- Known in Russia as the "Gem of the Tsars" where it was first discovered, Alexandrite is one of the world's most valuable gemstones.
- Often described as "Emerald By Day" and "Ruby By Night", when viewed under sunlight, Alexandrite appears teal to forest green but when seen by candlelight, it appears violet, crimson-red, purple or orange.
Scant availability, remarkable colour change, excellent durability and a sparkling "adamantine" or diamond like luster, makes Alexandrite a "must have" for any true jewellery connoisseur.
Legends & Lore
- Early one chilly October morning in 1830 a Russian peasant was making his way through the silver birch forests along the banks of the Tokovaya River.
- Tripping on the exposed roots of a large tree felled by a storm, he discovered some green gemstones. Quickly identified as Emeralds, by 1831 this deposit (located 91km East of Ekaterinburg on the Asiatic slope of the Ural Mountains) was being mined.
- The Tokovaya Emerald mines also yielded other gemstones, including a new one that had the strange ability to change colour. When viewed under sunlight, rich green colours appeared but when seen by candlelight it displayed red hues.
- The gem was named "Alexandrite" after the young Tsarevitch, who was crowned Tsar Alexander II in 1855. Legend has it that Alexandrite was discovered by Emerald miners on his birthday, April 23, 1830, the year the Russian heir apparent came of age. However, Vitaliy Repej, a Ukrainian Alexandrite specialist, believes that Alexandrite was actually discovered on April 3, 1834 by the Tzar's famous Finnish mineralogist Dr. Nils Nordenskjold and wasn't officially called Alexandrite until 1842.
- Regardless of its birthday, this new "Gem of the Tsars" created a sensation. Everyone wanted an Alexandrite!
- But this was certainly no fun for the miners. Imagine working through long winters plagued by biting cold and blinding snowdrifts. Summer brought no respite, just great swarms of gnats, mosquitoes and gadflies! Following the narrow Alexandrite veins with hand dug trenches, open pits and small tunnels, mining was very primitive to say the least! Although the Tokovaya deposit closed only after a few decades, occasionally a second look with more modern techniques yields a few surprises.
- The fortuity of the discovery of Alexandrite on the future Tsar's birthday was considered manifold, as the colours displayed by this unusual gem can mirror the Imperial Russian military colours of red and green.
- Possessing dual nationalistic connotations, Alexandrite quickly gained popularity in Russia, where it was believed to bring good luck.
- Alexandrite's relatively recent discovery has left it little time to gather tales of myth and superstition. Nevertheless, Alexandrite is believed by some to strengthen the wearer's intuition in critical situations, and thus help one find new ways forward in situations where logic does not provide the answer. Some crystal healers also attribute Alexandrite with the ability aid creativity and inspire imagination.
- Today, Alexandrite, along with Pearl and Moonstone, is a birthstone for those born in June.
Just The Facts
- The rare colour change variety of chrysoberyl, Alexandrite ranks alongside ruby and padparadsha sapphire as one of the world's most desired coloured gemstones.
- In gemology it is correct to call any chrysoberyl that changes colour Alexandrite. The nomenclature is not dependent on the colours of the change.
- Interestingly, the colour change effect is not unique to Alexandrite. Many gem types display colour change (e.g. sapphire and garnet). However, the degree of colour change exhibited by Alexandrite is the most extreme encountered in natural gems.
- Alexandrite's colour change is dependant on pure light sources (i.e. pure candescent light to pure incandescent light); for example sunlight to candlelight.
- Arguably, one of the best uses of Alexandrite is in earrings and pendants. In this position, the vibrancy of Alexandrite's colour change is easily noticed. Alexandrite rings are also popular, as it is a very tough gem with a hardness that is only transcended by rubies, sapphires or diamonds.
- Faceted Alexandrites are found in wide variety of shapes and styles.
- Coveted for their beautiful and mysterious optical effects, when you look at a Cat's Eye Alexandrite you can see a single band of light on its surface. Technically known as the "Asteric Effect", this intriguing phenomenon is unique to the world of gemstones. It is caused by minerals reflecting a band of light back to the eye like a mirror. Cat's Eye Alexandrite makes particularly stunning signet rings and are a powerful display of a unique sense of style.
- While beautiful Alexandrite is available from other locales, the largest and finest Alexandrite hails from the Tokovaya deposit. Amongst Alexandrite connoisseurs, Russian Alexandrite is considered the best and is a real rarity of enormous value. Very little Russian Alexandrite is found on the market today and prices reflect this. Russian Alexandrite above half a Carat is among the most costly of all gemstones and is far rarer than fine Ruby, Sapphire or Emerald. Quality Russian Alexandrite of this size is almost impossible to find! To put this into context, in 1898 Edwin Streeter wrote in Precious Stones & Gems: "The wonderful Alexandrite is an Emerald by day and an Amethyst at night. Its market value is extremely variable, and sometimes as much as £20 per carat is paid for a fine stone". Today, the same Russian Alexandrite is worth many thousands of pounds!
- Fine quality Alexandrite is also now emerging from India. Mined in the Ananthagiri hill ranges of Andhra Pradesh, the Araku Valley is now not only renowned for it's cool salubrious air, spellbinding mountains and serene ambience, but also for the affordable elegance of it's Alexandrite.
- Alexandrite is also mined in Brazil, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Sri Lanka.