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This rare gemstone 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 gemmologist 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.

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.

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.

The more distinct the change of colour, the more valuable the stone. A fine
alexandrite should show a vivid bluish-green in daylight and a purplish-red in
artificial light, without any trace of undesirable brown or grey. If the origin of the
stone is known beyond dispute to be Russia, we are talking about a real rarity
of enormous value. Finely faceted alexandrites above one carat are thus among
the most expensive gemstones in the world, rarer than fine ruby, sapphire or
emerald.

Alexandrite is a stone for experts, enthusiasts and connoisseurs, a true
understatement stone. Its uniqueness and high value are not evident at first
sight. The mysterious colour change will only occur on exposure to different
light sources. But if you really get involved in alexandrite, you will be utterly
fascinated by this gem. Maybe you will also feel some of the mysterious magic
and lore ascribed to it. It is considered a stone of very good omen. In critical
situations it is supposed to strengthen the wearer’s intuition, and thus help him
or her find new ways forward in situations where logic will not provide an
answer. Alexandrite is also reputed to aid creativity and inspire the imagination.