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
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.
the primary source of 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.