Spinel could easily earn the title of “Most Underappreciated Gem.” Throughout history, spinel was often confused with ruby and sapphire.
Mines of Central and Southeast Asia yielded large spinel crystals known as Balas rubies, which became valuable property of emperors and kings. They were often passed along as the spoils of war.
Some of the most famous rubies in history have turned out to be spinel. Large red gems, such as the “Black Prince’s Ruby” and the “Timur Ruby” in the Crown Jewels of England were confirmed to be large red spinels. Many English monarchs, including Henry VIII, had prized spinel gemstones.
One member of the spinel group, magnetite, has magnetic properties. As early as the 11th century, mariners used this form of spinel known as lodestone to magnetize their compasses.