low-grade spinel crystal
Author Jeffery Bergman holding a 5 kg low-grade spinel crystal at the Baw Mar mine in Mogok. Photo by Nadthasiri Bergman.

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC, founder and director of 8th Dimension Gems in Thailand, is an American gem dealer with more than 40 years of experience in gemstone and fine jewelry mining, cutting, wholesaling and retailing. His career has taken him to more than 50 countries and every continent except Antarctica. He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, NBC, ABC and GEO; and has been featured in Time, USA Today, National Geographic, Gems & Gemology and Discovery Channel magazine. He is a regular guest speaker at gem lab seminars and gemological association conferences and universities.

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