The controversial history of alexandrite dates back
to Imperial Russia, where it was first discovered in
emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in Russia’s
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
Russian jewelers were fascinated by this rare
color-change gemstone. George Frederick Kunz, the
master gemologist at Tiffany & Co., was also fond of
it, and produced a series of alexandrite rings
between the late 19th and early 20th century.
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 more rare 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