Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2019, Vol. 55, No. 1

Gray Spinel: A New Trend in Colored Stones

Spinel with nearly perfectly neutral gray color with only a slightly bluish tinge.
Figure 1. Spinel with nearly perfectly neutral gray color with only a slightly bluish tinge, 24.15 ct. Photo by Robert Weldon/GIA, courtesy of 3090 Gems, LLC.

In recent years, the colored stone world has seen a growing appetite for unusual colors. Ruby, sapphire, and emerald with strong saturation but not overly dark tones have always been the mainstay of the colored stone market. But now there is stronger demand for stones in nontraditional colors that might have been difficult to move a decade or two ago. Especially notable is the growing popularity of lighter-toned, lower-saturation pastel stones such as garnets from East Africa or Montana sapphires.

Gray spinels were one of the obvious new trends at the Tucson shows this year. It was not hard to find exhibitors showing off their gray spinel, and everyone who had them commented on how quickly they were selling. The story is remarkable in that the colored stone market has accepted a gemstone that by definition has an unsaturated color—a gray color, no less. Most gray spinel has a minor blue or violet secondary color component. It is relatively rare to find a spinel with a perfectly neutral gray color. These stones have the most value, which increases as the depth of the gray increases. Most of the specimens on display in Tucson were under a carat. Stones larger than a few carats were relatively rare, but we were able to document some with exceptional color, such as the 24.15 ct bluish gray spinel cut by 3090 Gems, LLC in figure 1 or the slightly bluish gray matched pair (10.34 carats total) from Nomad’s in figure 2.

Matched slightly bluish gray spinels.
Figure 2. Matched pair of slightly bluish gray spinels with a combined weight of 10.34 carats. Photo by Robert Weldon/GIA, courtesy of Nomad’s.

Gray spinel’s success is due in large part to strong marketing. Of particular note is the influence of social media in bringing this material to the market. In the last year or so, these spinels became quite popular in gemstone circles on Facebook and Instagram. In our interview with cutter Jeff Hapeman, he noted how social media has fundamentally altered the industry by allowing gem dealers to satisfy more eclectic desires and by giving consumers power to find and purchase novel and unusual stones that were traditionally unavailable. As we continue to witness the disruptive power of social media in the industry, gray spinel will not be the last story we hear of a once unmarketable color being embraced by the colored stone world.

Aaron C. Palke is a senior research scientist at GIA in Carlsbad, California.