Spinels: The spectacular secret

When a woman falls in gem lust, she often crushes on The Big Four: diamond, sapphire, ruby, emerald. But there is another gem she should consider, one like that dancer in the chorus line, not in front, but with something special you can't put your finger on. She dazzles, draws your eye and holds it. Suddenly, she is the one you will applaud.

She is the spinel.

If you search for spinels on Etsy, you'll mostly find them in black; however, the saturated colours, with an absence of grey and brown tones, are the sashaying stars! Writing in the New York Times T Magazine, Maria Doulton lauds "its strangely beautiful colours that range from a misty grey from Sri Lanka, hot red from Tanzania and velvety lilac from Tajikistan."

Luxury jewelers have lept on such hues. Below, a cluster ring of red, pink, purple, blue, orange and green flaunts the spinel spectrum. (Price, $6, 600 from First Dibs dealer  L. Frank.)

Helene de Taillace's gold safety pin with five candy pink spinels (Price, $4, 800. Do not faint, that's a luxury jeweler.):
They mix beautifully in casual rings, as in the three cabochon-cut stone aquamarine, iolite and blue spinel silver wire ring from Etsy seller WireReform; price, $72. (The spinel is the largest stone.)

Prices for quality spinels are considerably less than ruby or sapphire, but not inexpensive, because supply is limited. They are durable (8 on the Mohs Scale, just below ruby and sapphire), and virtually never treated to enhance colour. (If any stone is treated, the seller should disclose that.)

Top-quality red spinel is difficult to distinguish visually from ruby, and offers more brilliance; who wouldn't enjoy that? The famous "Black Prince's Ruby" in Britain's Imperial State Crown was found, once sophisticated analysis was possible, to be a spinel. Synthetic spinel is common as dirt (remember the old high school class rings?) and should cost as much.

Spinel is fantastic for a reno project; for example, to replace a chipped stone whose setting you still love. Or imagine a spinel pendant that transforms a simple strand of pearls.  I also suggest spinels for  a channel-set eternity band or stacking ring.

Oh, and if you want the sleek depth of black spinel, why not combine that with Tahitian pearls? Renée Garvey Tahitian pearl (10mm) and black spinel earrings, with a frisky silk tassel, are $304 at Twist and I must say that price is most tempting.

So, what do these babies cost? A finished piece's price varies dramatically based on other factors. Let's say, though, that you would like a ring or pendant, set with one stunning stone.

Here are some examples from Bangkok-based gem dealer AJS Gem; prices are in $US and do not include shipping. (I have never dealt with this firm; however, they offer a 14-day full refund policy.)
Photos: AJSgems.com

1. 1.15ct cushion cut, $699
2. 1.03ct blue pear cut, $798
3. 1.46ct orange round, $328
3. 1.66ct rectangle, $525

If you prefer your jeweler to source stones, he or she can contact a knowledgeable dealer such as  such as Pierres de Charme. (Full disclosure: I work part time for this company.) I can vouch for their service and integrity; if they say "unheated" it is. Here's a peek at their extraordinary spinels, which I've seen in person, and they are gorgeous
Photo: Pierresdecharme.com

As with any gem, you (or your jeweler) will assess cut, polish and symmetry, but really, a beautiful stone will be evident: just take your pulse.

But secrets have a way of getting out! The most recent post on RubyFair, a fairtrade gem site's blog, the headline was "Spinel Set to be Star of 2016". Well, it's early in the year, honeybunches. Shake out that piggy bank now and enjoy a spinel for many, many years to come. 

What I wore... 30 years ago

Yesterday marked our 30th wedding anniversary. Le Duc and I walked to a bistro in early-spring twilight, and reminisced about the tiny wedding in front of our fireplace, at which the minister said, "In the presence of these witnesses, and this cat, I pronounce you husband and wife."

March 21, 1986
This shot was taken on Kodachrome with a pocket camera, but shows that some things haven't changed: I'm in pearl earrings and low heels—and a man in a classic dinner suit always looks handsome!

I'm waving the marriage license, below. Maybe this was shot for the benefit of my proper mother, as proof. (They attended our religious ceremony, six months later, which was, for her, the real one.)

"It's legal, Mom!"
Back to those earrings: they were clip-on fake-pearl chandeliers bought in London ca. 1983, but almost lost that evening, when the wedding party of five went clubbing. A man on the dance floor retrieved one and said, "Did you really just get married? I hope you're as happy as we have been."  

The cotton dress, by Chacok, wasn't traditionally bridal, so I could wear it for years. (Thirty years ago, as today, I did not understand the logic of buying a beautiful dress for one wear.) 

One earring eventually broke, and the distinctive Monty Don joints were irreparable. (Monty and Sarah Don's business closed in the early '90s, costume jewelry's loss, but gardening's gain.)

The 30th is traditionally the Pearl Anniversary, but Le Duc especially likes coloured stones, so gave me this graceful pair of spinel dangles. The gems are from Pierres de Charme, the design by Pam Chandler of Artwork by Collins & Chandler Gallery, Toronto, our jewelers for almost as long as we've been married. Though they look like hoops here, they're threaders that form ellipses.

My gifts to Le Duc were Costes cologne, a nod to our honeymoon in Paris, and a pair of cocktail glasses which we raised to toast love, good luck and our wish for many more happy, healthy years!

Good gem buys, and what work is like

Going back to work has been humbling, because I don't tolerate mistakes, especially mine, well. I strive to anticipate the owner's needs, display a mood sparkling as our gems, and master the paperwork with aplomb, but I'm furious with myself when I issue an inaccurate invoice or can't find a stone our database says is in stock.

The work feels like air traffic control, with of course, immeasurably less risk: no one dies if I don't ship his tourmalines until tomorrow morning. The owner is one of the hardest-working persons you'd ever meet, and devoted to her clients, whether selling a shy student a small citrine, or helping a luxury jeweler choose a pair of three-carat pear-cut sapphires. I want to match that professionalism.

I enjoy the work, and on days when I've accurately filled orders, served customers who thank me warmly, and fielded inquiries efficiently, even the aquamarines, who can be touchy and grand, are satisfied. (I give the stones personalities, just like pets.) I take notes about—shall we say—"opportunities for improvement", determined to get.it.right.

And doing this in French? I am fine in person; on the phone I'm like the dog in the Larson cartoon: sometimes all I hear is, "Bonjour, avez-vous blahblahblah améthyste blahblah 4mm, ou je voudrais blahblahblah, par FedEx?" I alert the caller that French is not my first language, the pace slows a bit, we proceed.

As far as jewellery knowledge to pass on goes, here's a tidbit you may already know: there's a world of gorgeous, less-costly gemstones out there, less publicized than diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald, but terrific buys when well-cut and set, especially as necklaces and earrings.

Here are several examples; note prices don't include shipping or applicable taxes and duties. (As always, check return policies and contact the seller if you have questions.)

Zircon: Available in luscious blues, purple, red, pink; forget the high school class ring connotation of imitation zircon, and scout out these beauties. Sometimes I about weep when a stone carries the "semi-precious" pedigree, because zircons are just so striking.

Purple zircon drops on 2,000 year old Roman glass by Hadas1951; price, about $105:

Topaz: Irradiated to produce those pools of blue, topaz is a low-cost luxury in all hues save the pricey Imperial variety. I chose this chain, produced in Jaipur by Shining Gems, to show that $25 can buy a pretty spring bauble. Of course at this price the 36-inch chain is gold-plate, but I loved the irregular cut of the 8-mm-1-mm Swiss Blue stones, and think it's a really fun piece.

Agate: In agates, a form of quartz, nature's hand is especially painterly. I like the Crazy Lace variety, with its dramatic banding; when Forest Book combines it with Kasumi pink rippled pearls, the earring is elegant yet relaxed enough to wear with, say, a denim shirt. Price, about $175.

Yes, I'll get pearls in here, I will!

Thanks for hanging in with me during this adjustment; next post is at whim, and I hope you'll stroll through to read.