Rubies and spinels are two of the best known red gems in the world, with rubies leading. Often you’ll find spinels trying to pass for rubies, but a skilled jeweler will spot the differences quickly. In the end they’re both red gems, and they’re both beautiful to look at. But only one of them is a ruby.
So let’s take a look at the main differences between rubies and spinels.
Ruby vs spinel
Rubies are harder than spinels and can resists scratches and chipping better, yet both gems are pretty strong on their own. Rubies are prone to inclusions, so they are often cloudy while spinels are often clear. Because of their clarity spinels have a better brilliance, leaving rubies way behind. Despite all this, rubies are the ultimate red gemstone, and they are always more expensive than spinels.
If you’re ever presented with a ruby you should have it checked to see if it’s a real ruby, and whether it’s been treated or not. If you’re relying on color alone it’s very difficult tot ell a ruby from a red spinel. Both have the same shades of red and range from light pink to deep, dark red.
1. Rubies are more expensive than spinels
Rubies are one of the original precious gemstones, along with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and (formerly) amethysts. This classification, along with the rare red color makes rubies a highly sought-after prize. Rubies don’t come cheap !
In fact rubies are several times the price of spinel. Here’s a few figures.
A 1 ct ruby ranges from $12,8oo to $5,800, in a deep vivid red color. Meanwhile a 1 ct spinel of the same color goes for $1,500 ! This is a price difference you can’t really ignore, and for some people it might mean a whole lot.
And since you can’t really tell the difference between a ruby and a spinel too easily just by looking at it, make sure you get the gem’s certificate and maybe have it appraised by another jeweler.
Read also: Silver VS Gold In Jewelry
2. Spinels have better clarity and brilliance
Due to their structure spinels tend to have better clarity than rubies. A spinel may have less inclusions than a ruby, and the inclusions it may have are less small. Rubies and sapphires have a sort of ‘silk’, which are tiny, tiny needle-like inclusions that appear whitish, and in some cases may even produce an asterism (a star).
When rubies are heat-treated the silk mostly dissolves and they become clearer, with a better color, but their price goes down a bit. A ruby that is naturally eye-clean and not treated in any way is much more valuable than a prefect but treated one.
Spinels don’t usually have this issue, since they have a high clarity. Rubies and spinels have very similar refractive indexes – around 1.7 – but due to their difference in clarity spinels are usually the more brilliant, fiery ones.
3. Rubies are more common than spinels
Despite being more expensive than spinels, rubies are more common. Both are rarer than quartz (and amethyst), but you have a higher chance if finding a ruby than a spinel.
Can you use spinels in place of rubies ?
Yes, you can use spinels in place of rubies if you’re looking for a very believable faux ruby. A jeweler will easily tell the difference, but for casual jewelry use the difference is not staggering. Rubies are harder, more durable yes but this does not put spinels out of the game.
And since spinels are much more affordable than rubies you may find that a piece of jewelry with many gems will end up more affordable if made with spinels instead of rubies.
If you’re attached to the meaning of rubies and want to know that you’re wearing real, actual rubies then spiels are not a good option.
Red spinels used to be confused with rubies
Back when rubies and spinels were first discovered, they were easily confused. Or rather spinel passed as a type of ruby, up until the 18th century or so. Red spinels were called balas rubies, after the Balascia, the ancient name of a region in Central Asia where spinels were first found.
One of the most famous red spinels is actually embedded in the State Crown, and part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The spinel is called the Black Prince’s Ruby, ever since it was given to Edward of Woodstock in 1367, nicknamed the Black Prince. It has since remained part of the Crown Jewels, and it’s now displayed on the front of the State Crown.
Nowadays rubies and spinels aren’t confused as much, but some traders may name their spinels ‘balas rubies’ or ‘spinel rubies’. Be mindful of what you buy !
Other red stones you can use in place of rubies
If you don’t want to use spinel in place of ruby, there are other options you can try. These also work as a dupe for spinel, too ! The key here is clarity and a deep red color, so the following gemstones are going to have both.
Garnet. Garnet comes in various colors, and finding it in shades of red is pretty easy. The only thing is, garnet is usually a little darker than a ruby or spinel, and may have golden undertones in its red, rather than pinkish-blue. Garnet is actually cheaper than spinel, so jewelry will always be more affordable.
Red cubic zirconia. Cubic zirconia is a diamond dupe, and it can come in many, many colors. Since cubic zirconia is lab-grown, it’s easily colored whatever shade you want, including ruby red.
Red topaz. Topaz comes in many colors and is fairly affordable, so you may find one that is naturally red and with good clarity. Red topaz isn’t the most common, but you can definitely source it if you ask your jeweler to look for one. Keep in mind that red topaz comes in rather pinkish, lighter tones so it will be better able to simulate a light ruby, rather than a vivid one.
In short you should be mindful of what you’re buying when shopping for rubies. These gems are some of the most expensive and a certificate is mandatory for each gem. Don’t worry if your ruby has some inclusions, it’s hard to find a ruby without any inclusions at all. They can be heat-treated for clarity and color.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.