The controversial history of alexandrite dates back to Imperial Russia, where it was first discovered in emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in the Ural Mountains. Its Finnish discoverer initially mistook it for emerald before realizing it changed colors under different light sources.
According to legend, this gemstone was named for Alexander II because it was discovered on the future czar’s birthday in 1834. Because alexandrite’s red and green hues matched Russia’s military colors, it became the official gemstone of Imperial Russia’s Tsardom.
Russian jewelers were fascinated by this rare color-changing gemstone. George Frederick Kunz, the master gemologist at Tiffany & Co., was also fond of it. He produced a series of alexandrite rings between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alexandrite was occasionally used for jewelry in Victorian England as well.
After Russia’s gem mine deposits were exhausted, the popularity of alexandrite stones waned until new supplies were discovered in Brazil in 1987. Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa are now the main sources for alexandrite, though these gems are not as vividly colored as the original Russian gemstones.
Natural alexandrite gemstones are now rarer than diamonds. Because it’s so scarcely available, fine-quality alexandrite is practically unaffordable to the general public. Even lower quality stones are expensive and limited in supply.
Since the 1960s, labs have grown synthetic alexandrite—not to be confused with simulated alexandrite, which is actually corundum or colored crystals infused with chromium or vanadium for color. Creating synthetic alexandrite is an expensive process, so even lab-grown gemstones can be expensive.
To find out which type of alexandrite would be best for you, find an American Gem Society jeweler near you.