June Birthstone - Alexandrite
For those June babies who aren’t captivated by pearls, the famous color-changing stone alexandrite, is an alternative birthstone. Alexandrite is considered most valuable and desirable based on the intensity of the color change. It appears red to reddish-purple in artificial light, and turns green when taken into natural light.
Named after Russian Tzar Alexander II (1818-1881), this stone was only discovered in April 1834 in the emerald mines of Urals. Considering red and green are the principle colors of Imperial Russia, Alexandrite inevitably became the national stone of tsarist Russia. Since its initial discovery in Russia, alexandrite has also been found in Brazil, Burma, India, Madagascar, Rhodesia, Sri Lank, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Alexandrite stones over one carat with strong color change are some of the rarest and most valuable stones in the world.
The Discovery of Alexandrite
When the first alexandrite was mined in the emerald mines near Russia’s Tokovaya River, the miners believed that the stones were in fact emeralds (due to their intense green color). One of the miners, Finnish mineralogist, Nils Nordenskiöld, who had a handful of stones saw that what he thought were emeralds were glowing red in the light of the campfire! When they saw that the stone had turned back to green the following morning, they knew that they had discovered a new gem.
Russian lore says that the stone was discovered on the exact day that Tsar Alexander II came of age to accept the power of the throne.
Alexandrite in Jewelry
Due to the rarity of newly mined stones, most alexandrite jewelry that is seen today comes from older, period pieces. It was a favorite stone of Russian master jewelers, British aristocracy, as well as George Kunz, master gem buyer for Tiffany and Company at the turn of the century. Tiffany and Co. produced many rings featuring alexandrite in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. George Kunz traveled to Russia and purchased such a large amount of stones that Tiffany was able to corner the market for decades.
Which Alexandrite is the Best?
In 1987, alexandrite was discovered in the Hermatita region of Brazil. While these gems show impressive color change, the green is usually mixed with a bluish tint and is not quite as vibrant as the green found in Russian stones. Even though they are not quite as valuable as Russian alexandrite, this mine is one of the most important in the world in terms of keeping up with demand.
Alexandrite found in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) shows a rich green in natural light and transforms to a reddish-brown in artificial light.
Brazilian stones are said to have the most impressive red in artificial light, but Indian stones are praised for their superior bluish-green in natural light. The largest pieces of raw alexandrite have been known to come from mines in Tanzania and Madagascar.
Russia’s Ural mine has long since closed down, and Russian stones are very rare and hard to come by. A certificate, identifying a piece of alexandrite as Russian will certainly boost its value.
Mystical Properties of Alexandrite
Because of its recent discovery, alexandrite lacks the lore and symbolism many other gemstones have become famous for. It is thought to bring good luck, fortune and love to those who wear it, and owning the stone is considered to be a good omen. Alexandrite is believed to bring balance to the interaction between the separate physical and spiritual worlds. It is also said to strengthen intuition, creativity and imagination, as well as bringing joy to those with too much self-discipline.
Alexandrite is often worn as an amulet by businessmen. It is seen as a masculine stone, encouraging the ambition and cunning of businessmen, military leaders and rulers. Its dramatic color change reminds us all that not everything in life is as it seems.
Due to the rarity of natural alexandrite, synthetic models have been made to reproduce the intense color change. Most gemstones described as synthetic alexandrite are actually synthetic corundum laced with vanadium to produce the color change.
The easiest way to spot synthetic alexandrite is to look for visible inclusions in the stone. It is extraordinarily rare to find flawless natural alexandrite, and most synthetic stones are flawless. The best way to guarantee the authenticity of a stone is to have it authenticated at an accredited gem laboratory.
Fun Facts about Alexandrite
- The stones first proposed name was “diaphanite” a combination of the Greek words “di”, meaning “two” and “phan”, meaning “to appear”.
- Alexandrite is a pleochroic gem, showing different color intensity when viewed at different angles.
- Measuring an 8.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness, only corundum (ruby and sapphire) and diamond are more durable.
- The largest cut alexandrite is 141.92 carats and measures 34.42 x 27.38 x 15.00 mm. The stone is held in a private collection in Japan.