Alexandrite – the name itself of this extraordinary gemstone is an indication of royalty. Described as “emerald by day, ruby by night” by gemstone experts, this chameleon-like stone has a rare and unique color-changing property, characteristic of the chrysoberyl minerals. The gemstone is so rare that it has only been seen by not more than a handful of fortunate people. Yet, in the revised list of birthstones it was listed in as June’s birthstone.
A relatively young gemstone, alexandrite was first discovered along Russia’s Ural mountain range near the Tokovaya River. Found in the early 1830’s, alexandrite became popular during the reign of Czar Alexander II. The stone was named after the czar in the honor of his coming of age ceremony. The imperial colors of Russia were red and green, thus making alexandrite a highly desirable stone among the masses. So much so that with time, the high demand led to an exhaustion of supply found in the Urals.
The original core of discovery in Russia was sealed after a few decades of extraction. It has been revived today, but only to generate a few carats per year. In 1987, another finding of alexandrite was made in Brazil. In years that followed, discoveries were made in Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. However, none of these new sources generated a stone as rich and stunning in color change as was found from the original site in Russia.
Although Russia remains the primary source of alexandrite, traces of this unique gemstone have been found in other places. Today Brazil and Sri Lanka have become major producers of alexandrite. Additionally, it has also been discovered in India, Madagascar, Myanmar (Burma), Zimbabwe and Tanzania. However, Russia still holds the highest rank in producing the finest quality of the stone not found in any other country.
Similar to many other gemstones, alexandrite materialized centuries ago in a metamorphic environment. However, its formation required precise geological conditions that contradicted the norms of Nature. The elements beryllium and chromium have contrasting chemical properties which make it uncommon for them to occur simultaneously in the earth’s crust. However, presence of chromium is imperative for the formation of alexandrite.
Nature not only brought these conflicting elements in close proximity, it had to restrain the occurrence of the chemical element silica, in order to inhibit the growth of emerald. This geological symphony is an exceptional occurrence in the Earth’s history, making alexandrite stone very scarce and precious.
Alexandrite is a type of chrysoberyl, a rare oxide mineral. The inorganic stone is one of the hardest and most durable gemstones. Alexandrite is scarce owing to its unique chemical composition that gives the stone its unique property of changing color in light. What distinguishes alexandrite from other chrysoberyls is that in addition to iron and titanium, it contains high quantities of chromium as an impurity, partially replacing aluminum.
The spectacular green hues of this June gemstone are attributed to the presence of this very impurity. In sunlight, alexandrite exhibits shades ranging from bluish to mossy green. However, under incandescent light, the color astoundingly transforms to beautiful soft red, purplish-red or warm raspberry red.
Similar to other colored stones, alexandrite’s value is also determined by its color, clarity, cut and size. Highest quality alexandrite is infrequently used in modern jewelry because it is very rare and scarce and because it is too high-priced for the general public to afford.
Alexandrite can exhibit a color change ranging from 100% to just 5%. The closer the colors are to pure green (in daylight) and red (in incandescent light), the higher its value. Top quality alexandrite is green to blue-green in daylight and red to purplish-red in incandescent light.
Stones that are too light or too dark lack do not qualify for the quality of color intensity found in high-quality gems and lack brightness. Today, the occurrence of superior quality, fine-color alexandrite is extremely rare.
Clarity is another major grading feature. There’s an unusual rise in value for clean gems with prominent color change and strong colors.
Alexandrite tends to contain few inclusions. Certain types of long, slim inclusions can produce an additional phenomenon called chatoyancy. These parallel inclusions exhibit a cat’s-eye effect, escalating the alexandrite’s worth.
Alexandrites are fashioned in a variety of mixed shapes and cutting styles. Rectangular cushions and ovals are most commonly found in the market, but rounds and emerald cuts might also be available. Did you know that Alexandrite’s pleochroic quality (show different colors from different directions) makes it a challenge for cutters to carve this gemstone.
Most shaped alexandrite stones are small, weighing less than one carat. In fact it is uncommon to find alexandrite weighing over 0.25 carats, which will also be worth several thousand dollars. Larger sizes, over one carat will be even more expensive, and anything over three carats can be worth $100,000 or more. Stones of quality above five or six carats are very rare. Although alexandrite above 10 carats has been found in Sri Lanka, their quality is low in terms of color change.
Alexandrite is believed to boost confidence and self-esteem and balance the emotional state of the wearer. The gem is thought to have calming properties – it brings about optimistic change by bringing happiness and success and intensifying emotions of love, compassion and sensuality.
Physically, Alexandrite is associated with treating swollen lymph nodes, pancreatic
disorders and illness of the spleen. It has also been said to be effective in the cure of leukemia and inner ear problems.
Alexandrite also promotes speedy recovery and are beneficial to be worn during periods of recovery after a serious illness, injury or surgery or rehabilitation.
It is deemed as stone of very good omen that brings good fortune. In complex situations, it is meant to strengthen the wearer’s instinct, and help him to devise ways to solve a problem where logic fails to provide a solution. Alexandrite is also known to to foster creativity and incite the imagination.
The color changes of alexandrite are also believed to depict the mood of the wearer. For instance, a shift to a more yellow shade represents that the wearer is under stress.
Due to its rarity and exclusivity, alexandrite is reserved for high quality and precious jewelry making and ornamental purposes. The gemstone is far too unique and exquisite to be used for industrial purposes.
Its eye-catching colors make it suitable for use in bracelets, necklaces, rings or charms. The stone is extremely appealing to look at and gives a very regal appearance in both daylight and incandescent light. There are lower-quality imitations available that might be similar in composition, but they do not possess the warmth and beauty of the original alexandrite.
Alexandrite is the traditional birthstone for the month of June, apart from pearl and moonstone, covering the period between 21st May and 21st June. Astrologically, alexandrite is associated with signs of Scorpio, Aquarius and Sagittarius. Alexandrite might also be considered as a gift associated with a 45th or 55th wedding anniversary.
Synthetic alexandrite, created in a laboratory, can exhibit color change almost similarly as natural alexandrite. However, synthetic versions have more internal irregularities like air bubbles compared to the natural gems. The size and clarity of a stone are also determining factors – since natural alexandrite is so rare, it is unlikely that a large stone offered for a few dollars is the real deal.