My first fascination with rocks came from my aunt Sharon, who was a geologist for the US government. She would take me to plowed fields and riverbeds looking for arrowheads and quartz. Then I discovered a meteorite and the fascination in my young mind was unleashed.
I have always collected gems and rocks but when I first saw a blue spinel and a Burmese peridot I began to covet these gems. Before the price exploded I managed to make an amazing collection of both. Blue spinel, I was originally purchasing at 200.00 a carat and now the price has soared to as high as 2500.00+ per carat and I am so glad I bought when I did. When I add a piece to my collection now I have to really haggle.
I buy these stones from miners and gem agents in Pakistan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Burma, Africa, Australia, and Thailand, to name nut a few of the 57 countries we buy from. It has taken me years to build up the trust and connections I have. No jewelry store in America, I dare say, could compete with me on price comparing apples to apples. Most jewels know little to nothing about colored gems, their quality factors nor their value.
My collection is large and my gems were purchased very close to the mine and picked up in trade for rare gem rough and faceted gems I owned. I have some of the finest and most unusual colored gems on the market but my favorite material is in the blue range, like sapphires, blue spinel, apatite, aquamarine and some opals.
Spinel come in virtually every shade of blue. What I love about blue spinel is that unlike sapphire it was never treated in any way or, “burned,” as they say in Sri Lanka, by men at high temperature to make inferior sapphires turn deep blue and melt out the imperfections. Sadly, it is no longer an untreated stone. After we and another small group of collectors speculated and bought up most of the large Sri Lankan and Madagascan blue spinel prices soared and someone in Sri lanka figured out that if they pressure infused cobalt into ugly, inferior, spinel it would turn them vivid blue. Vivid, yes...but a fake weird sort of vivid and they have almost no value at all. A TV gem show devoted an entire episode to selling this overpriced, worthless crap. People bought them because the sellers in cooing voices said, "This is very special cobalt diffused material as if it were a good thing. I would have been apologizing. I taped this show and I am so tempted to expose them. Used car dealers, selling gems!
It would be nice if the dealers now labeled the gems as TREATED but most do not. They sell you our crap worth little more than low grade quartz as untreated spinel. Also it is a myth that spinel can't be heated though heat is used rarely and primarily for red spinel and it does not do much for the gems quality, but, it can make an ugly, inferior-quality, red spinel a little more vivid, with slightly better clarity. It goes from ugly to clearly ugly! Sorry, could not resist that.
I had been shocked when I first learned that over 90% of vivid sapphires purchased are heated and/or treated gems. If I wanted an ugly rock made beautiful I would burn one myself. Why not spray paint it? HA! Just kidding but you know what I mean. Heat is okay for sapphire but know that if you buy sapphire you are buying a gem that has most probably been heated. What about sapphire rated as unheated you might ask. Well, we have sent the same blue sapphire to two different labs and had GIA tell us the gem was heated and another well known lab tell us it was unheated. If that happened to you which report would you use? We used the report from GIA because they are rarely wrong and it would have been unethical to do otherwise. GEMS 101 - be honest about treatments in gems. Heated sapphire is acceptable in the gem industry as are tourmalines and even ruby but it should be disclosed if the seller knows. Diffusion, dying, coating and other treatments are not. Hint - Almost 100% of vivid blue topaz are treated with radiation to make them bright blue and Tanzanite is a trade name for heated Zoisite which is generally an ugly brown. It turns bright blue when heated. There are unheated (by man,) blue Tanzanite but they are rare and were exposed to thermal heat by Mother Earth, and they are very rare.
Spinel is almost always discovered while miners are searching for sapphire. in 1910 (even before and after that year,) they thought they were sapphire, so blue and red spinel have even ended up in royal collections; identified as such.
Royal Blue Spinel (above) from Madagascar can be intensely blue and are frequently sold and/or mistaken for Ceylon, Burmese and even Kashmir sapphire. They are very valuable, at 2500.00 per carat for high-grade gems over 3 carats, but not as valuable as Kashmir sapphire, so it is not ethical. If this were Kashmir sapphire in this color, size and clarity it would exceed 50,000.00 for this 3+carat gem. This gem, if sold as what it truly is, (Blue Madagascan spinel), is easily worth over 7000.00. So why be greedy? Some people just are!
When I opened Chateau Peridot it was my desire to allow people to buy their gems wholesale and then I would assist them in the mounting process; at a vastly reduced rate, so people who are not super rich could own and enjoy fantastic quality, authentic, untreated, colored-gems in their engagement rings, fashion jewelry, or just to own as a collector. Much of the old rough from the mines is used up, almost all of it to be truthful. The mines are played out and many are not even producing anymore.
High quality, blue spinel will most likely be out of the price range of all but the very rich soon if not already. eBay, and other third party selling sites are full of fake spinel so, “let the buyer beware.” eBay and similar sites have became so large they can not possibly police their sellers and only act when a blatant and proven rip-off has occurred and even that can be just a warning to the seller. If you are lucky your money may be returned and your certification money replaced.
I now have procured enough of these gorgeous, pear-shaped, blue spinel to make one fantastic necklace.
The best way to buy blue spinel is to buy GIA tested gems, or buy from gem brokers you truly trust. If the seller will not extend the warranty period for a reasonable period if notified immediately that you are sending the gem for GIA certification then avoid them like the plague. But, in fairness you should inform the seller before you purchase or immediately after receiving the gem not weeks later.
Don't let this article scare you away from blue spinel, sapphire/ruby purchasing is even more treacherous and buying emerald is downright scary for anyone but a seasoned professional and should always be tested. I would never buy an uncertified emerald unless it came from one of my agents who is a GIA certified, graduate gemologist.