This year, the Jewelers of America and the American Gem Trade Association announced a second birthstone for the month of August: Spinel.
In contrast to the yellow-green gemstone peridot, which has been the birthstone for August since the modern birthstone list was created in 1912, spinel comes in warm shades of pink, red, purple, orange, yellow, and brown, as well as blue and black.
The name for spinel is thought to come from the Latin word for “thorn,” spina, a reference to the pointed shape of the crystal, or from the Greek word for “spark,” a reference to the gemstone’s vibrant color.
Because of this vibrant color, spinel was often mistaken for ruby or sapphire for over a thousand years. In fact, red spinel was known as “balas ruby” among ancient jewel merchants. According to American Gem Trade Association CEO Doug Hucker, it was not until the 18th century that technological advancements allowed jewelers to distinguish spinel from ruby as a separate mineral.
While rubies and sapphires are made of the mineral corundum, spinel is an oxide mineral with a completely different chemical composition. It is usually found as crystals in limestones and dolomites, as irregular grains in igneous rocks, and as pebbles in alluvial deposits, and can also occur in marble. Spinel is mined in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tajikistan, Australia, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
Spinel has been highly sought by royalty in the past, in large part because the gemstones were assumed to be rubies or sapphires. One of the most famous collection of jewels – the British Crown Jewels – includes a 170-carat red spinel set in the Imperial State Crown. The gemstone is known as the “Black Prince Ruby” and was acquired by Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1367. The Imperial Crown of Russia, commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1763, culminates in a point set with a 398-carat red spinel. A necklace made for Queen Victoria in 1853 holds the “Timur Ruby,” a 352.5-carat red spinel which was found in Afghanistan. This incredible gem carries inscriptions of the names of its owners and the dates when it came into their possession all the way back to 1612.
Now, the rich history of the spinel gemstone continues with its inclusion as a birthstone for the month of August.
Our specialized staff here at Underwood’s can help you make Spinel a beautiful choice for that special birthday or for a little extra sparkle for everyday wear. Visit our shop on Dickson Sreet in Fayetteville or contact us to set up a consult for a custom design today.