Alexandrite is a rare and valuable gemstone that displays a color change effect, appearing green in daylight and red under incandescent light. This unique optical characteristic makes alexandrite unlike any other gemstone. In addition to its distinctive color change, alexandrite has a rich history and lore surrounding it. Let’s explore what makes this gemstone so special.
What is Alexandrite?
Alexandrite is a variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that displays a dramatic color change from green to red. Fine quality alexandrite will appear vivid green in daylight and exhibit a rich, reddish-purple color under incandescent light. This remarkable ability to change color is known as the alexandrite effect.
The green color displayed by alexandrite in daylight comes from trace amounts of chromium within the crystal structure. The red hue seen under artificial light is caused by chromium replaced by vanadium. Alexandrite’s color change from red to green is not due to a trick of the eye or optical illusion. It is an actual phenomenon of physics and crystal structure.
Where Does Alexandrite Come From?
Natural alexandrite was first discovered in 1834 in Russia’s Ural Mountains near the Tokovaya River. There is only one small region of the world that has produced gem-quality natural alexandrite – the Tokovaya river valley in Russia’s Murmansk region above the Arctic circle.
Alexandrite crystals formed there about 350 million years ago from the mineral beryl in pegmatite rocks. Alexandrite from the Ural Mountains remains the world’s primary source of fine material. Small deposits have been found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, India, Myanmar and Madagascar, but Russian alexandrite is still considered the best.
Alexandrite Gemstone Properties
|Chemistry||BeAl2O4 – Beryllium aluminum oxide|
|Color||Green / Red|
|Refractive Index||1.746 – 1.755|
Alexandrite has exceptional hardness and durability, rating 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. It has a specific gravity of 3.73 and a refractive index of 1.746 to 1.755. These properties make alexandrite an extremely durable and long lasting gemstone, resistant to scratching, chipping or breaking. Alexandrite’s hardness also allows it to hold a very fine polish and sharp faceted cuts.
In addition to its rarity and color change, another factor that makes alexandrite special is its designation as the primary birthstone for the month of June (along with pearl). Alexandrite became the June birthstone in 1952 when the Jewelry Industry Council of America updated the traditional birthstone list. Prior to that, alexandrite was unknown as a birthstone.
The June birthstone’s color change evokes the seasonal transition from spring to summer. Alexandrite’s green color is like the new growth of leaves and plants in spring. The gem’s red hue under artificial light reminds us of ripening berries, fruits and produce as summer approaches.
Alexandrite Legends & Lore
Alexandrite is shrouded in legend and lore. The gemstone is said to possess mystical powers and have an aura of magic about it. According to Russian folklore, alexandrite has the power to strengthen intuition, aid creativity and inspire imagination. Some believe it can bring good luck, fortune and love.
The alexandrite effect itself has inspired fantastical stories trying to explain the color change. In Russia it was believed that alexandrite was once the eye of the feathered dragon, whose gaze could change from fiery red to cool green. According to this legend, the dragon’s eye hardened into alexandrite after falling from the sky.
Color change alexandrite makes exceptionally unique jewelry. The stone is often cut in oval or cushion shapes to maximize the dramatic color shift. Round, emerald cut and trillion shapes are also popular. Alexandrite looks beautiful set in white metals like platinum or white gold to contrast and highlight the color change. Vintage and antique alexandrite jewelry from Victorian and Art Deco eras is also highly collectible.
Since natural alexandrite is extremely rare and expensive, many jewelry designers also use lab created alexandrite to craft affordable gemstone rings, pendants, earrings and more. While synthetic alexandrite lacks the cachet of the natural material, it provides the same dazzling color change at a fraction of the cost.
Natural alexandrite is one of the most expensive gemstones in the world, prized for its rarity, color change and short supply. Fine quality loose stones over one carat can routinely fetch prices of over $30,000 per carat. The largest known faceted alexandrite from Russia is a 65.08 carat gem at the Smithsonian Museum. This stone would likely be valued in the millions of dollars.
In contrast, lab grown alexandrite is many times more affordable. Synthetic alexandrite can be purchased for around $300 to $500 per carat. While still not cheap, this puts striking color change alexandrite in reach of jewelers and gemstone buyers on more modest budgets.
How to Identify Alexandrite
Natural and synthetic alexandrite can be difficult to distinguish. Both display the characteristic color change from bluish-green to purplish-red. Here are some tips for identifying real alexandrite:
– Look through a Chelsea filter. Natural alexandrite will show a red reaction, synthetic alexandrite looks blue.
– Examine inclusions under magnification. Real alexandrite will show identifying natural crystal growth patterns and feathering effects. Synthetics have few inclusions.
– Consider the price. Natural alexandrite over one carat costs $30,000 per carat or more. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is not real.
– Buy from a reputable seller with a return policy. Always purchase certified alexandrite from a trusted and knowledgeable dealer.
Alexandrite History & Facts
– Alexandrite was discovered in 1834 on the birthday of Russian Tsar Alexander II, gaining its name from the future emperor.
– The greatest concentration of gem quality alexandrite ever unearthed occurred in 1839 when a single vein produced thousands of carats.
– Alexandrite was a favorite stone of Russian jewelers like Carl Fabergé who produced many iconic alexandrite pieces for the Russian royal family and aristocracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
– Natural alexandrite is one of the rarest of all colored gemstones, with global supply only accumulating to a few thousand carats per year at most.
– Synthetic versions of alexandrite have been produced since the early 1970s by laboratories in Russia, Germany and Japan.
– There is no known enhancing treatment that can improve the color change of natural alexandrite. This stone only achieves its magical effect in untreated, unaltered form.
In summary, alexandrite is a phenomenal gemstone valued for its distinctive color change, rarity, natural beauty and mythic allure. The stone’s association with Russia and limited supply ensures that fine alexandrite maintains extremely high values. Synthetic alexandrite provides an affordable alternative for jewelry, if not quite the mystique. Whether natural or lab grown, alexandrite’s unique chameleon-like properties will continue to intrigue gem enthusiasts and collectors for generations to come.