Ever heard of a color-changing gemstone? Yes, you read that right. There exists a gemstone that has the ability to change colors under different light sources. Whether looking for a new piece to add to your jewelry collection or in search of something that is mystically alluring, you will find the alexandrite an interesting piece.
Known for being an “Emerald by day and Ruby by night”, alexandrite jewelry easily fits in summer tea parties or evening gown gatherings. This guide will tell you what you need to know about this mysterious gemstone, from its royal history to its role in the modern times.
- The history of the alexandrite gemstone
- What causes Alexandrite’s color changing properties?
- How do I evaluate my alexandrite?
- How does color affect the value of my Alexandrite?
- Alexandrite jewelry
- What is synthetic (or lab-created) Alexandrites?
- What are Alexandrite imitations?
- Taking care of alexandrite jewelry
- Buying Alexandrite
- The meaning and healing powers of an Alexandrite
The history of the alexandrite gemstone
The alexandrite stone was named after Tsar Alexander II of Russia, where it was first discovered in the Ural Mountains. Discovering that the stone had the special ability to change colors depending on the kind of illumination it is exposed to, green in sunlight and red in lamplight, the stone became the national stone of tsarist Russia whose military colors were green and red.
Around the end of the 1900’s alexandrite deposits in Russia were almost exhausted, which made the stone very rare and precious. It had become one of the most prized gems amongst the Russian royalty.
Later on, deposits were found in Brazil and Sri Lanka, and as a result alexandrite grew popular globally. Alexandrites were found again in more deposits in Brazil, Tanzania and Mozambique. They were highly valued because they had become very rare.
What causes Alexandrite’s color changing properties?
This precious stone is the most popular member of the family chrysoberyl, an aluminate of beryl. The chemistry of an alexandrite crystal is quite simple.
Normal yellow or green chrysoberyls absorb little to no light. This is different in alexandrites due to the stone’s crystalline structure. A tiny number of crystals in alexandrites are replaced by chromium ions and it is this feature that intensifies the alexandrite absorption of the yellow light.
This small hint of chromium allows alexandrite to reflect either green or red light. The stone’s visible color will vary depending on how it is perceived by the human eye in a phenomenon known as the Alexandrite Effect. This occurs when the stone changes color from greenish to reddish.
Here is an interesting scientific fact. Rather than a chemical reaction in the chromium compound, it is the physiological reaction in the human vision that causes the perceived color to change. In daylight, the light is balanced, meaning the full spectrum of visible light is present. Since the human eye is more sensitive to green light, our vision responds to the green spectrum more and sees the stone as green under daylight. However, in man-made light such as that of a lamplight emitting less green and blue, the red color becomes more visible.
How do I evaluate my alexandrite?
In determining the value of any precious stone, we always look to the 4Cs – cut, color, clarity and carat.
It’s critical to evaluate the clarity of your alexandrite to ensure that there are no visible inclusions in the stone. Generally, if a gemstone is less included it is more valuable. However, there those rare exceptions such as that of a morganite gemstone where the inclusions can actually raise the value of the stone.
For alexandrite gems, clarity matters less than the effect of its color (which we will discuss in detail below). Alexandrites are stunning when polished en cabochon, so clarity is not as critical as it is, say for a colorless diamond.
Besides, what makes these stones valuable is their ability to change color. So an Alexandrite that has a 100 percent change from green to red is more valuable than an eye clean piece with only slight color change. So, in other words, while clarity is important, it takes second place to color.
As with any gemstone exhibiting pleochroism, alexandrites pose a challenge to cutters. They have to ensure that both colors of the stone will be face up when illuminated.
Alexandrites are typically cut into shapes known as mixed-cuts. These contain brilliant cut crowns and step-cut pavilions. For stones that are highly included, the cat’s eye cabochon makes for a good cut. This type of cut exhibits the Alexandrite’s beautiful reflection of the light coming from the cat’s eye effect.
As I’ve mentioned above, alexandrites are very rare since there are only limited deposits in the world. The largest known Alexandrite originated from Sri Lanka and weighs about 65.7 carats!
But usually, Alexandrite jewelry do not weigh more than 1 carat.
Very important shopping tip: If you want to purchase an alexandrite and are on a budget, there are two ways to go about it. First, you can purchase a heavier, larger alexandrite with less color change. That way you have the size but not so much the magical Alexandrite Effect. Second, you can go for a smaller one that exhibits a larger scale of color difference, compromising size for color change.
But if you are going to purchase an alexandrite, you must remember that its distinct quality is always the color change.
It goes without saying that the most unique and important attribute of an Alexandrite is its color.
As a rule of thumb, the higher the saturation of a colored stone, the higher the value.
However, in terms of alexandrites, it’s not just the saturation, or tone and hue that affect the value. It is also the extent of the color change. The stronger the dual colors are, the more valuable the stone becomes.
It is important that you identify whether your stone is a color-changing chrysoberyl or a true alexandrite. The table below from gemsociety.org shows the accepted color ranges for a chrysoberyl to be classified as an alexandrite. Other colors, especially yellow, may fall just under color-changing chrysoberyl.
|Blue green||Orange red|
|Very slightly blue green||Red|
|Green||Slightly purple red|
|Slightly green||Purple red|
|Yellow green||Red purple or purple red|
If your stone exhibits any of the two corresponding colors in the table, then it probably is an alexandrite and not merely a color-changing chrysoberyl.
How does color affect the value of my Alexandrite?
To know how much your Alexandrite is worth, consider these two factors: color change and the saturation of the color. A stone’s color may appear rich but may not change much. For example, a blue green stone may change by only 50% to orange red. Gems like these yield less value than that of a less saturated stone, say a medium green color, that has a 100% color change to medium red. The higher the percentage of the color change, the higher the value and the closer the colors are to pure green/pure red, the more valuable the stone becomes.
Pure greens/reds are more valuable since these are the ones that can exhibit higher color contrast in terms of color change. The most valued alexandrite would be the richly colored pure green/pure red pieces with 100% color change.
Because of its gorgeous color changing properties and elegant look, alexandrite is highly coveted in jewelry. Modern alexandrite jewelry typically feature small stones of about 1 carat (due to the scarcity of the stone), while period jewelry used larger stones. Because they are durable and very hard stones, they are perfect for everyday wear.
Alexandrites make beautiful and classy rings. Although your stone may be small, it will still stand out and be eye-catching due to its play with light and color. Below are some famous types of alexandrite rings.
Alexandrite engagement rings
Alexandrite is a unique and stunning stone and takes center stage with pride. The hints of green and purple complement an array of colors, meaning that your ring will suit any outfit you wear. While alexandrite goes well with any metal color, my personal favorite is white gold (or white gold colored metals such as palladium, platinum or silver). I find that it makes for a modern, classy look. For a more vintage and period look, choose rose gold or yellow gold. (photo courtesy next three photos to jewelsforme.com)
Alexandrite Claddagh rings
Claddagh rings are a perfect gift for a loved one, whether it be a promise ring or an engagement ring. This is a traditional Celtic design where two hands combine to hold a heart on which rests a crown. The hands represent friendship, the heart symbolizes love and the crown stands for loyalty. What better way to express your feelings than with this meaning-packed symbol. And how much better when the center heart is an alexandrite!
Alexandrite birthstone rings
Alexandrite is the birthstone for June (it shares this honor with pearls). If you are a June baby, you might want to consider an Alexandrite birthstone ring to symbolize all that being born in June means to you!
Alexandrite anniversary rings
If you are one of those very few lucky people who are celebrating a 55th year of marriage, alexandrite is the gemstone that represents that special milestone. A unique and rare stone for a special anniversary, there are unique settings that go beautifully with alexandrites, giving you endless options. For males, don’t worry as you aren’t forgotten. There is a wide range of masculine and stately alexandrite rings available on the market for you and you will be sure to find one that suits your taste.
A great way to showcase your alexandrite is through a classy pair of earrings. Because of its green/purple tints, even simple studs are eye-catching and dressy. You can find beautifully crafted stud earrings that go well with casual or office wear. For a dressier look, choose dangle earrings to add that extra touch of elegance.
Because it is rare to find large alexandrite stones, they aren’t a good option if you want to wear a large statement pendant. However, for a classical, quieter look, alexandrite pendants are ideal. Again, the metal color you choose will affect the overall look of the stone. White gold alexandrite pendants are modern and chic while yellow or rose gold pendants show a stronger contrast with the gemstone.
What is synthetic (or lab-created) Alexandrites?
Alexandrite falls among the rarest and most valuable precious stones such as diamonds. If, like most of us, you’re on a budget, a good alternative is a synthetic alexandrite. True synthetic alexandrites are made of chrysoberyl crystal and grown commonly by the method called pulling.
While synthetic stones are artificially grown, they still contain the same chemical makeup and crystal structure as the original stone. So, in other words, these are not FAKE stones. They are merely grown in a lab by humans (hence the name lab-created). They are every bit as real as a mined alexandrite.
Very important tip for buying lab-created alexandrite
If buying a synthetic be aware that there are vendors who may try to sell a synthetic corundum (sapphire) as a synthetic alexandrite. Bearing in mind that alexandrite (even synthetic alexandrite) is expensive, these vendors will try to hoodwink their customers to make that extra profit. Always make sure that you’re buying from reputable vendors.
What are Alexandrite imitations?
There are lots of alexandrite imitations on the market. These are called simulants. Simulants are different to synthetic alexandrites. These are just look-alikes. They may look like the original thing but actually contain a different chemistry and crystal structure. The cheapest simulants are made of glass or plastic and are very cheap and easy to detect.
You can also find a “simulated” alexandrite variety that is actually made of corundum (sapphire) rather than chrysoberyl and infused with trace elements of vanadium that creates the color change effect.
Synthetic sapphires usually changes from a bright purple to mauve. Such stones are easy to identify because there is hardly any green in the crystal. You can make sure by having the stones tested in a gem lab where traces of vanadium can be detected and will show the refractive index of a corundum (1.759-1.778) rather than chrysoberyl (1.741-1.760).
Other color change gemstones existing in the market are color garnets, color change diaspore and rough andalusite. Although such stones are not imitations, they are often mistaken for the much more expensive alexandrite.
Color garnets, from the garnet family, can change from bronze under sunlight to light pink under incandescent light. Color-change diaspore, made up of aluminum oxide hydroxide, can change from yellowish green under natural light to pink or light orange under incandescent light.
The most interesting of them is the rough andalusite, which is also known as poor man’s alexandrite because its color shifts can range from yellow, green and red. But rather than change in illumination, it is the viewing angle or the orientation of the crystal that causes the change in the stone’s color.
Taking care of alexandrite jewelry
Taking care of a gemstone usually depends on the degree and frequency of cleaning it can endure. Alexandrite is located at 8.5 on Moh’s Scale of Hardness among the hardest precious rocks so it is suitable for daily wear. Just make sure to polish it to remove dust and any residue on the surface that can affect its luster.
It is easy to take care of an alexandrite, the most common being manual care with soap, warm water, and a soft brush or soft cloth. Wash it gently and make sure to rinse the soap away properly.
These stones can also be cleaned mechanically using ultrasonic cleaners. Just make sure you follow the instructions that come with the machine carefully to avoid damaging your gem. Also avoid exposure to bleach or other harsh chemicals and doing strenuous activities while wearing the stone.
While there is no special care required for alexandrite stones, storage might be a problem as softer stones may be easily scratched or scraped by the alexandrite. Make sure to wrap your alexandrite with a soft cloth before storing and keep it away from less durable gemstones.
When purchasing alexandrite, it is essential to check whether the stone is indeed what the vendor proclaims it to be!
While you can shop for your alexandrite at brick-and-mortar stores, it goes without saying that you will have more options if you take your search online. Always check the after sales service and returns policy, in case of any issues.
If you want to make sure that you have found a genuine alexandrite, you should secure a Certificate of Authenticity from a trusted gem lab before procuring the stone. For alexandrites, the American Gem Lab also offers to certify the percentage of color change.
The meaning and healing powers of an Alexandrite
Because of the Alexandrite’s ability to change from green to red, it is often associated with balance. It is believed that an alexandrite allows interaction between the physical world (green) and the spiritual world (red), from which its healing powers come.
By bridging the gap between a person’s body and spirit, it is believed the alexandrite can alter the flow of chakra in the wearer’s body to give room for strength, peace and self-confidence. This is best for people who are in or have come from a surgery, neurological disorders, and coma where the person’s mind is believed to be detached from the body.
In ancient Russia, from where the first alexandrite stone was discovered, it is believed that alexandrite brings good fortune and romance, the balance of joy from tangible and intangible things. It allows you to appreciate the world around you while reminding you of your purpose in the world.
Whatever your views may be on the supernatural aspects of the stone, you cannot deny that alexandrite is indeed a unique, eye-catching and very special gemstone!