Alexandrite’s main characteristic is its ability to change color when exposed to a light source - a metamorphosis process called pleochroism. Under lights such as candlelight, or artificial light, the stone turns red or reddish. The most valuable alexandrites are brilliant green and change color to a fiery red when seen under a light source.
This is a characteristic of a very rare color-change variety of the mineral chrysoberyl. Alexandrites from Brazil boast 100 percent color-change and are therefore the most prized.
Owing to its property of changing color, the stone is described by gem aficionados as “emerald by day, ruby by night.” Such color change also occurs in both sapphire and tourmaline, but alexandrite exhibits the most dramatic change.
Originally discovered in Russia's Ural Mountains in the 1830s, it's now found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil. This rare gemstone is named after the Russian tsar Alexander II (1818-1881). The very first crystals were said to have been discovered in 1834 in the emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in the Ural mountains in Russia.
Alexandrite mines are getting rapidly exhausted, while their value has multiplied a thousandfold. Nearly all of Russia’s alexandrite was mined during the 19th century. Since the stones appeared green or red, akin to Old Imperial Russia’s military colors, they became the national stone of tsarist Russia and would become one of the most coveted gemstones amongst the Russian aristocracy.
For much of the 20th century, there were no discoveries of the mineral, and so it became very rare. Then in 1987, a new find was made at Hematita, Minas Gerais in Brazil, followed by another major one in 1993 on the border of Tanzania and Mozambique.
An extremely rare alexandrite has been acquired by the Indian government from the former ruling Nizam family of Hyderabad, one of the richest royal families of the world. It is an alexandrite ring given to the Nizam in 1700 by the Mughal emperor of India, Aurangzeb, and had been earlier put on display at the National Museum in Delhi.
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