Alexandrite is named after the Russian tsar Alexander II (1818-1881), the very first crystals having been discovered in April 1834 in the emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in the Urals. The discovery was made on the day the future tsar came of age. Although alexandrite is a relatively young gemstone, it certainly has a noble history. Since it shows both red and green, the principal colours of old Imperial Russia, it inevitably became the national stone of tsarist Russia.Beautiful alexandrite in top quality, however, is very rare indeed and hardly ever used in modern jewellery. In antique Russian jewellery you may come across it with a little luck, since Russian master jewellers loved this stone. Tiffany’s master gemologist George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932) was also fascinated by alexandrite, and the jeweller’s firm produced some beautiful series of rings and platinum ensembles at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Smaller alexandrites were occasionally also used in Victorian jewellery from England.
Forming of Alexandrite
Alexandrite is the rare colour-change variety of the mineral chrysoberyl. Its rarity is a result of its unlikely chemical makeup. Alexandrite can only form when aluminium and beryllium combine with trace elements like iron, titanium and, most importantly, chromium. On rare occasion, vanadium may also be present. The unlikelihood of the rare element chromium being in the right place to combine with aluminium and beryllium under exactly the right conditions to create alexandrite is what makes it so rare and valuable
The magic of changing colours.
The most sensational feature about this stone, however, is its surprising ability to change its colour. Green or bluish-green in daylight, alexandrite turns a soft shade of red, purplish-red or raspberry red in incandescent light. This unique optical characteristic makes it one of the most valuable gemstones of all, especially in fine qualities.
Alexandrite is very scarce: this is due to its chemical composition. It is basically a chrysoberyl, a mineral consisting of colourless or yellow transparent chrysoberyl, chrysoberyl cat’s eye and colour-changing alexandrite (also in cat’s eye varieties). It differs from other chrysoberyls in that it not only contains iron and titanium, but also chromium as a major impurity. And it is this very element which accounts for the spectacular colour change. Rarely, vanadium may also play a part. According to CIBJO nomenclature, only chrysoberyls displaying a distinct change of colour may be termed alexandrite.
Like many other gemstones, alexandrite emerged millions of years ago in a metamorphic environment. But unlike many others, its formation required specific geological conditions. The chemical elements beryllium (a major constituent in chrysoberyl) and chromium (the colouring agent in alexandrite) have contrasting chemical characteristics and do not as a rule occur together, usually being found in contrasting rock types. Not only has Nature brought these contrasting rock types into contact with each other, but a lack of the chemical element silica (the second most common element in the Earth's crust) is also required to prevent the growth of emerald. This geological scenario has occurred only rarely in the Earth's history and, as a result, alexandrite crystals are very scarce indeed.
Russia has remained the primary source of alexandrite since gems from the mines of the Urals became available on the market. When the Russian deposits were thought to have been exhausted, interest in the unique colour miracle decreased - especially since alexandrites from other mines hardly ever displayed the coveted colour change. But the situation changed dramatically in 1987, when alexandrites were discovered in a place called Hematita in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The Brazilian alexandrites showed both a distinctive colour change and good clarity and colour. Thus the somewhat dulled image of the miraculous stone received another boost. The colour of the Brazilian stones is admittedly not as strong a green as that of Russian alexandrite, but the colour change is clearly discernible. Today Hematita is one of the most important deposits of alexandrite in economic terms. Occasionally alexandrite with chatoyancy is discovered there, an effect which has not yet been observed in Russian alexandrite. Alexandrites are also obtained from sources in Sri Lanka, but the hue of these stones compares less than favourably with that of the Uralian alexandrites. They appear green in daylight and a brownish red in artificial light. The Tunduru area in southern Tanzania has also produced some outstanding specimens since the mid-1990s. Alexandrites are also found in India, Burma, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Although this stone is still considered a rarity, specialised gemstone dealers do stock it, especially since improved trade relationships between Russia and the rest of the world have ensured a better supply of Russian alexandrites to the market.
Physical properties of Alexandrite
|Colour||Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Purple, Gray, Multicolored|
|Refractive Index||1.744 - 1.755|
|SG||3.5 - 3.8|
|Transparency||Transparent to nearly opaque|
|Cleavage||1,1 ; 3,2. Often exhibits parting along twinned crystals.|