Home Knowledges Garnet VS Ruby VS Spinel: What is the difference?

Garnet VS Ruby VS Spinel: What is the difference?

by Madonna

When it comes to precious gemstones, garnet, ruby, and spinel often captivate the imaginations of jewelry enthusiasts and collectors. Though these stones might look similar to the untrained eye, each possesses unique characteristics that distinguish it from the others. This article aims to explore the differences and similarities between garnet, ruby, and spinel, delving into their origins, physical properties, value, and historical significance. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of what makes each of these gemstones unique and valuable in their own right.

Origins and Formation


Garnets are a group of silicate minerals that have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives. The name “garnet” is derived from the Latin word “granatus,” meaning grain, a reference to the pomegranate whose seeds resemble the shape and color of garnet crystals. Garnets form under high temperatures and pressures, commonly found in metamorphic rocks like schist and gneiss, and also in igneous rocks. They can be located worldwide, with notable deposits in India, Madagascar, and the United States.



Rubies belong to the corundum family, composed primarily of aluminum oxide. Their striking red color comes from trace amounts of chromium. Rubies form under similar high-temperature and high-pressure conditions as garnets but typically in metamorphic environments like marble. The most famous ruby deposits are found in Myanmar (Burma), though significant sources also exist in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique.



Spinel is a magnesium aluminum oxide mineral, which forms in the same geological environments as ruby, often found alongside corundum in marble and other metamorphic rocks. Spinel’s name is derived from the Latin word “spina,” meaning thorn, due to its sharp crystal formations. Major sources of spinel include Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.


Physical Properties

Color and Variety

Garnet: Garnets come in a wide range of colors, including red, green, yellow, orange, and even colorless. The red varieties, such as pyrope and almandine, are most commonly associated with the term “garnet,” but other varieties like tsavorite (green) and spessartite (orange) are equally prized.

Ruby: The quintessential ruby is a deep, vivid red, often described as “pigeon blood” red, considered the most valuable hue. Unlike garnets, rubies are primarily found in shades of red, although the color can range from pinkish to purplish red depending on the chromium and iron content.

Spinel: Spinel offers an extensive palette of colors, including red, blue, pink, purple, and even black. The red spinel can often be confused with ruby due to their similar appearance, but spinel can be distinguished by its unique spectral lines and lower density.

Hardness and Durability

Garnet: Garnets have a Mohs hardness of 6.5 to 7.5, making them suitable for most types of jewelry but not as resistant to scratches and abrasions as ruby and spinel.

Ruby: Rubies are one of the hardest gemstones, with a Mohs hardness of 9, surpassed only by diamonds. This exceptional hardness makes ruby extremely durable and suitable for all types of jewelry, including pieces subjected to daily wear.

Spinel: Spinel has a Mohs hardness of 8, making it harder than garnet but softer than ruby. It is still quite durable and resistant to scratches, making it an excellent choice for various jewelry applications.

Refractive Index and Luster

Garnet: Garnets exhibit a vitreous (glass-like) luster and have a refractive index ranging from 1.73 to 1.89, giving them a moderate brilliance and fire.

Ruby: Rubies also have a vitreous luster but with a higher refractive index of about 1.76 to 1.77, resulting in exceptional brilliance and a fiery appearance.

Spinel: Spinel’s refractive index ranges from 1.71 to 1.78, and it too exhibits a vitreous luster. The brilliance of spinel is comparable to that of ruby, contributing to its allure and frequent misidentification as ruby.

See Also: Garnet vs Ruby Birthstone

Historical Significance and Lore


Garnets have been cherished for thousands of years, with evidence of their use dating back to Ancient Egypt and Rome. They were believed to protect the wearer from evil and bring health and peace. In medieval times, garnets were thought to heal wounds and cure inflammatory diseases. Garnet is also the birthstone for January, symbolizing constancy and friendship.


The ruby has a storied history, especially in Asian cultures where it is considered the “king of gemstones.” Ancient Burmese warriors believed that rubies made them invincible in battle. In Hindu mythology, rubies were offered to the gods in exchange for peace and prosperity. Rubies are also associated with love, passion, and power, making them a popular choice for engagement rings and royal regalia.


Spinel has been historically mistaken for ruby due to their visual similarities. Famous rubies in history, such as the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby, were later identified as red spinel. Despite this confusion, spinel has been prized for its beauty and durability. Today, spinel is recognized and valued in its own right, celebrated for its vibrant colors and relative affordability compared to ruby.

Value and Market Considerations


Garnets are generally more affordable than rubies and spinels, though the price can vary significantly based on the type and quality. For example, a high-quality tsavorite or demantoid garnet can command prices comparable to those of lower-quality rubies. Garnets’ diverse color range and relative availability make them accessible to a wide audience.


Rubies are among the most expensive gemstones in the world, particularly those with the coveted “pigeon blood” color and minimal inclusions. The origin of the ruby can also impact its value, with Burmese rubies being highly sought after. Treatments such as heat treatment are common and can affect the stone’s price, with untreated rubies fetching a premium.


Spinel has seen a resurgence in popularity and value, particularly as natural rubies become scarcer. Fine quality spinels, especially those in red, blue, and pink hues, can be quite expensive, though still generally more affordable than top-quality rubies. The stone’s durability and brilliance make it an attractive alternative to ruby and sapphire.

Identification and Testing


Garnets can be identified by their distinct crystal structure, specific gravity, and refractive index. Gemologists often use tools like spectroscopes and polariscopes to differentiate garnets from other gemstones. Garnets are isotropic, meaning they have the same optical properties in all directions, which can help distinguish them from anisotropic stones like ruby and spinel.


Ruby identification involves examining the stone’s color, inclusions, and refractive properties. Rubies typically exhibit fluorescence under ultraviolet light, appearing bright red, which can aid in identification. Advanced techniques such as spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence are also used to confirm the presence of chromium and other trace elements.


Spinel can be identified by its octahedral crystal structure, specific gravity, and lack of cleavage. Unlike ruby, spinel does not fluoresce under UV light, which can be a key identifying feature. Gemologists also use refractometers and polariscopes to distinguish spinel from similar-looking gemstones.


Garnet, ruby, and spinel are three gemstones that, while visually similar in some cases, offer distinct qualities and appeal. Garnet’s diverse color range and historical significance make it a versatile and accessible choice. Ruby, with its unmatched hardness, brilliant red hues, and storied past, remains one of the most sought-after gemstones. Spinel, often mistaken for ruby, is gaining recognition for its vibrant colors and durability.

Each of these gemstones has its unique place in the world of jewelry and gemology. Whether you’re drawn to the variety of garnet, the fiery brilliance of ruby, or the colorful allure of spinel, understanding their differences enhances your appreciation for these remarkable stones.


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