The controversial history of alexandrite dates back to Imperial Russia, where it was first discovered in emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Its Finnish discoverer initially mistook it for emerald before realizing it changed colors under different light sources.
According to legend, this gemstone was named for Alexander II because it was discovered on the future czar’s birthday in 1834. Because alexandrite’s red and green hues matched Russia’s military colors, it became the official gemstone of Imperial Russia’s Tsardom.
Russian jewelers were fascinated by this rare chameleon-like gem. George Frederick Kunz, the master gemologist at Tiffany & Co., was also fond of it, and produced a series of alexandrite rings between the late 19th and early 20th century. Alexandrite was occasionally used for jewelry in Victorian England, as well.
After Russia’s mine deposits were exhausted, the popularity of alexandrite waned until new supplies were discovered in Brazil in 1987. Brazil, Sri Lanka and East Africa are now the main sources for alexandrite, though these are not as vividly colored as the original Russian stones.
Because it’s so scarcely available, fine quality alexandrite is practically unaffordable to the general public. Even lower quality stones are expensive and limited in supply.
Since the 1960s, labs have grown synthetic alexandrite—not to be confused with simulated alexandrite, which is actually corundum or colored crystals infused with chromium or vanadium for color. Creating synthetic alexandrite is an expensive process, so even lab-grown stones can be costly.
Often described as “emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is a rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that changes color from bluish green in daylight to purplish red under incandescent light.
This chameleon-like behavior is the result of its uncommon chemical composition— which includes traces of chromium, the same coloring agent found in emerald. The unlikelihood of these elements combining under the right conditions makes alexandrite one of the rarest, costliest gems.
The alexandrite mined from Russia’s famed deposits set the quality standard for this stone. Today, most alexandrite comes from Sri Lanka, Brazil and East Africa—generally paling in comparison to the vivid colors of Russian gems.
With a hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs scale, alexandrite is softer than sapphire and harder than garnet—the other gemstones that can change color. However, due to its scarcity, alexandrite is more valuable than most gems, even rubies and diamonds.
Associated with concentration and learning, alexandrite is believed to strengthen intuition, aid creativity and inspire imagination—bringing good omens to anyone who wears it.