Wondering about the differences between ruby and red spinel?
You're in the right place. In this Learning Guide, we'll get to the bottom of these two gemstones-their similarities, differences, and all the questions in between like:
- Is Red Spinel More Durable Than Ruby
- Is Ruby Less Rare Than Red Spinel?
- Can I Have a Red Spinel Engagement Ring?
Main Differences between Red Spinel vs Rubies
- A red spinel is considered a semi-precious stone, whereas a ruby is a precious stone.
- A red spinel has a rating of 7.5-8 on the Mohs hardness scale, whereas a ruby has better scratch resistance at 9.
- A high-quality red spinel is quite rare, whereas a high-quality ruby gem is easier to find.
- A high-quality spinel costs less per carat, whereas a high-qualilty ruby costs more.
Red Spinel vs Ruby Origins
Spinel is one of the oldest known gemstones, dating back to ancient civilizations. Red spinel is often mistaken for ruby. so much so that some of the world's most famous and oldest royal crown jewels were spinel instead of ruby like originally thought, like the Timur Ruby crown jewels and the Black Prince's Ruby.
Spinel occurs in a variety of different colors, with red spinel being one of the desirable and valuable colors of spinel. Ruby red spinels are commonly found in alluvial deposits. They can be found in:
- Sri Lanka
Red spinel has always been around, but since it's commonly mistaken for ruby, it hasn't gained much popularity until after the 19th century.
Ruby is the red colored variety of the mineral corundum. Corundum comes in a rainbow of colors, all of them being called sapphires, except red. That's right, rubies and sapphires are part of the same mineral group with the same properties.
Rubies are one of the four precious stones used in jewellery. The other three are sapphire, emerald, and diamond. Red corundum can be found in a number of places throughout the world, but high quality rubies of larger carat sizes are found outside the United States in places like:
- Myanmar (Burma)
- Sri Lanka
Red Spinal vs Ruby Appearance
Obviously, red spinel is red. The top colour red spinel is considered to have a pigeon's blood ruby red or reddish purple hues. Spinel is an allochromatic gemstone, meaning it gets its different colors from trace elements of chromium entering colorless spinel crystals. Unlike most allochromatic gemstones, colorless spinel is rare and classified as a collector's item.
The more chromium in the spinel crystal, the better the color will be. Red spinel aren't limited to ruby red shades. They can be brownish red gemstones similar to garnets, orangey red colors, and purplish red stones. Mahenge spinel is sought after as well, which are reddish pink color gems with little to no yellow secondary hues.
Spinel stones are singly refractive, which means its crystal structure allows for light to pass through and refract back out to the wearer without any problems. Other gemstones can have double refraction, like moissanite or cubic zirconia. Double refraction can cause a gemstone to look may cause the gemstone to appear blurry or very flashy if it has a high refractive index.
Read also: Best Places to Buy Moissanite Rings Online
As far as clarity goes, most red spinels are eye-clean. That means they are free of natural impurities. But that doesn't mean they won't have them. Some inclusions in the red gemstone can be seen with a magnifying glass. Red spinel is one of the more prized colored spinel, so expect the more expensive red spinels to be free of natural inclusions.
Synthetics and Imitations
There is synthetic spinel in the gem market as well. These red spinels are created using the same flame fusion process to produce lab grown sapphires and rubies. It can be incredibly difficult to tell the difference if you're not a gemologist. After all, synthetic spinel has all the same chemical composition, physical, and optical properties as natural spinel.
Red spinel can be used to imitate ruby. It achieves close to the same hues as fine color rubies at a fraction of the price. Red spinel can also be imitated by other red gemstones like red garnets as well as red colour glass or cubic zirconia.
Spinel often gets the reputation for being a fake gemstone because of the mass synthetic spinel being produced for cheaper birthstone jewellery and class rings.
The top color rubies are pigeon's blood rubies. The very best rubies are said to come from Myanmar, formerly known as Burmese rubies. Burmese rubies are the most desired, but conflicts with ruby sourcing in Myanmar have led jewelers to source pigeon blood rubies from Mozambique instead.
Rubies can have purplish, pink, or brown secondary hues. These are also the same hues that occur in red spinel. Their colour is one of the reasons why they've been mistaken for each other throughout history.
The best rubies are going to be transparent, but finding one at an affordable price can be difficult. Many jewellers will sell opaque faceted natural ruby for higher prices, but this is low quality ruby.
Synthetics and Imitations
Rubies are often imitated by less expensive gems, like a red garnet or red spinel. Many different kinds of garnet could pass for various shades of ruby, like pyrope garnet, rhodolite garnet, or even almandine garnets. Cubic zirconia and glass can also be faceted to imitate red rubies.
Read also: How to Tell If Ruby is Real
However, the most popular ruby imitations are not technically imitations. Synthetic rubies are available in the market for low costs, especially when the jewelry is set in sterling silver.
What is the Black Prince's Ruby Crown Jewels?
The most famous example of a red spinel being mistaken for a ruby is probably the Black Prince's Ruby. This large red stone is part of Imperial State Crown of the British crown jewels and weighs 170 carats.
This stunning red gemstone dates all the way back to the 1300s as one of the most famous ruby stones to go down in history. The problem is, no one knew that the Black Prince's Ruby wasn't actually a ruby. It wasn't until the 1700s when gemologist realized it was a large red spinel, not the July birthstone.
Ruby vs Red Spinel: Price
Secondary hues found in either rubies or red spinel can affect its price and value. The top color red in a red spinel is described as a ruby hue. The top color rubies in the industry are often called pigeon's blood red.
Back in the day, scientists missed the difference between these two gemstones. But now, it's quite easy for gemologists to distinguish the two. While there are more top color red rubies in the world, there aren't as many fine color red spinels in the world.
Red spinel and blue spinel are the rarest and most valuable colored spinel. Other spinels are actually quite affordable. However, best quality red spinels can cost as much as quality diamonds per carat. But not all do.
Best color red spinels ranging between .5 carats and 1 carat can be as much as 2,000 per carat to as low as 500 per carat. It's a pretty wide range, but gemstones are priced out based on a number of factors.
Ruby vs Red Spinel Value
For colored stones like red spinel and ruby, the cut doesn't matter as much as the carat or color. The clarity is considered more important too. But both color and carat make up majority of the price of a colored stone if its considered rare.
Aside from rarity and cost per carat, you want to think about how your stones will fare out if worn daily. What type of jewellery you choose to set your red gemstone in can also have an impact on its lasting wear.
People have it in their eyes that if a product is good, it'll last forever. But it doesn't work that way with jewelry. Both gemstones and their settings are made of natural materials mined from the earth. The soft metals are mixed with other metals to increase their strength and durability for protecting stones.
There's many different contributing factors to a gemstone's wearability. Hardness, gemstone cleavage, and fracturing types all contribute to overall durability.
Read also: Platinum vs White Gold
Ruby is the red variety of corundum, which reaches a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. The hardness scale tells us the scratch resistance of a gemstone to dirt and dust in the air. Corundum is actually considered to have the best overall durability of any gems, including diamonds. They don't split along cleavage planes like many transparent gemstones.
The hardness level of a red spinel gem is 7.5-8. It will stand up to dust and dirt for a time, but not eventually will scratch after years of wear, especially in wedding ring jewellery. For best kept red spinel jewelry, you may wear rings on occasion and choose red spinel earrings or necklaces to wear more often.
Clearly, both ruby and red spinel can be easily mistaken for one another, just ask the Imperial State Crown Jewels! Whether you're wanting a deep red spinel or pigeon's blood ruby, both of these red gemstones are worth getting your hands on.
A high quality ruby is a lot more expensive than a high quality red spinel, but it's less rare. Rubies are considered the best colored stone to wear everyday as gemstone alternative to diamonds. It reaches a higher ranking on the Mohs scale and has no gemstone cleavage.
Red spinel is lower on the hardness scale and can also cleave. It's more susceptible to being scratched or being chipped if struck hard enough.
Whichever your reason for choosing one gemstone over another, both of these red gemstones deserve to be part of your jewelry collection.