What’s Up with Padparadscha!

Padparadscha sapphires are more popular than ever, thanks to Princess Eugenie of York and her fiance, Jack Brooksbank.  Her engagement ring, which the two designed together, holds an estimated 5 carat padparadscha, and is surrounded by 10 round and 2 pear-shaped diamonds.  Because padparadscha sapphires are the most rare of all sapphires, and because they’re seldom cut above 2 carats, Princess Eugenie’s stone is a world class gem.  The estimated value of her ring is $175,000.

Jack Brooksbank, Princess Eugenie, and her engagement ring

The two tie the knot on October 12, 2018 in beautiful St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  Although the ceremony is rumored to be at least as grand as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, it’s uncertain whether those of us who live outside the U.K. will be able to watch the wedding ceremony.  The BBC, the major broadcasting station in the U.K. declined to televise Princess Eugenie’s wedding, thinking that the number of viewers would not justify the cost of production.  Another, more local British station, is planning to televise the full wedding, so we’ll have to see whether the ceremony airs here in the U.S.

Padparadscha is a variety of sapphire based on hue and saturation of color.  And these traits can be subjective!  Narrowly defined, a padparadscha is supposed to be from Sri Lanka and it’s supposed to be pinkish-orange or orangish-pink.  It does not have to be highly saturated and, in fact, a delicate color is preferred.  But where exactly is the line between an orange sapphire, a pink sapphire, and a padparadscha sapphire?  Even gemologists have a hard time agreeing on a uniform standard for this gem.  Because the premium for a padparadscha is so high, there is incentive to stretch the narrow definition.  

While Sri Lanka is the traditional source for padparadscha sapphires, other countries such as Vietnam, Tanzania, and Madagascar also produce them.  The name, “padparadscha”, comes from the native language of Sri Lanka and means lotus blossom.  A lotus flower is a little more pink than peach, so some people talk about the hue of a padparadscha as being a “sunset color mixed with a lotus flower.”  Well-known author and gemologist, Richard Hughes, calls it “a marriage between ruby and yellow sapphire.”  However it’s defined, a padparadscha sapphire is a beautiful gem and well deserving of the extra attention it’s receiving!

Padparadschas showing the narrow range of hue

 

 

 

 

 

A Focus on the Accent Stone

The accent stone(s) is an important part of some jewelry.  It’s meant to enhance the beauty of the center stone and provide added interest to the jewelry.  Diamonds are the most often used gem for accentuating a piece of jewelry.  They “go” with every other gem, and they add sparkle and richness.  But, what if you want something different for your accent stones?  Are there rules or best practices that apply when choosing accent stones?

An important guideline to follow when creating jewelry is to make sure the accent stones don’t compete with the center stone for attention.  Features such as size, cut, polish, and color should all be considered.  The size of an accent stone should always be smaller than the center stone, but there are many acceptable proportions.  Cut and polish of the accent stones can be similar or quite different from the center stone.  For example, I love the look of this rough drusy quartz with the polished and faceted diamonds.  But the smoothly polished chrysocolla and turquoise pendant is also pleasing to the eye.

Sleeping Drusy Quartz with Diamond Accents

Chrysocolla and Turquoise Cabochon Pendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study of color starts with the color wheel.  There are terms for colors that look good together, such as complementary or analogous colors.  Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, and analogous colors are adjacent.  Monochromatic colors are different tints or tones of the same color.  For example, blue and orange are good colors together.  And blue with green can be a vibrant combination. But dark blue can look great with light blue, too!  

In the end, your eye is the best judge of what colors look good together.  So much depends on the exact tint and hue of each gem.  Some people prefer bold, saturated colors while other people prefer pastels. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the hues of accent stones. Here are some suggestions for accents to put with birthstone gems.

  • January – Red Garnet paired with Yellow-Green Peridot
  • February – Violet Amethyst paired with Yellow Citrine (Note: Ametrine is the natural pairing of these two.)
  • March –  Aquamarine paired with Pink Tourmaline
  • April –  Diamond pairs with anything, but consider Blue Zircon for its high dispersion of light (aka Sparkle!)
  • May  –  vivid Emerald paired with another vivid gem, Blue Sapphire
  • June – Pearl, often used as accent itself, would pair well with the pastel hues of Morganite
  • July – Ruby, another vivid stone, would look great with Emerald as long as you’re okay with Christmas colors.  If not, consider Pink Sapphire, with its less saturated,monochromatic hue, as an accent gem.
  • August – Green Peridot paired with Ethiopian Opal
  • September – Blue Sapphire paired with Orange Spessertine Garnet
  • October – Precious Opal, if white, would pair well with Pink Spinel or Tourmaline.  If the Precious Opal is black, it would pair better with Emerald or Sapphire.
  • November – Yellow Citrine paired with Red Garnet
  • December – Robin’s Egg Blue Turquoise paired with Black Spinel or Diamonds

I recently helped create a Lavender Star Sapphire ring.  The sapphire had a very pale hue, as star sapphires often do. The goal was to enhance its color with effective accents.  We chose faceted trillion amethysts, fairly light in color but more colorful than the sapphire.  When the three were side by side, it really helped the Star Sapphire appear more lavender.  This can be another great use of accent stones.  

Star Sapphire with Light Amethysts

Choosing accent gems for your next jewelry project can be lots of fun.  Diamonds are wonderful, and they’ll never lose their appeal as an accent stone, but there are lots of other possibilities.  We’d be happy to help you figure out your options.  

What’s a Boulder Opal?

Boulder Opal from Australia

Opal can be a confusing gem stone. For one thing, it’s not a mineral like most gems. Minerals have an identifiable crystal structure.  Opal has a non-crystalline, amorphous structure, and so it’s labeled a mineraloid.  Another unusual quality of opal is all its different variations.  Most people think of opal as the stone that flashes different colors.  Gemologists call that quality “play of color.”  But that only happens with precious opal, which represents about 5% of all opal.  Most opal is called “common opal” or “potch opal”, and it shows no play of color.  These are just two reasons why opal is, well, complicated.

If you are really serious about your gem stones, you’ve probably heard of Black Opal, White Opal, Crystal Opal, Peruvian Opal, and Fire Opal.  You know that most of the precious opal comes from Australia or Ethiopia.  You understand that an opal doublet is really a layer of precious opal too fragile to survive alone in jewelry, so it’s backed with a non-precious material.  An opal triplet is an even finer layer of precious opal, with both a backing and a protective clear quartz dome over the top.

But what is Boulder Opal?  I describe it as ribbons or veins of opal that are embedded in the host rock it formed within. Because the host rock is tougher and harder than opal, boulder opal is considered more durable.  And because the host rock is less valuable, you can get a big piece of boulder opal for much less money than a small piece of crystal or black opal.  Boulder opal is mined in Queensland, which is the northeastern part of Australia.  Mine fields in places like Quilpie, Bulgaroo, Koroit, and Yowah are yielding a lot of product.  As Boulder Opal has become more popular, these mines have kept up with demand.  

Three pieces from our collection

For the month of May, 2018, we’ve brought several beautiful pieces of boulder opal into our store, courtesy of our distributor, DuftyWeis Opals.  They’re only here for a limited time so, if you have the chance, come in to be personally introduced to boulder opal. 

Tanzanite-Birthstone of a Generation

Tanzanite, that beautiful violet-blue gemstone with the interesting history, doesn’t seem that rare.  Most jewelry stores have at least a few pieces.  Most consumers recognize the name, tanzanite, and can’t remember when it wasn’t available.  But we are actually the lucky “generation” to have this precious gem.  Going to the store and buying a new piece of tanzanite jewelry will probably not be an option for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  

The history begins back in the late 1960s, when the blue-purple variety of the mineral, zoisite, was first discovered.  Found in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro, the gem quickly gained the attention of Tiffany’s president, Henry Platt.  It was Tiffany & Co. that named the gem, Tanzanite, and began marketing it in 1968.  The popularity of the gemstone grew over the next few decades and, in 2002, Tanzanite became an official birthstone for December.  It also is the gemstone for the 24th wedding anniversary.  

Most gemstones are found in various places on Earth.  But the geological circumstances that allow tanzanite to form are very rare and have only been found in the Merelani Hills.  All the mines are located within eight square miles!  A big reason for this is that vanadium, the trace element responsible for the violet-blue color, is not a common element.  And it was very rare during the formation time of tanzanite.  Another reason for tanzanite’s rarity is that only in this one location has erosion of the Earth’s surface tipped the scales enough to allow the continental crust, where the gems were formed, to be pushed up by the oceanic crust.  Bringing the gemstones closer to the Earth’s surface has allowed mining to be profitable. 

For how much longer will mining be profitable?  In the early 2000’s money was invested in understanding the conditions ripe for tanzanite.  Mining became more efficient and production increased.  Recent reports, however, point out that mines have to go deeper to find more tanzanite.  At some point, the cost of mining will be prohibitive.  When production slows and the jewelry industry can’t count on a steady supply, it will look to other, more available, gems.  This may lead to a downward spiral of demand and supply for tanzanite.

You are part of the “generation” that can still go to your favorite jewelry store and buy this beautiful gem.  Unless some other deposit is discovered, future generations will have to buy previously owned tanzanite.  So, if you love tanzanite, don’t delay in getting your special piece of it.

Our pieces of tanzanite, currently in stock

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor Revisited–When One Post Just Isn’t Enough

A few months back I wrote about Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewelry, based on her book, My Love Affair With Jewelry.  Little did I know that the blog would spark so much interest, both in me and in others.  After more research and a presentation at our store, I feel empowered to add to the topic. 

Elizabeth Taylor was always a lady, always “put together.” These were the words of a friend of hers who I was fortunate to speak with.  She wore jewelry appropriate to the occasion.  She owned big, dripping, diamond, emerald, and ruby jewelry which she wore on the ‘red carpets.’  But she also owned more modest pieces like strings of beads and charm bracelets.  According to her friend, she never left her room without jewelry adorning her outfit, but she made sure the jewelry fit the occasion.  

She obviously loved receiving gifts of jewelry, but she was always willing to share her pieces with the world.  She didn’t lock them away.  As she said in her book, “When I wear it anyone can look at it, and I’ll let anyone try it on.”  For all that she owned, I’m not convinced she was materialistic.  I think she cared most about people.  She related to people and had many friends.  The people who knew and loved her most understood that the receiving of gifts was her top ‘Love Language.’  Malcolm Forbes once gave her a suite of paper jewelry that she treasured. A gift was an expression of love, and that was most important to her.

Paper Jewelry from Malcolm Forbes

 

Elizabeth always knew that, when she died, most of her jewelry would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Her collection would not remain intact.  She hoped that the new owners would love the pieces as much as she did, and that they’d see themselves as caretakers.  “Nobody owns anything this beautiful.  We are only the guardians,” she said.  

In December, 2011, nine months after Elizabeth died, her jewelry did indeed get auctioned by Christie’s, both in a live auction at New York’s Rockefeller Center and also through an on-line auction.  The live auction was the most valuable jewelry auction in history, raising almost $116 million.  I spoke with someone who went to the auction.  She and her husband had hoped to purchase some of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry for their store, just for promotional purposes.  But the pieces were fetching two, three, and up to ten times the auction estimate.  They ended up buying the paper jewelry, and even that sold for $6,875!  

The on-line auction had over 950 items–jewelry, clothing, accessories, and decorative arts–that sold over the extended period of December 3rd – 17th.  Altogether the auctions raised over 150 million dollars for the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and its beneficiaries. The Trust completely funds the operating costs of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

 One controversy regarding the auction casts a shadow over its success.  In May, 2017, the Elizabeth Taylor Trust filed suit against Christie’s for misrepresenting one of Ms. Taylor’s most iconic diamonds, the Taj Mahal.  In 2012, the buyer of the diamond claimed that he was led to believe the diamond was once owned by Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal.  He wanted his $8 million back when he learned there was no proof the Shah had ever owned it.  Christie’s refunded his money, but the Trustees felt that Christie’s action was inappropriate.  The trustees never portrayed the diamond as something that had belonged to the Shah, and they were upset that the best opportunity to sell the diamond was gone because of miscommunication.  As it stands right now, Christie’s possesses the diamond and the Trustees have the cash.  After years of trying to resolve the controversy through mediation, the decision was made to go through the courts.  It sound like a terrible mess which will probably take years to untangle. 

Elizabeth Taylor lived a complicated life.  She was often misunderstood.  It makes sense that, even after she’s gone, there’s some untangling to be done.  But I hope you agree with me that learning more about this fascinating celebrity is worth the effort.

 

Made in Michigan Jewelry

Michigan isn’t known as a state rich in gemstones.  We have Petoskey (our state stone) and Isle Royale Greenstone (our state gem).  There are no sapphires, emeralds, or rubies, but this hasn’t stopped us from making our own gems.  Be thankful for the ingenuity of artists who use the materials readily available to them.  If you’re a Michigander, you can be proud of our “Made in Michigan” gems. 

Detroit is the Motor City.  Henry Ford started making automobiles around the turn of the 20th century.  Little did he know he’d be helping the jewelry industry!  But Fordite, or “Motor Agate” as it’s sometimes called, is made from the same kind of lacquer or enamel paint that graced the cars of the mid-1900s. Today the material is used to make such things as pendants, earrings, and cuff links.  

Fordite Pendant made from Cadillac Paint

For decades, automobiles were spray painted by hand in rooms called painting bays. The painted car frames sat on skids that could then be moved to the oven when the paint was ready for curing.  Over time, excess paint on the skids, baked hard by many trips to the oven, made the skids less efficient.  Workers would chip big chunks of psychedelic enamel off, and, at some point, they realized that the colorful chunks could be cut and polished.

According to experts on the material, the heyday for Fordite was in the 1970s, because such a variety of color was offered.  Experts can look at a piece of Fordite and know, approximately, when the piece was formed. For example, bright colors of red, green and yellow were popular in the 1960s.  Earthtones of olive green and brown were popular in the 1970s.  Experts can also distinguish Fordite from the creations of contemporary jewelers who can make their own “Fordite-like” pieces.  Obviously, the “natural Fordite” is more valuable.

By the late 1980s, innovation in the painting process reduced the amount of wasted paint.  Today’s cars are painted with robotic arms and a magnetic process which eliminates the chance of overspray.  Sadly, colorful Fordite is no longer made.  If you want to own a piece of Fordite, don’t wait too long!

Fordite isn’t the only example of recycling in jewelry.  In the town of Leland, near Traverse City, jewelry is made from the slag by-product of an iron smelting process.  Back in the late 1800s, Leland was home to the Leland Lake Superior Iron Company.  Situated close to the harbor, right on Lake Michigan, the company separated iron from the raw ore.  The glass-like slag, made of silicon dioxide and metal oxide, had useful purposes when the company was in business, but when it folded in 1885, heaps of unneeded slag were dumped into the harbor.  Within a few years green, blue, gray, and even purple pieces of the slag were coming up on shore like beach stones.  Snorkelers find larger chunks of the slag further out in the harbor.  No one seems to know who first decided that the material could be shaped and polished for jewelry, but it’s been used for at least 30 years. Today, almost any jewelry store in the Leelanau Peninsula has jewelry made from Leland Blue. 

Leland Blue Rough

 

Let me mention one final example of recycled material in jewelry. A young company, Rebel Nell, figured out how to use another of the Motor City’s commodities. They make sterling silver jewelry from peeling and fallen graffiti paint. The process Rebel Nell uses to stabilize the paint is a trade secret, but it’s no secret that they are doing great work. The mission of the company is to employ, educate, and empower disadvantaged women living in local shelters.  The work they do, making bracelets, rings, pendants, and earrings, allows the women to transition to an independent life. 

 

Graffiti paint bracelet, made by Rebel Nell

Recycling is a strategy that only grows in popularity.  Michigan jewelers take slag, paint, and other things that have little value (think beach glass and copper nuggets) and make new treasures from them.  It’s the Michigander way!

 

 

Mother of Female Jewelry Designers

For centuries jewelry was designed by men. Seems odd, doesn’t it, when most all jewelry is worn by women? But the design field was male dominated for the same reason most fields were–men were seen as the more capable sex and the bread winners of the family. When did it become clear that women could design for women?
Perhaps the first to recognize this talent in a female was Rene’ Boivin, a Parisian goldsmith and engraver in the late 1800s. He married Jeanne Poiret, a woman who became his business partner in his jewelry workshops. Together they created fabulous designs which were in high demand among their elite clientele.

Egyptian Emerald Ring by Maison Boivin

When Rene’ died in 1917, everyone assumed that Jeanne would sell the business but, instead, she and her daughter, Germaine, assumed control. Jeanne, though not trained as a jeweler, knew a lot from working with her husband. She’d think out the designs and have someone else render them. She also had a talent for finding good talent, hiring young Suzanne Belperron in 1921 and, when Suzanne left in 1931, the talented Juliette Moutarde took her place.
Suzanne Belperron opened her own jewelry design firm with Bernard Herz, and later, his son, Jean, in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. Her designs were so distinctive–very fluid and organic. Even while those around her embraced Art Deco, with its straight lines, Suzanne elevated a more modern design. Famous women like the Duchess of Windsor and Mona Williams (pictured below) bought her jewelry. Her work was never signed, though. She always said that her style was her signature.

Sketch and finished piece by Suzanne Belperron

Juliette Moutarde worked with Jeanne and Germaine at House Boivin until they sold the company in 1976. Jeanne had died in 1959, but her daughter, a talented jewelry designer in her own right, kept the business going. Throughout these successful years, custom pieces were never signed by the individual artists. Perhaps it was seen as too bold, too assertive, for a woman to sign her work back in the early 1900s.

Design attributed to Moutarde, made for Claudette Colbert in 1936.

But because of these women, and a few others like Italian Elsa Schiaparelli, female jewelry designers today feel empowered to open their own studios, sign their names to their pieces, and earn their own success in the design world. Thanks to these pioneers, we know names like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Ippolita Rostagno, who have had their own jewelry lines for decades. And because of THEM, contemporary female designers–from Kendra Scott and Irene Neuwirth to Farah Khan Ali and Erica Courtney find success in the always competitive jewelry industry.

contemporary Ippolita design

Today we don’t think much about gender when choosing a designer. If you like the creation, you respect the designer! But it wasn’t always like that, and I wanted to lift up the courage of Jeanne Bouvin and her team of female designers. They worked and made their way successfully in a male world. Good for them and thank goodness for us. Their combination of talent and determination allowed women who came after to enter the field with confidence. Because of that, I want to nominate Jeanne Poiret Boivin for Mother of Female Jewelry Designers!

My Tourmaline

In 1890 an author named Saxe Holm wrote a charming story entitled, My Tourmaline.  The young heroine possesses a crystal of tourmaline, which she finds in the roots of a large tree.  It brings her good fortune until she loses it.  Bereft until she finally finds it in someone else’s collection, she and her tourmaline are eventually re-united and live “happily ever after.” 

What is it about tourmaline that makes people feel so connected to it?  One reason is because of all the colors it comes in.  There is no other mineral that comes in as many hues.  This rainbow quality translates to a lightness and happiness that appeals to all.  It also suggests tolerance, flexibility and a compassionate understanding.  The Sri Lankans named the gem, “turamali”, meaning a stone of mixed colors.  

A rainbow of gemstones, all of them are tourmaline.

Another quality of tourmaline is its pyroelectricity.  If heated, it actually has magnetic properties.  As a result, the mineral has many industrial uses.  You can find it in hairdryers to calm static hair, in joint wraps to promote blood circulation, and in tuning circuits for conducting TV and radio frequencies.  In the metaphysical world, tourmaline is seen as a strong protector, reflecting negativity away from anyone possessing the stone.  It’s also seen as a grounding stone that promotes a sense of power and self-confidence.  

Finally, tourmaline is a popular gemstone, featured prominently as the birthstone for October and the anniversary stone for the 8th and 38th anniversaries.   It has a hardness of 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale, so it’s durable enough to be set in rings.  It’s not as expensive as ruby, emerald, or sapphire, but it can sometimes mimic these colors.  And it’s mined on almost every continent– from the state of Maine to the island of Madagascar.  

You may own a tourmaline and not even know it, because the gem has so many trade names.  If you own a rubellite, an indicolite, a verdelite, a siberite, an achroite, or a paraiba, you actually own a tourmaline. You may also have a bi-colored or parti-colored tourmaline, a watermelon tourmaline, or even tourmalinated quartz!  There are so many different looks to this versatile mineral.  If these pictures are motivating you to own a tourmaline (or a second one), stop in our store.  We’d be happy to introduce you to the ones in our showcase.

Parti-colored tourmaline

Watermelon tourmaline earrings with rubellite and green tourmaline: custom-made by our benchjewelers

 

Tourmalinated Quartz: The black crystals are the tourmaline, also called schorl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watermelon tourmaline, carved into butterfly wings, and made into a pendant by our benchjewelers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Michigan Gemstone

A large polished piece of Greenstone

A large polished piece of Greenstone

In late September I was in Swede’s, the famous light blue jewelry and rock store in the middle of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The feisty woman in charge, 83-year-old Mary Billings, asked me as I walked in–“What is the gemstone of Michigan?”

When I answered, “Isle Royale Greenstone,” she looked at me with new respect.

“You’re only the thirteenth customer this season who has answered that question correctly.  And we’ve had a lot of people who’ve  walked through that door.”  She shook her head, a little disgusted that Michiganders weren’t commonly aware of their state gemstone.

Most people, if they have any idea at all, would probably say Petoskey is the state’s gem.  And it IS the state rock.  But Isle Royale Greenstone, or just Greenstone, has been Michigan’s official gem since 1973.  Found mainly on Isle Royale or the Keweenaw Peninsula, Greenstone has the fancy, scientific name of Chlorastrolite, which is a variety of the mineral Pumpellyite.  It’s often found in and around copper mines, which are abundant in the Keweenaw.  The mineral makes its home in amygdaloidal basalt.  If you’re like me, that phrase holds no meaning.  I had to look it up, so I’m happy to share its meaning.  Basically it’s a pit or cavity in the stone.  So amygdaloidal basalt is cooled and hardened lava with lots of cavities in it that have been filled in with minerals.

Once the Greenstone is removed from its host rock, it can be cut and polished.  But it’s a tricky stone to work with because it’s not really hard–only a 5-6 on the Mohs’ Scale– and it can have its own cavities and hollow spots within it.  Cutters want to expose the best “turtle-back” pattern that they can and eliminate any bad spots.  But removing a top layer of the stone is likely to reveal a different, and not necessarily better pattern. The goal is a clear pattern showing some chatoyancy.  The best stones will demonstrate that change in luster as they are tilted back and forth in the light.

Tumbled Greenstone with pink Thomsonite

Tumbled Greenstone with pink Thomsonite

Greenstone is not a particularly expensive gemstone to buy.  Even with the labor involved in finding, mining, and cutting it, there’s just not a huge market for the material.  But it isn’t an easy gem to own.  Since the year 2000, it’s been illegal to take Isle Royale Greenstone off the island. The island is, after all, a national park.  And even Keweenaw Greenstone isn’t easy to get unless you have access to the copper mine areas.  Most jewelry stores, even in Michigan, don’t carry Greenstone.  So plan on spending some time searching for your perfect piece of Michigan’s gemstone.  Whether you spend time looking along the shoreline for a rare small piece of it, or whether you search for jewelry stores that carry the gem, enjoy the journey.

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My piece of Keweenaw Greenstone! I love it!!

The New Birthstone- August’s Spinel

 

Natural Spinel

Natural Spinel

I have some very good news for all of you born in August.  Just recently, the American Gem Trade Association and Jewelers of America announced that SPINEL has been added to the birthstone list as an alternative to peridot.  Not everyone is a fan of peridot’s yellowish-green color, and the gem stone has a narrow range of hue.  Spinel, on the other hand, comes in almost every color of the rainbow!  The most prized color is red.  Pink and blue are two other popular hues.  So, because spinel is a relatively unknown gemstone and because changes to the birthstone list don’t happen often, it seemed important to write about it.

Peridot

Peridot

Many people have never heard of spinel.  It was recognized as a separate mineral about 200 years ago, but, until then, red spinel was often mistaken for ruby.  Some famous gems, like the Black Prince’s Ruby, which is set in England’s Imperial State Crown, are actually red spinel.  Those who have heard of it often associate it with something “cheap” or “common.”  Synthetic (aka man-made) spinel has been used for years to make the stones for high school class rings because it’s inexpensive to produce in lots of different colors that mimic birthstones like emerald, ruby, and sapphire.  Synthetic spinel is also used as the top, bottom, or both of a “triplet” that substitutes for a natural gemstone.

Natural spinel is a beautiful mineral made of magnesium, aluminum, and oxygen.  It’s colorless unless a trace element such as chromium, iron, or cobalt makes its way into the recipe.  Chromium leads to a pink or red spinel.  Iron and cobalt lead to violet and blue spinels.  A combination of trace elements produces orange or purple spinels.  These colors need no enhancement, so spinel is rarely heat-treated or irradiated.  It’s a fairly hard gemstone, scoring 8 on the Mohs Scale, and it forms in the cubic crystal system.  These qualities mean that spinel is hard enough to take a good polish and easy enough to cut and facet.  And the gem is usually eye-clean when it comes to inclusions.

Spinel is traditionally associated with Asia–especially Myanmar, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.  More recently deposits have been found in Tanzania and Madagascar.  Large crystals are quite rare, so the value goes up exponentially, not only for great color but also for size.  While not as expensive as fine ruby or pink sapphire, natural spinel is not an inexpensive gem.  Red spinel would cost approximately 30% of the cost of a similarly sized ruby.  And pink spinel would be about 85% of the cost of a same size pink sapphire.  It’s not easy to find spinel in a jewelry store.  Maybe that will change now that it’s a birthstone, but, up until now, it’s been more of a collector’s stone.

So, take heart all of you who longed for another birthstone! It’s spinel to the rescue!!  Ask your jewelry store for a peek at its spinel.  Here’s a peek at ours.

1.28 carat pink spinel

1.28 carat pink spinel