"The Spinel, easily qualifies as the most underrated gem. The red crystals were, historically, often mistaken for the less rare Ruby, but in fact, they were once known as Balas Rubies.
Usually mined in the same areas of Central and East Asia as Rubies and Sapphires, it is understandable that prior to reliable identification methods or equipment, the Spinel, (which occurs in almost every colour, including ruby reds and sapphire blues) would be assumed to be of the better known, corundum family.
The most famous confusion is the Black Prince Ruby, (which is now known to be a Spinel) takes centre stage in the imperial crown of the Royal Crown Jewels, housed in the Tower of London. Originally procured by Edward the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) as a spoil of battle in the 14th century, the magnificent gem was only relatively recently confirmed to be a Spinel. Over the past few years more Spinel's have been reaching the gem markets of Bangkok and the West.
Attracted by the wide variety of colours, the hardness (8 on MOHs scale) and the very Stephen Webster appropriate name, 'little thorn' in Latin, I have been sourcing and hoarding Spinel for several years. The sourcing of these stones has mostly come from the Makok region of Myanmar, best known to produce the finest 'Burmese Ruby'.
At first, I focused on the less expensive and moodier, greys, purples, and steely blues, which I have, until now, kept for custom and bespoke pieces. However, recently I have started to use them as part of our core collections and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Last year, while on a gem buying trip to Bangkok, I came across a very rare blue/grey Spinel. I weighed it at the dealer's desk and miraculously, the scale read 8.88cts. In my excitement at finding such a lucky stone, I took it straight to the GIA to have it certified hopeful that a slight breeze or incorrect balance would not show the stone to be 0.01 of a carat out either way. To my relief, I was delighted that all the 8's came up on the certificate. That gem is now the hero and centrepiece of the 'Shanghai Skyline' cocktail ring.
Spending hours matching, or sometimes miss matching, pairs and sets of Spinel's has become my new gem pastime. Creating exotic and unlikely colour combinations across all categories of our jewellery including men's, for which a spinel is perfect in hardness and hue.
"I am very confident that in the future Spinel's will find their rightful place amongst the more predictable repertoire of precious gems and will be considered more and more as a viable and beautiful alternative for bridal jewellery."
- Stephen Webster, MBE