In 2015, Bonhams, a leading luxury auction house in London, set a record with the sale of a spinel that hadn’t been seen in 98 years. The plum-colored, 50.13-carat Hope Spinel from the renowned Hope Collection was last spotted at auction in 1917, where it sold for about US$ 120,000 in today’s currency. Bonhams expected the spinel to fetch around US$ 300,000: a bidding war brought the final price for the plum-colored stone to US $1.4 million – an unprecedented US$ 30,000 per carat. 

Richard W. Hughes, the prominent gemologist, has compiled information on spinel auction records, but notes that there is not a great deal of information “since so few of these gems end up at auction”.

This may change in the very near future. In 2011, The Economist described a growing trend among investors towards colored stones. Among the factors driving these investments included the belief that colored gems are deliver good luck – a strong force, especially for Asian buyers – along with the desire of wealthy investors to diversify their assets: gems are both portable and tangible.  And, finally, colored stones are actually rarer and more difficult to obtain than, for instance, a diamond; while diamond mining is an enormous business, the Economist noted that “good-quality colored stones are hard to find in the ground at the best of times. The outfits digging for them tend to be tiny compared with the diamond giants”.

Auction houses in 2016 continue to notice an upswing in colored gems, particularly as collectors look towards less traditional stones with more appealing pricing. As Vivian Chen from the South China Morning Post wrote, “…market confidence in colored gemstones has grown significantly in the past few years thanks to transparent valuation standards, the establishment of institutional gemology labs and active market transactions.”

Jewelry designers are on board as well, bringing gems such as spinels and jadeite to the attention of collectors with edgy, exciting pieces. Skinner Auctioneers, based in the United States, offers spinels in pieces by designers such as John Hardy and Andrew Grima, as well as in antique jewelry and as loose stones. These beautiful but untitled spinels tend to be priced at more affordable levels.

Meanwhile, Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s – the most well-known luxury auction houses worldwide, have sold unique, sometimes historic – and very, very expensive – spinels. Although the Hope Spinel set a new record for the highest price per carat for spinel, Christie’s still holds the record for the highest price ever paid for spinel jewelry: the 2011 sale of the Imperial Mughal necklace - an 11-bead marvel weighing a total of 1,131.59 carats – for US$ 5,214,348.

Hughes says that it is common to reference auction prices when looking at precious stones. “Not because they represent the highest prices paid, for they don’t; the finest gems generally trade hands in private sales at prices above the auction market. We reference them because the auction scene is an open reflection of the world gem market.”