Alexandrite History and Lore

43-carat Alexandrite
A 43-carat alexandrite in the collection of the British Museum.
Abundant alexandrite deposits were first discovered in 1830 in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Those first alexandrites were of very fine quality and displayed vivid hues and dramatic colour change. The gem was named after the young Alexander II, heir apparent to the throne. It caught the country’s attention because its red and green colours mirrored the Imperial Russian flag.

Alexander II
Alexander II was still a youngster in 1830, when a never-before-seen colour-change gem
was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia. - Corbis
The spectacular Ural Mountain deposits didn’t last for ever, and now most alexandrite comes from Sri Lanka, East Africa and Brazil. The newer deposits contain some fine-quality stones, but many display less-precise colour change and muddier hues than the nineteenth-century Russian alexandrites. You’ll still find estate jewellery set with some of the famed Ural Mountain alexandrites. They remain the quality standard for this phenomenal gemstone.