After a recent talk on the Elegance of Living, a young man brought me a ring of his grandmothers that he wanted some more information on. As soon as I laid eyes on the ring, I knew exactly what the central stone was. Oddly, I had only ever seen synthetic ones in estate jewels before, but it was so unlike any other stone in colour, I knew instantly it could only be an Alexandrite. Still, I would never make that claim until I have taken it to a qualified gemologist and had the piece valued and tested.
As soon as I could I took the ring to a well-respected gemologist and valuer. At first glance he said, “Nice Sapphire, Chris.” I could tell by his tenor that he knew I didn’t think it was a sapphire. “Look,” he said, “I’m sick of every plonker off the street walking up to my desk to tell me they have a real alexandrite. Let’s just put this under my scope and I will show you that is a garden variety Queensland Sapphire.” The momentum of his rant ceased when he put the ring under his scope. “Oh,” He said with a pause, “Well, it is certainly a very nice chrysoberyl.” I was trying not to be smug and crow with my remarks, “How interesting? Isn’t Alexandrite in the same family of stones?” With a rye grin he added, “Indeed it is Chris, and I stand corrected, you have here a genuine Alexandrite stone with some real age to it.”
So, what’s all the fuss about with this stone? To answer that question, let’s look a little at the history of the stone. Originally it was discovered in the 1830’s in the Russian Ural mountain range in the famous emerald mines there. The day this new stone was discovered was also the day that the heir to the Russian throne Prince Alexander came of age, so in his honour it was named. What made the discovery even more special was that this stone displayed a unique characteristic of colour change.
Called an emerald by day and a ruby by night, this stone displayed a distinct shift in colour from green in daylight to red indoors. It was also a relatively uncomplicated stone to wear as it was a much harder stone than emerald. The Russian court wholeheartedly adopted this remarkable chameleon of gems as a result whose imperial colours were also incidentally red and green. The source for this stone was not plentiful, and in a short time it had been entirely depleted of gem grade Alexandrite.
In subsequent years, more sources of the stone have been found, most notably Sri Lanka, Brazil and parts of Africa. While these stones are once again remarkable in their displays of chromatic shift, their sources are not deep and the colors the display tend to be different than the green and red of the Russian variety. One of the highest quality deposits was found in Brazil in the 1980’s has met a similar fate to the original Russian mine and been emptied in record time. Buyer beware, as a result of mans keen affection for the stone, and its scarcity, this is one of the most commonly synthesized stones on the market.
As the old saying goes, genuine Alexandrite are as rare as hens teeth, and we are proud to currently hold not one but two pieces of the genuine article. The fine estate ring that the young man in the beginning of my story is here on offer, as well as a new piece of Brazilian mined Alexandrite displaying an awe-inspiring dance of colour from blue to purple.
Written by Christopher Hughes
Feature image of Alexander II as a boy, attributed to George Dawe.