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Gem Renaissance – Spinel’s 21st Century Revival

Here is the story of a sleeping beauty.

After seeing the spinel, it would be a challenge to understand how this vibrant stone stayed overlooked for so long.  When Gemcal began introducing the spinel to the American market at the 1996 GJX in Tucson, we encountered raised eyebrows from many.

These days, the spinel is no longer the ruby’s poor stepsister. “Looks like a ruby, but at a tenth of the price” is no longer a true statement: along with their popularity, the price of spinels has soared.

In many ways, the ruby has become the poor man’s spinel. The enormous variety of colors and shades, the uniqueness of each stone, give spinels a tremendous appeal; for designers, as well as collectors and savvy buyers, this grants the stone a sharp, highly desirable edge. A spinel is a one-of-a-kind, each with an expressly distinctive hue and character – in the age of extreme individuality, this property only adds to the magic of the spinel, and designers of every level recognize it.

When luxury blogger Katerina Perez wrote that “It is hard to find the words to describe the rare reddish-pink color of spinels”, she was describing a recent line of jewelry from Louis Vuitton. Presented at Paris Fashion Week in 2015, the Blossom Collection included a set of earrings and a necklace with matched teardrop-shaped spinel pendants. Matched sets are difficult to create, particularly with the rare spinel, but the stone’s allure and durability make it irresistible to both designers and collectors. In recent years, particularly as spinels become even rarer, the stone has gained increasing prominence in high fashion and design. 

In fact, the Blossom collection was not Louis Vuitton’s first venture into the colorful world of spinels: in 2012, its stunning Voyage dans le Temps haute joaillerie collection featured “spinels in unusual and rare hues”; with stones sourced by Vuitton’s chief gemologist, who “travelled the world to find the best examples of exceptional spinels”. 

Louis Vuitton is just one of many illustrious fashion houses using spinels in its jewelry: Chanel’s ‘Jardin de Camélias’ Collection, created in honor of Coco Chanel’s favorite flower, features vivid black and pink spinels, while Tiffany’s 2013 Blue Book presented pink and violet spinels, as well as an astonishing Jean Schlumberger “snake” bracelet with diamonds and pavé red spinel. Chopard’s Red Carpet Collection included a ring with a large violet spinel.

As prices for fine spinels rise ever higher, contemporary jewelry designers are incorporating the stones whenever they can find them, producing stunning modern pieces with unusual materials.

Wallace Chan, a self-taught jeweler and sculptor from China, was the first Asian designer to be invited to display his work at the prestigious Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. Chan’s unique, otherworldly creations utilize precious materials such as titanium that complement the spinel’s fire and vividness; a notable example is a magnificent ring centering on a cushion-shaped red spinel weighing 9.43 carats, highlighted by diamonds and an oval amethyst.

James Taffin de Givenchy, the nephew of the celebrated French designer, is known worldwide for “sculptural designs that maximize the individuality of each gem stone and the unexpected use of materials from rubber, to ceramic, to the steel of recycled AK-47s.”

Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the American-born designer known as JAR, is renowned for his reclusiveness and exclusive client list in addition to pieces that have remained innovative over the years. In a rare interview with the Financial Times, he said that “he has never been about enormous gems, but rather color and shading.”  When he began working with stones, colored gems were “not regarded as precious”. “People used to call spinels ‘that fake stone’! Thirty years ago I could get a great spinel for $300/carat; today they are $15,000/carat.”

Adeleh Petochi, co-founder of New York-based Eclat, has always been a spinel fan, explaining to the New York Times that she “began using spinel in 2005, when she was able to buy huge lots of the gem”. She says, “People like us — we’re stone people — are very attracted to spinels, but we can’t buy that kind of merchandise anymore because prices have gone up so tremendously.”

Young designers such as Evan Yurman and Eddie Sakamoto have also worked with spinels. Yurman, in particular, is “passionate” about the stone, using black, pink and lavender spinels in both men’s and women’s jewelry.

Spinels are getting harder to find; but on the other hand, their renewed status means that talented young designers are going to be producing even more fabulous pieces in the future…which seems nothing less than bright, colorful and vibrant.