Lifestyle Asia

25 Feb 2019

Spinel, the great “imposter” of gems, is making a grand comeback.

or years, a gemstone known as spinel has had a questionable reputation but in 2019, it is fast gaining ground as the next big gem in the market. Of late, local jewellers and high jewellery brands are featuring spinel alongside prestigious gems such as rubies, sapphires, emeralds and even diamonds.

To be fair, spinel has suffered an identity crisis in the past centuries. In the history of jewellery, spinels were often mislabelled as rubies as they share the same intense red colour and are often found in the same mines, fooling many royal jewellers. It’s little wonder they’ve been labelled as the great imposters in gemology.

Spinels are close cousins to rubies and sapphires, save from the addition of magnesium in its DNA. They are often found in mines rich with ruby and sapphire in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tanzania and Vietnam. Unless a laboratory test is conducted, the untrained eye would be hard pressed to tell spinels apart from its favoured counterparts. But, ponder on these gems long enough and one would discover its own unique sheen.

Michael Koh, founder and designer of Caratell, says: “Spinel possesses a good hardness which allows for daily wear and carries an excellent fire that is worth admiring. Also, it not in over-abundance like most quartzes and amethyst, making spinels a rare gem.”

In antiquity, spinel has been mistaken as a ruby and even made its way to historically important jewels. The best-known spinel is the Black Prince’s Ruby, a 170-carat irregular cabochon fronting the Imperial State Crown of England.

Today, jewellers are armed with a better understanding of spinels. More than just shunning the gems aside as ‘lesser rubies,’ some are embracing the unmatched qualities of red spinels.

Responding to the growing trend for gemstones, Harry Winston launched the Winston Candy collection of cocktail rings in 2018 featuring heavy use of red spinels as centrepieces. Spinels also found favour in Chanel’s latest high jewellery collection, 1 Camellia 5 Allures, for its vibrancy compared to traditional rubies.
The soaring prices of diamonds have pushed many consumers over to the more attractive and diverse world of coloured gems. With that came a growing acceptance of spinels as well.

“We have been promoting spinel for 14 years and we noticed in the past six years there’s a rise in demand for spinel. The price of spinel is on the rise too,” Koh says. “A good spinel with good colour and size is hard to come by, yet it is not as costly as ruby. There is a saying if life is fair, spinel should be worth more than ruby.”

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