Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

New Birthstone Debuts

AGTA and JA came together to add a new birthstone to the list.

By Sheryl Jones
Spinel, which comes in practically every color of the rainbow, is now the birthstone for August along with peridot. “Throughout the years, Jewelers of America (JA) has been getting requests from the industry, consumers and gem enthusiasts alike to expand the birthstone list,” explains David Bonaparte, JA president and CEO. “After careful consideration and collaboration with the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), spinel was selected for its universal appeal, wide color spectrum and mystical properties.”
   Spinel is magnesium aluminum oxide. Traces of chromium produce the pink and red hues; orange and purple are due to a mixture of iron and chromium. Violet to blue hues are caused by the presence of iron. Cobalt creates vibrant electric blue shades. Black is from the hercynite, magnetite or chromite members of the spinel group.
Ignored No More
   According to Douglas Hucker, CEO of the AGTA, “Spinel is a beautiful, hard, transparent gemstone that was kind of ignored. People always thought of it as a ruby or sapphire.” This affordable and sparkly stone has been known in the industry as a good substitute for these other, more expensive stones, including black diamonds.
   The most famous case of mistaken identity is the Black Prince’s Ruby that is set in the British Imperial State Crown. The ruby was given to Edward, the Prince of Wales, who got the name the “Black Prince” after his death in 1376, for being victorious in battle. For centuries, the stone was believed to be a ruby until it was discovered to actually be a spinel.

Spinel as a Birthstone
   As the new birthstone for August, spinel steps out of the background as an alternative and finally gets the attention, and as Hucker says, “the air of legitimacy” that it deserves. Aakash Sacheti and Rajesh Kumar of NRI Gems in New York City share the opinion, “People will now learn about the wide range of spectacular colors it comes in, from vibrant orange and violet purple to green and gray.” Bonaparte notes that it gives jewelers “a lot of options to stock the styles that meet the demands of their customers.”
   Spinel is ideal as a birthstone because of its complimentary colors. Peridot, with its intense vibrant yellow green hues, can be harder to pair with other jewelry compared to the many shades of spinel that work well with other stones. As jewelry designer Cynthia Renée Zava of Cynthia Renée, Inc., based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says, “Having spinel as a birthstone is a big deal. No matter the shade, it usually goes with almost any color people are wearing.”

What Makes It Special?
   Zava points out that the unique way that light moves through the stone at a “zingier rate” makes it vibrant and dynamic in any of its range of colors, including shades of gray. In fact, she adds, “Gray spinel is fantastic with white metals like palladium.”
   Durability is another major attribute. It registers 8 on the Mohs scale — a diamond tops the scale at 10 — which makes it a good gemstone for rings. Zava explains, “It is durable enough to withstand the rigors of matrimony,” alluding to marriage’s ups and downs. While gemstones like tourmalines, emeralds and morganite are popular engagement stones, they are softer than spinel, which can withstand the wear and tear of everyday use.

   High-quality spinel has always been available on the market but in small quantities. Myanmar was known to be the source for spinel, particularly in intense red shades. However, the discovery of very high-quality intense pink spinel in Mahenge, Tanzania, in 2005, along with violet purple, blue and gray, increased its availability. This, according to Zava, “has helped create a supply-and-demand market” — taking spinel from “a sleeping beauty at a relatively low price to a stone very much in demand.”
   “The history of birthstones has them engraved into our culture,” says Bonaparte. “We have strong emotional connections to our birthstones. Today’s youth wants to be original. By offering spinel as an option, we have a great opportunity for the future generations of children to have deep connections to a gemstone that offers variety and a sense of uniqueness.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2016. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Sheryl Jones