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Alexandrite: The Chameleon Gem

Originally posted on June 22nd, 2017

Updated April 13th, 2020

Throughout June, we explored the origins and romance of pearls, the otherworldly charm of moonstone, and now we conclude the sixth month with the charm of Alexandrite, a gem with the rare ability to change colors.

Alexandrite, a rare variety of chrysoberyl, is a bluish-green in fluorescent light and a purplish red by incandescent light, or to put it romantically, green in daylight and red by candlelight. It is often described as “emerald by day, ruby by night.” Traces of either chromium and vanadium are responsible for alexandrite’s color change phenomena. Emeralds can also credit chromium and vanadium for their illustrious green color.

Speaking of Emerald, the first alexandrite gemstones were discovered near an emerald mine. Specifically in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1834. Originally, because of how close the emerald mines were to the alexandrite deposits, alexandrite was mistaken for emerald. It wasn’t until the color change phenomenon was observed that the stone was named alexandrite. Legend has it that alexandrite was named for the - at the time - future Tsar, Alexander II. Legend says that Alexandrite was discovered on the 29th of April, Alexander II’s birthday and it was therefore named in his honor.

 

One of the most astounding things about alexandrite is that it is rarer than either diamonds or rubies. I’m surprised by this too. After being mined for over 200 years, the Russian alexandrite mines yield a very small amount today. Thankfully, there are deposits in Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa. The Russian alexandrites are of the finest quality with the most dramatic color change and the most vibrant hues. The Russian variety sets the standard for color change gemstones, hence the term “the alexandrite effect” for the color change phenomenon in gemstones.

 Sri Lanka’s alexandrite comes in sizes larger than their Russian counterparts, but the colors are more yellowish and brownish in color than its Russian counterpart and the color change phenomenon isn’t as noticeable. Brazil, which was discovered in the 1980s in Minas Gerais, has been known to provide alexandrite that rivals even the Russian variety. This makes Brazil one of the most important providers of alexandrite. But despite the importance, the supply is decreasing and the gems are becoming rarer.

Other gemstones have also been known to possess the alexandrite effect: sapphires, garnets, and fluorite. This is, dare I say it, phenomenal and they’re pretty cool. But the quality still doesn’t rival the alexandrites from the Ural Mountains.

I enjoyed writing June’s birthstones for Moijey Fine Jewelry & Diamonds. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read about a few of our favorite gems. Now I’m looking forward to writing about July’s birthstone: the ruby.