Alexandrite, the beautiful June birthstone often described as ‘emerald by day, ruby by night, is named in honor of Russian Czar Alexander II. Legend has it that the future Czar came of age on the same day in 1834 that Alexandrite was discovered in the emerald mines of Russia’s Ural Mountains. Adding to its rich history, the stone’s rich red and green tones were a match for Russia’s military colors and alexandrite was shortly crowned the official gemstone of the Russian Czars.
The astute observational powers of the French mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld who discovered the jewel are responsible for determining that indeed this was not an emerald but a unique gemstone. Only one of three birthstones that can change color (the others being garnet and sapphire) alexandrite is bluish green in natural daylight but under incandescent light appears purplish red. The reason this stone has the ability to change color under differing light conditions is due to the presence of trace amounts of chromium in its makeup. This color change phenomenon is known as the ‘alexandrite effect.’
The presence of chromium perhaps doesn’t seem so surprising since alexandrite was originally discovered in the emerald mines of Russia and emeralds also have trace amounts of chromium. But actually, it’s very unlikely these two elements would combine under just the right conditions to form this gorgeous gem. This makes alexandrite very, very rare, and equally precious.
Although the most vibrant, beautiful and expensive alexandrite originated in the now exhausted mines in Russia, today most stones come from Brazil, Sri Lanka and East Africa. Even diamonds and rubies, popularly considered to be the world’s most expensive gemstones, pale beside the value of the rare and beautiful alexandrite. Because of its rarity and expense, there is a market for synthetic alexandrite. Synthetic alexandrite stones grown in a lab exhibit the same chemical and physical properties as natural alexandrite, the only difference being the stone was made in the laboratory, not in the earth.
Most large alexandrite gemstones are found in old period jewelry belonging to museums and private collectors, as current large stones are extremely rare. Some English Victorian pieces feature relatively large alexandrite stones, but it is the antique Russian jewelry designs that have the largest specimens. The largest cut alexandrite stone is housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and is 66 karats. In fact, any alexandrite stone over 3 karats is quite rare and most cut gems weigh less than one karat.
Alexandrite is a durable, hard stone and can be worn daily without worry, but it’s still important to care for this beautiful gemstone properly. Your alexandrite jewelry can be easily cleaned by using mild soap and warm water and can be wiped down using a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush. As always, when caring for fine jewelry, avoid any strong, harsh chemical cleaners and never use bleach. After cleaning, be certain to rinse the piece well to get off any remaining soapy residue. Keep in mind that alexandrites are much harder than many other gemstones and can scratch other softer stones such as spinel, quartz, and tourmaline. Be sure to wrap your alexandrite jewelry pieces in a soft cloth and store them separately from your other jewelry.
In addition to being the June birthstone, alexandrite is the official gem for 55th wedding anniversaries. Good quality alexandrite has clarity and few inclusions, although occasionally needle-like inclusions can create a cat’s eye. Alexandrite is a member of the chrysoberyl family, which not surprisingly, includes two of the most important gem varieties in the world, alexandrite and chrysoberyl cat's eye. So it’s interesting that alexandrite can exhibit two unusual properties in one stone: color change under differing light conditions and the cat’s eye effect from inclusions.
The mythology surrounding alexandrite is quite fascinating as the stone is associated with discipline and self-control. It is said that the wearer of alexandrite will strive for excellence and is thought to bring peace of mind and clarity of thinking as well. Russian legend says that the owner of an alexandrite gemstone will possess good luck, good fortune and love and is believed to be a bridge between the physical and spiritual world. Alexandrite’s purported qualities include strong healing energies and are associated with the crown chakra.
Alexandrite has a fascinating history and a piece of jewelry featuring this intriguing stone would make a fine gift for anyone on your list, including those celebrating June birthdays, 55th wedding anniversaries or for anyone who needs a little clarity of thinking as well! A beautifulIrish claddagh ring, in either silver, and set with an alexandrite stone or a lovelycladdagh pendant make a fine gift for a loved one or even for yourself!