Alexandrite Buying Guide


alexandrite buying - large brazilian cat's eye
Stunning and rare 5.05 carat cat’s eye alexandrite.  © Jogani Beverly Hills. Used with permission.

Phenomenal color change and extreme rarity make alexandrite one of the world’s most coveted stones. Appearing green in sunlight and red in artificial light, this gem was first mined in the 1830s and named after Czar Alexander II. Since the stone resembled Imperial Russia’s military colors, it soon became popular. Better yet, this June birthstone has great durability, making it an excellent choice for jewelry.

However, alexandrite’s extreme rarity drives prices very high. Even synthetic alexandrite doesn’t come cheap. Still, this gem’s dramatic color change makes it an exciting addition to any collection.

Alexandrite Buying and the Four Cs

The IGS alexandrite value listing has price guidelines for faceted alexandrite at top, medium, and slight color changes, as well as for cabbed plain and cat’s eye alexandrite with strong color change.

Color Change in Alexandrite

By day, alexandrite should be emerald green to peacock blue. By night, a ruby red or amethyst hue. The intensity of this color change is the most important factor in alexandrite price. Still, intense and complete color changes occur rarely in this stone. Most alexandrites appear muddied in one type of lighting. Thus, the most prized stones undergo a complete shift from lovely green to luscious red. For example, watch the transition of this platinum ring with alexandrite, green sapphires, and diamond accents.

This alexandrite starts green in daylight, then shifts to a deep red in incandescent light. Video © J. Grahl Design. Used with permission.

Shift Percentages

Some gemological laboratories quantify this shift by a percentage. A 100% change means that the entire stone undergoes color shift. Most high-quality alexandrites exhibit 85-95% change, meaning that some facets don’t change color. However, these results are difficult to reproduce because of the lack of standards in lighting and color.

alexandrite - round-cut alexandrite ring with diamonds
6.5mm round lab-created alexandrite set in a modern 14k white and rose gold mixed metal engagement ring and paired with a wrapping rose gold wedding ring with accent diamonds.  © CustomMade. Used with permission.
Lighting Conditions and Alexandrite Buying

When purchasing an alexandrite, pay attention to the lighting.  Above all, ask about the color temperature of the light bulbs used.  Bulbs with 3000-3300K are incandescent light, and 5000-6500K can simulate daylight.  Be aware that simulated daylight can be more flattering than natural sunlight. Thus, if possible, view the alexandrite outdoors.

Alexandrite - eternity band
Twenty-eight 2 mm alexandrites in a platinum eternity band. © CustomMade. Used with permission.
Tones and Color Change

For this gem, darker tones tend to correspond to a more intense color change. Tones of 75-85% are ideal. Most gems exhibit tones of 40-60%, with color changes from a light green to pinkish hues.

Grey or brown often tempers the stone’s hues.  This occurs more often in larger stones.

Alexandrite or Color-Change Chrysoberyl?

No strict standard exists for distinguishing between alexandrite and color-change chrysoberyl. However, the presence of chromium is essential. If the stone doesn’t change from bluish green to red or reddish purple, it may be a color-change chrysoberyl. These gems, though exciting and beautiful, are less rare than alexandrite and much less expensive. Always request a certificate from a gemological laboratory to ensure that the gem is an alexandrite.

Sources and Color Change

Different sources of alexandrite produce gems with different hues of color change. Material from the original deposit in Russia is scattered, and few gems are available to determine the color change quality. Still, the color change must be strong enough to resemble the Czarist colors of red and green.

Nowadays, most alexandrite originates in India. Indian material tends to exhibit excellent green-blue daylight hues with weak color change. However, strong color changing specimens do occur.

Brazilian stones set the standard in the current market, with blue-green hues transitioning to raspberry red. Pinkish tones are less desirable than the purplish secondary hues. Material from Hematita sometimes displays a peacock blue hue in daylight, with only secondary green hues.

Tanzanian gems, though small, often exhibit excellent color change. These transition from green to reddish purple, showing both colors in mixed light. Furthermore, you can generally find these at bargain prices compared to Brazilian material of similar quality.

alexandrite - rough
Alexandrite specimen from Zimbabwe, showing slight bluish green in daylight/halogen and purple in fluorescent lighting. Joe Budd Photos. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Australia also produce alexandrite, but in small, sporadic quantities.

Clarity

Alexandrite is a Type II gemstone.  Accordingly, gems are generally not eye-clean, and stones with small flaws are often set in jewelry. In fact, rutile inclusions may enhance the color change in alexandrite, resulting in a higher overall price. When choosing a stone, some may prefer a clearer specimen with lesser color change to a heavily included gem.

Cut

Due to the rarity of the gem and its tendency to have inclusions, most alexandrite isn’t very well cut. Stones cut for weight retention are often asymmetrical, and even these hold value if the gem is high quality. Oval and cushion cuts are the most common cuts for alexandrite.

Carat

Alexandrites above 0.25 carats are rare, but specimens of 10 carats and larger are available. Generally, larger stones exhibit weaker color changes and lesser clarity. Consequently, prices increase rapidly for larger stones of good quality.

alexandrite - large 26.75cts
26.75-ct cushion-cut alexandrite. The strong and attractive color change is unusual for a specimen of this size. Photograph by David Weinberg for Alexandrite.net. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Cat’s Eye Alexandrite

Like other chrysoberyl, alexandrite can exhibit a rare cat’s eye effect.  Here, darker tones are generally preferred to enhance the bright cat’s eye.  A cat’s eye with strong color change is similar in price per carat to a small, faceted stone with medium color changes.

alexandrite buying - cats eye ring
“Kinetic Ring” in 18k gold featuring an Ellensburg Blue agate, a cat’s eye tourmaline, and two cat’s eye alexandrites. © Gina Pankowski. Used with permission.

Synthetic Alexandrite

Due to its rarity, synthetic versions of alexandrite are a popular alternative to expensive and included natural stones. A gemologist will be able to identify synthetic material.

Alexandrite - Square-cut lab-created alexandrite ring
6.5 mm square cut lab-created alexandrite in a 3-stone setting with 3mm round moissanites, 10k white gold, and moissanite accents.  © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Czochralski´s Pulling Method

This method for synthesizing gem material involves slowly pulling a seed crystal out of melt. It can produce very large, eye-clean crystals. Once magnified, bubble inclusions and curved striations become visible. While an alexandrite produced by Czochralski method is cheaper than a natural stone, this is still an expensive method of gemstone creation.

Flux Grown Crystals

Alexandrites grown using flux methods have inclusions difficult to distinguish from natural inclusions. Still, you may find some flux seed material and see banding or growth lines. An experienced gemologist can identify flux-grown specimens.

Alexandrite Imitations

Some unscrupulous vendors will sell any stone that changes color as an alexandrite. Be wary of bargains. Also, always obtain a report from a gemological laboratory for a major purchase.

Synthetic Sapphire

Most commonly, synthetic color-change sapphire gems are passed off as alexandrites. These specimens contain vanadium to induce a blue to purple color change and were widely sold in the early 1900s. Even today, much of the material advertised online as “synthetic alexandrite” is this material.

alexandrite buying - synthetic corundum simulating alexandrite
Synthetic corundum fluoresces orange under ultraviolet light. This material is red-purple in incandescent light and greyish purple in natural light. “Alexandrite, synthetic corundum, 368nm fl” by Bob Fosbury. Public Domain.

Color-Change Garnet

Color-change garnets are spectacular in their own right. Garnet gems that change color generally change between colors adjacent on the color wheel, with a wide variety in colors available. Although also rare, the cost of these gems doesn’t come close to that of alexandrites.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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