If you were born in June, you were one lucky baby: June has many birthstones, including pearl, alexandrite, rose quartz, and moonstone. In this post, I’m going to talk about what is perhaps the most spectacular of the bunch: alexandrite.
Natural alexandrite under natural light (left) and incandescent light (right)
Alexandrite is a gemstone variety of the mineral chrysoberyl. It is the only type of chrysoberyl that appears different colors under different light sources. Although it is not the only color-change gemstone, its color shift is more dramatic than other stones. Alexandrite specimens from different sources have varying hues and color changes. The stones I’ve seen most often are bluish green under daylight and pinkish violet under incandescent light.
Alexandrite was first discovered in 1830 in the Ural Mountains of Russia, so as you can imagine, it was quite popular with the Russian aristocracy of the day. Today, the natural stone remains almost as unobtainable as it was then.
There was a new strike of alexandrite in the mid-1980s in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. The run lasted approximately 12 weeks, depleted the supply in the area, and resulted in roughly 150,000 carats of cut stones. Compare this to the 100 million carats of diamonds that are produced globally EACH YEAR, and you can get an idea of its rarity. (Source: Wise 2006)
Some of you may be familiar with chrysoberyl in its cat’s eye form. Like other varieties of chrysoberyl, some alexandrite exhibits a cat’s eye optical phenomenon. Because it is usually a light toned gemstone, the cat’s eye effect isn’t always pronounced. Even though cat’s eye alexandrite is rarer than the faceted variety, it commands a curiously lower price.
Alexandrite in Jewelry
Fortunately for those of us with smaller wallets than a Russian czar, there is a more affordable alternative: simulated alexandrite. I offer both simulated and natural options in my family jewelry collection. The simulant that I use in my work is a lab-created corundum with its own color change, going from blue under daylight to violet under incandescent light. At a fraction of the cost of the natural gemstone, it’s a nice option. Alexandrite is truly a mesmerizing stone.