The ‘Czar of Gems’

Alexandrite: the embodiment of Russian royalty

By: Colton Bartel

So what happens when you are the czar of the Russian Empire and a new gem is found in your country? They name it after you! That is exactly what happened in 1830 when quite possibly the rarest birthstone used today was found. Czar Alexander II will always be known in the jewelry industry for the phenomenal stone that bears his name, Alexandrite.

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Alexandrite is so rare that there is currently not a commercially viable source for it in the world. Because of this rarity, a very small percentage of the global population has ever seen a natural one in person, let alone ever purchased one. This goes for jewelers, as well. Though it is still used as a birthstone, finding a natural one can be a huge challenge, especially a high-quality one. So what is it that makes this stone so special that it is in high demand regardless of the lack of supply?

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Alexandrite is a color-change stone. That’s right: color change! Alex, as we call it for short, displays two very distinct colors based on the type of light to which it is exposed. In daylight or cooler light, like LED, it will display a blueish-green body color; by contrast, in warmer incandescent light, it will be a purplish-red. Because of this color change, they are known to be “emeralds by day, rubies by night.”

The high-quality Alex is a very beautiful stone and highly sought after, especially by collectors and jewelry connoisseurs. Its high demand, phenomenal color change and little supply make it extremely expensive and the perfect candidate for making synthetically.

Though many stones are also produced synthetically, synthetic Alex is really the only one that is sold much more frequently than its natural counterpart. Lab-grown Alex is still Alexandrite in every aspect except that it is manmade and not mined. It has the same colors and hardness and even changes color, but it has extreme color change and is almost always highly fluorescent, glowing bright red in UV light.

If you are in the market for an Alex, there are several things to look for and a couple to prepare for. The first thing to look for is the stone’s color change and how obvious it is. The more intense and distinguishable the color change is, the better. The most desirable colors are deep red to emerald green, but this is very rare and usually only occurs in Russian material. The next best is going to be a deep plum red to teal green, which is usually found in Brazilian stones. Clarity is the second feature you want to look at. A nice Alex has very good clarity, but may still have small inclusions under magnification. Look for a clean stone that doesn’t have inclusions visible to the naked eye.

Now, as far as what to prepare yourself for in cost and time: Alexandrites that show distinct color change, are relatively clean and have any significant size are generally very expensive. Many stones that are of good quality can rival the price of diamonds and can actually be more than diamonds of the same size and clarity. As with any gemstone, when you are shopping for an Alex, be sure to talk with a trusted jeweler or gemologist who has experience with the stone and can correctly identify it and separate it from synthetic stones.

The other thing you need to prepare for is shopping time. Again, due to their rarity, finding the right stone can be a time-consuming process. Not all jewelers have access to natural stones, and even fewer have access to high-quality ones. You will notice that the vast majority of chain stores only offer synthetic Alexandrite and cannot actually get the natural variety. If you do happen to visit a store that can get one (or, even better, that has one in stock), you will significantly reduce your shopping time and have a much better chance of getting the exact stone you want.

Talk with your jeweler, and ask him or her if you can see some stones. In most cases, a handful of stones will be ordered in for viewing and can usually be purchased at that time. While looking, be sure to ask lots of questions about the stone so you know what it is you are getting. Because there is little supply, there are higher chances of accidentally getting synthetics mixed up with natural stones, but a good jeweler or gemologist can easily separate the two and explain the differences to you.

Alexandrite is for sure one of the most unusual stones you can own, and it makes for an awesome conversation piece. So go ahead and treat yourself like royalty with the “czar of gems.”

For more information, to set up an appointment or to view natural Alexandrites and other gems, please contact Colton Bartel at Susann’s Diamond Jewelers, located at 4254 S. Alameda in Corpus Christi. You can also call 361-991-7565 or visit www.susanns-jewelers.com.

2009-6071 photo credit: Smithsonian Natural History Museum, AlexandriteGIA photo credit: Gemological Institute of America, Alexandrite africa gems photo credit: Africa Gem

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