Journey to the stone podcast with Don Kogen about Spinel


In this podcast of Journey to the Stone, we talk about one of the fastest-growing, one of the most amazing, interesting, and actually-catching-the-world-by-storm gemstones. Spinel.

When I started in the industry over 30-odd years ago, Spinel was known as the imposter stone. Because if you look historically at Spinel, it is what has been confused as Ruby for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you look at the Royal Jewels in the British Crown Jewels, you'll see that the Black Princess Ruby is actually a Spinel. And this situation was dated back to the period of Marco Polo, back in the Balas mines, which produced some of the most important varieties of Spinel ever discovered. And if you look back in the Marco Polo scriptures, he refers to Spinel. But Spinel didn't really catch on until much later. I mean, literally about 15-20 years ago that the prices started to elevate, soar, and break records at auction. So this is a gem that has caught the world by storm.

It originated originally in the collector market, and now it has gone on into the other enthusiasts’ and jewelry lovers’ and wearers’ market due to the ability to disperse light. So let me give you a little bit of background on the most important discoveries of Spinel and where those locations are.

The first and most important discovery of Spinel was always the Mogok deposit. The Mogok Stone Tract in Burma has always been known as the predominant, finest supplier of Red Spinel in the world. It also produces the world's most important Rubies that have sold for over $1,000,000 a carat. Spinels from this particular deposit are remarkable. They are pure red. They're Pigeon Blood, very similar to the Ruby counterparts, and for hundreds of years have been confused as Ruby. But they are a different mineral, totally. They sparkle, they're vibrant, they're different, and they're also very uncommon.

Let's flash forward to around ten years forward. So this is about 15-20 years ago. Here we are. I'm in Burma, in a place called Namya. Now, what's interesting about Namya is it started producing some Rubies coming out of that area in the Burma location, but it started producing the stones that were neon. I mean, neon! Like nobody had ever seen a gem that looks like this. You could put them in the dark and they glowed. They were remarkable. And they were perfect, like double pyramid sided. They look like pyramids on top of each other with the bottoms connected. They were the perfect crystal. They glowed. They were neon. And this became to be known as the Jedi Spinel.

Spinel Ring

The Jedi Spinel from Namya will blow your head off. And that set the world trajectile on madness. Vincent Pardieu from the GIA, when he went there, he's the one who actually coined the phrase Jedi, because at that time they had some Star Wars movie out or something of the sort. And it was like, “Don't go to the dark side, Luke,” and Jedi Spinels were anything but dark. They popped, they were electric, they were live, they were vibrant. And they really will blow your head off. The colors are remarkable.

And I watch these gems in Burma soar to five digits per carat in the rough form, because they glow. They surpass the price of a lot of unheated Rubies out there. I've never seen anything like this. A Spinel competing with an unheated natural Ruby—which is one of the most expensive gems in the world when it comes to collectability! And here came Namya Spinel. And the prices soared and soared and soared and soared. And then, of course, as everything happens in the world, supply—especially in gemstones, because gemstones are finite—it started to deplete. And when the mine started to deplete, prices continued to soar because there was no supply.

Then flash forward about another five years and boom, we have a new discovery of Spinel that is found. Of course, it was also… Let's flashback. There was also some discoveries in Vietnam, but the Vietnam material tended to be more red, orange, very similar to the material you'd see out of Mogok. So we got some of this material up in the Luc Yen region of Vietnam, but it wasn't significant enough to really carry the weight. Looks more like a Garnet. It was more like an orangey red. Still very attractive, but it didn't have that neon Jedi characteristic.

Then you get to Mahenge. Mahenge Tanzanian Spinel was the closest thing that could come to Namya. The Burma material, the Mogok material. This material took the world by storm. And because of the supply of it, and it was not a lot, but it was enough to grab the attention of the connoisseur market. And people just saw this gem and went crazy. You get Spinels now that sell for up to $50,000 a carat in large sizes. And it's crazy. The demand is huge, and there is just nothing out there.

Right now in the Mahenge region of Tanzania, there is no current Spinel mining, so we can forget about that. And Namya is pretty much depleted as well. But if you ever get your hands on a Jedi Spinel, you'll know exactly what I'm telling you. Because you better be wearing your Ray-Bans and sunglasses, because this gem pops. And what's really unique about it is you can take it in yellow light, incandescent light, LED light, candlelight, no matter what light, and it's going to pop. This is a rare variety.

Okay, here I am up in Luc Yen, Vietnam. I'm buying some Ruby because the Vietnamese Ruby is pretty much like the Mogok Stone Tract. It grows in the marble host rock. And what do we find? We find this stone that looks like Neon Apatite. Nobody knows what it is. We think it's Neon Apatite. Little, small, little crystals. Insignificant sizes, 10-point or 15-point. Stuff like that. Don't really pay too much attention to it. Buy some of the rough. Take it back to Thailand. I'm doing a lot of business with Sri Lanka at this time as well.

So I go to Sri Lanka, and one of the rarest things to find in Sri Lanka is known as the Cobalt Spinel. The Cobalt Spinel is much more rare than you find Sapphire. I can count on two hands the amount of Cobalt Spinels I've ever found that are gem top, top blue. They are not common. They're not easy to find. They're usually dark. And when you can get them in nice color, they're rare, right? A notable one, one of my biggest stones I've ever discovered—I think it's the current world record to ever come out of Sri Lanka—was a 25.00 carat flawless Cobalt Spinel.

People say the largest in the world is 12.00 carat. No, it's 25.00 carat. Kat Florence said it. It's sold to a Kat Florence customer. It is one of the rarest Cobalt Spinels in the world. I'm sure if you look around, you'll find it somewhere online, right? But that stone was my biggest prize ever. That is a notable stone and something that will end up at auction at some point. Extremely rare. To find Cobalt Spinel, fully certified GIA, something like that is just uncommon. 2.00 carats, uncommon. 3.00 carats, rare. 5.00 carats, crazy rare! 25.00 carat: freak of nature. Not something you need.


Then Vietnam. We go back. I come back to my office, I start poking out of this marble host rock these blue stones, chipping them out, and then I put them under the refractometer. I check all the different tests that we do as gemologist, and voilà, we have discovered Spinel in a color that we've never seen before. Looks like Apatite.

Problem? Small. So small. Almost insignificant small. Like 10-point, 20-point, right? Don't think too much about it. Put all this stuff in my warehouse with the rest of the gems I always put there. And then eventually just watch the market go. These little stones are selling for $10,000, $15,000 a carat. $10,000, $15,000 a carat. I literally bought them for, like, $100 a carat. I didn't even buy for $100. I think it was like, if you take out the money, it works out about $15, right? I didn't even think too much about it. I threw them in the closet right now. Thank goodness I still have them. Right.

So the demand for Spinel has just gone crazy. I mean, crazy up. One of the fastest growing, in demand price points in the world. Because the world has just fell in love with this stone. They understand it better, they know it. And knowledge is power, and that basically is the way it works. Right? But Spinel is one to keep your eye on if you like a red stone that'll blow your head off. The Namya variety of Spinel.

The Jedi variety is some of the finest red gemstones in the world. Hands down. It's 100% natural. It's the hand of Mother Nature. It is extremely rare and there is not a lot in circulation globally and there is no active mining today. If you’re looking for Blue Spinels, you’ve either got to go after the Cobalt coming out of Sri Lanka, or you want to go after the Neon Cobalt Blue that comes out of Vietnam.

Unfortunately, the Vietnam—if you’re looking at a 3.00 carat size—you could be spending five digits per carat easily, all day long. The prices just are high for that in the collector world. Because there is literally, I think, less than 15 stones in existence that surpass 2.00 carat. Very uncommon. Not easy to find.

But once again, keep your eye on the Spinel world, right? And let’s just see how this moves. But they’ve always been the impostor counterpart to the Ruby and Sapphire, confused for hundreds of years, and finally they’ve got their own lane. Their own race. They’re in the Olympics with the Ruby and the Sapphire. They have their own mineral type. And they’re something to keep an eye on, because they are beautiful, beautiful gem types. 

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