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Jul 01, 2006 - When I studied gemology, the first sentence that Michael O’Donoghue – my teacher – uttered was, “a gem, in order to be a gem and valuable, has to have beauty, rarity and durability.” Any stone that portrays those qualities will surely be valuable.

For years, I found his statement fairly correct, though I did see fairly ugly stones fetching quite high prices, and some very soft stones sneaked into this group of valuable gems as if they were as hard as diamonds.

Over the years I had met spinels. I don’t know why, but, like most gem dealers, never thought anything much of them, perhaps because I always remembered the story about the beautiful Black Prince Ruby in the Queen of England’s jewelry that turned out to be a “simple spinel.”

In the last few years, especially after close encounters with spinels in Mahenge, Tanzania, I have been totally enchanted by them. Their color ranges from magnificent reds to deep pinks, to padparadcha colors and violets and mauves and blues. Most are as beautiful as the thousands of fancy sapphires that I have cut in my career and some were far nicer and more sparkling. They are also quite hard, 8 on Mohs scale. They are as rare as sapphires, and they have one thing that I adore – they are natural, unheated, and untreated in any way.

I was sure that the whole world would see eye to eye with me. After all, the people that bought and made jewelry out of them loved the gems. But, to my dismay, when I mentioned the name spinel, most of my American customers, acted strangely and repeating the name, “ah, spinel you say” as if I was talking about citrine or smoky quartz (not that I mean any disrespect to them). Somehow, to my American friends’ taste, this very rare, hard, and beautiful stone sounded as if it was an imitation, but an imitation of what? Of rubies and sapphires that were mostly treated so intensively that the relationship between their original color and treated color is non-existent?

Why is it that with all the fuss we make about treated stones, right in front of our very eyes there is an absolutely magnificent gem in very popular colors and most are ignoring it?

And then it hit me. There’s some kind of racism in gemstones. What could be the reason that this magnificent Black Prince Ruby that was found to be spinel – a very rare stone indeed – would be considered less important and less valuable unless there is some kind of gem racism. After all, they can’t even bring themselves to call it the Black Prince Spinel as if in order to be a prince you have to be a ruby!

But maybe the future is bright for spinel. After all, the only stone that my daughter agreed to wear in a necklace is a magnificent pink spinel. She says, “it’s something else!”

Copyright IDEX Magazine 2006, all rights reserved.

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