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If you’ve heard of Alexandrite at all, you probably know it as the birthstone for June. But, what is Alexandrite?

The short answer is that alexandrite is a colour change gemstone that changes from purple/red in indoor light to teal/green in outdoor light. But, in this article we’re going to explore alexandrite a bit deeper. We’ll answer the question of ‘what is alexandrite’ by looking at its origins, chemical make up, colour change properties, symbolism and rarity.

Origins and Discovery

Alexandrite was first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in the early 19th century. The story goes that it was found on the birthday of the future Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1834. This led to the gemstone being named in his honour.

The Urals remained the primary source of alexandrite for many years because it was known for specimens with exceptional color-changing properties. Today alexandrite is also found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa, particularly Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The deposits in the Ural Mountains are now mostly depleted. Alexandrite that is known to have come from this area is highly sought after.

What is Alexandrite Made of?

Alexandrite is a variety of the mineral chrysoberyl, with the chemical formula BeAl2O4. It is the presence of chromium as a trace element that gives alexandrite its extraordinary colour-changing ability. Chrysoberyl itself is an oxide mineral, but the unique conditions required for alexandrite’s formation make it exceptionally rare.

Chemically, alexandrite is a variety of the mineral chrysoberyl with the formula BeAl₂O₄. The presence of chromium impurities is what gives alexandrite its distinctive colour-change property. While standard chrysoberyl is typically yellow to green and does not exhibit colour change, the chromium in alexandrite causes it to absorb light differently which causes the colour change phenomenon. This differentiates alexandrite from regular chrysoberyl both in appearance and value.

The Colour Change Magic of Alexandrite

What truly sets alexandrite apart from other gemstones is its remarkable ability to change colour depending on the light source. This colour change magic is due to the complex way alexandrite absorbs light.

Under natural daylight or florescent light, alexandrite appears green to bluish-green due to the high concentration of chromium. However, under incandescent or warm indoor light, it changes to a red to purplish-red hue. This dramatic colour change is a result of the gemstone’s complex crystal structure which affects how the stone absorbs and reflects different wavelengths of light.

The alexandrite gemstones in the halo of the ring below show the colour change phenomenon. The center stone is a sapphire and does not exhibit colour change.

what is alexandrite colour change showing indoor and outdoor light


Symbolic Meaning

Often referred to as “emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is believed to bring balance between the physical and spiritual worlds. It symbolizes joy, hope and wisdom, and is thought to enhance intuition and creativity. Alexandrite is also said to bring good luck and fortune to its wearer.

June’s Birthstone

In 1952, alexandrite was officially recognized as the birthstone for June, alongside pearls and moonstone. Its unique colour-changing ability and rarity make it a swoon-worthy choice for those born in this month.

Because pearls and moonstones are quite soft, alexandrite is often used in jewellery designs that require durability such as in a ring. When a jewellery design requires a facetted stone to match other facetted stones, such as in a family birthstone ring, alexandrite is also often chosen to represent June over a pearl.

What is Alexandrite Worth?

The rarity of alexandrite cannot be overstated. Alexandrite is one of the rarest gemstones in the world. Quality specimens, particularly those with a strong and distinct colour change, are incredibly scarce. The original Russian deposits are mostly depleted, which adds to the stone’s rarity and high value.

Modern sources, while producing beautiful gems, rarely match the quality of the original Urals stones. As a result, fine alexandrite is often more expensive than diamonds, particularly for stones that exhibit a vivid colour change and are free of inclusions. This rarity, combined with its unique optical properties, makes alexandrite one of the most valuable gemstones on the market.

Luckily, lab grown alexandrite is available at a much more reasonable price point. The lab grown variety also exhibits colour change and won’t break the bank.

Are you an Alexandrite Fan?

Alexandrite is definitely one of our favourite gemstones. If you’re as enchanted as we are with this unique gemstone we’d love to help you create your dream piece of alexandrite jewellery. You can request a quote for your idea or learn more about our process.


author avatar
Suzanne Co-Owner
Suzanne is one of the founders of Posy Fine Jewellery. She received a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Anthropology from the University of Toronto before training as a goldsmith at George Brown College.


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