Spinel is a hard and durable gemstone found in many different colours. These include red, pink, orange, brown, yellow, blue, purple, green and black. Completely colourless spinel does exist, but it is extremely rare. Its durability and variety make it a very popular choice for use in jewellery.
Spinel is frequently confused with other gemstones. There are two particularly famous spinels in the British Crown Jewels that have been incorrectly identified as rubies:
The Black Prince’s Ruby, which adorns the Imperial State Crown of England is in fact a 170-carat red spinel. This stone has a particularly long history, having even been worn by Henry V in his battle helmet. The so-called Timur ruby, now in Queen Elizabeth II’s jewel collection, has the names of six of the Mughal emperors who previously owned it engraved on its face. It is in fact a 361-carat spinel.
The etymology of the name is uncertain. Some have suggested that it may come from the Latin word spina, meaning ‘thorn’, or from the Greek word for a spark, alluding to the fiery colour of some varieties of spinel.
Spinel has been used and prized since the Aztec and ancient Mayan civilizations. Indian legends indicate that this gemstone was worn in battle for personal protection to ward off evil spirits and attract wealth to the stone bearer.
Spinel is found in Ceylon, Thailand, Burma, the USA, Afghanistan, Australia, Sweden, and Brazil. It remains quite rare, so is usually expensive in large sizes. Oddly, however, it can sometimes be less expensive than the rubies it is mistaken for precisely because it is so rare, meaning that people do not have the chance to develop a fondness for these wonderful jewels.