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 color 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 colors mirrored the national military colors of imperial Russia.

Alexander II
Alexander II was still a youngster in 1830, when a never-before-seen color-change gem
was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia. - Corbis
The spectacular Ural Mountain deposits didn’t last forever, 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 color change and muddier hues than the nineteenth-century Russian alexandrites. You’ll still find estate jewelry set with some of the famed Ural Mountain alexandrites. They remain the quality standard for this phenomenal gemstone.