Gray spinel has experienced a rapid rise in popularity over the past few years, trending in part due to the subdued sophistication of its steely color and mirror-like brilliance. The word “trend” immediately conjures up thoughts of defining moments in fashion, beauty, and home décor over the years – bell-bottoms and avocado green in the 70’s, maxi dresses and gray walls today – but the reality is that trends extend across many facets of our lives – including gemstones. Surprised? Take a look at how a sleepy, rarely seen gemstone become one of the hottest new elements of bejeweled adornment for the 2020s.

burmese gray spinel

Gray spinel is surprisingly diverse, ranging from light silvery shades of
gray to deep charcoal with purple and blue undertones.

The Progression of Gray Spinel’s Popularity

If a buyer had requested a gray spinel even as recently as 2015, the request would probably have solicited surprise and even mild amusement from their gem dealer. To many traders, gray gems in general lacked the vibrant color saturation that makes colored stones desirable. Instead, they were treated as “value stones” for those on a tight budget. Today, that reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

In part, the lock-down of countries where spinel is mined due to COVID-19 has made a substantial impact on the value of the stone by artificially suppressing its availability. Parcels that could be obtained at a bargain in Mogok, Myanmar only a year ago have easily doubled in price this year. Quarantine and shut downs have meant both that the markets are shut off from western buyers, and that artisanal miners are limited in their production output. Chinese buyers are taking advantage of the situation and now buying entire parcels of stones they would have passed over last year. In the past few years demand has been highest in Europe, Australia, and North America, but Asia has recently embraced the trend as well, and before long we may see the rest of the world falling in love with this distinctive shade. As social media makes buyers more aware of what’s available, the desirability of gray spinel is only expected to increase.

Social Media

gray spinel rough

The use of unusual rough gem specimens (like the gray spinel above) by social media influencers has piqued the interest of their followers and contributed to the desirability of lesser-known gemstones. 

Social media has completely altered the ways in which information and trends are communicated to the public. In the past, what was “hot” was dictated by large corporations like DeBeers, Tiffany, etc. These gemstone giants came up with their marketing plans and everyone else followed suit. But today, sites like Instagram and Pinterest have given small, boutique-based artisans a voice. As a result, rarer, more scarce gemstones like spinel that might have been impractical for large scale commercialization are getting their day in the sun, with small ateliers featuring more unusual gems and educating their clients about the merits of each stone. These preferences are trickling down from the designers to the buyer – including bridal clientele.

The Influence of Bespoke Engagement Rings

Today’s couples are looking for alternatives to traditional diamond rings that reflect their unique personalities and relationships. Personalization is key, handmade is valued, and color has come to play an important role in distinguishing their selections from more conventional engagement ring styles. Millennials in particular place importance on ethics, sourcing, and overall ring design, often requesting recycled materials and organic construction elements. Salt and pepper diamonds have become more popular, and while gray spinel mimics their unconventional color, it lacks the cloudiness that can sometimes be a negative with the former, instead exhibiting beautiful clarity and brilliance. Gray spinel is a comparatively pure, clean substance with fewer inclusions. Because of this relative lucidity and brilliance, they are being cut into asscher, emerald, or other step-cut center - stone shapes to show off their clarity (though cushions and other more vintage cuts remain popular as well). Brides to be are also gravitating toward a three-stone approach, off-setting the silvery, elegant gray with white diamonds on either side to accentuate the depth and play up the contrast between the two. All in all, it would be fair to say that gray spinel is having its moment with the bridal set.

The Influence of Fashion

pantone 2021 clothing

Gray and yellow make a striking combination for this dress and jacket ensemble.

The fashion and design world may also play an important role in gray spinel’s emergence as a formidable gem in its own rite. Throughout history, jewelry design has been to some degree dependent on the fashions of the day. Gems and jeweled designs typically flatter the popular colors, necklines, sleeve lengths, hemlines, and fabrics of their time. For example, bright, vivid emeralds would have looked out of place with Victorian mourning attire – which is why there were entire sets of written rules dictating what jewels women could and could not wear in formal mourning. Flash forward 150 years, and the same general ideas apply. Because we live in a time in which almost anything goes, gray, sparkling gems bring a degree of sophistication and balance to the riot of color frequently seen on the runways and in our closets. Grey goes with almost any outfit and tends to suit most skin tones. It is the perfect neutral – and may also instill a sense of calm and repose in the chaotic times in which we live. Perhaps those factors play into the choice of Ultimate Gray as one of 2021’s Pantone Colors of the year.


Pantone Colors

2021 pantone colors

The 2021 Pantone Colors, Ultimate Gray (17-5104) and Illuminating (13-0647), reflect the current trend toward the juxtaposition of calming and cheerful tones. 

Pantone has chosen two colors this year: Ultimate Gray (17-5104) and Illuminating (13-0647). These two unusual colors might seem somewhat unexpected at first glance, but Pantone says that they chose them in part because, they are “practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic.”

Ultimate Gray has the unique ability to enhance other colors, match almost every other shade, and shift from expressing as warm to cool-toned depending upon its surroundings.

In a year of complete chaos and a “the world is burning” kind of vibe, perhaps these ethereal, soulful gems help to keep us grounded and relaxed. Whatever the case may be, I wouldn’t expect these silvery beauties to subdue anytime soon.

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