A stone you will never get your hands on

Joint project of St.-Petersburg Mining museum and Forpost Nord-West.
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

The first thing a person probably pays attention to when gets to see a mineral is its color. It also plays a major role in defining the stone’s value. But what if the stone is able to change its appearance and may change from emerald to ruby right in front of your own eyes? As a matter of fact, a mineral in possession of such a rare feature was considered an asset of the premium quality in the Soviet Union. Throughout the whole period of existence of the USSR, there was not a single natural sample sold. Discovery of each mineral was also monitored closely. Moreover, even now many Russians are not aware that their grandmothers' jewels, kept as family relics, are nothing but the finely crafted by the Government fakes.

Alexandrite is a stone that may change its color, the same way as chameleons do. Originally found in Russia, this mineral became a symbol of Russian jewellery history. However, it is completely impossible to buy jewels with this stone in our country. Large crystals of good quality are extremely rare and almost never found in nature. Each discovery is therefore considered to be unique.

Фото ©

Named after the Emperor Alexander II, eponymous stone was a talisman for the Tsar. According to the legends, the monarch was always wearing a ring with this mineral. However, on the day he got fatally wounded, he did not carry the gem. Alexander received injuries incompatible with life and died. For a long time after those events, alexandrite was considered a symbol of grief. There was another tragic event. Nicholas II, Alexander's grandson, and all his family members were executed by the Bolsheviks not far from the place where the first alexandrite stone had been discovered, near Yekaterinburg. During the Second World War, the mineral received another name - the stone of loneliness. At that time, women started noticing that those who had jewels with alexandrite were more likely to get a message stating their husband’s death at the battlefield.

Фото © Christina Rutz

Alexandrite is a rare gemstone which is admired by connoisseurs of natural beauty. Surprisingly, but until the middle of the nineteenth century, Russian miners did not even get alexandrite stones off the ground, although the mineral is one of the rarest, if not the rarest, gemstones in the world, as well as one of the most expensive ones. Russian mineworkers believed that emeralds were unlikely to be discovered if alexandrite nuggets had been previously found on site.

In China, alexandrite changing its colour was typically associated with blood types - venous and arterial ones. In the Celestial Empire, it was believed that the mineral could improve heart function. The Hindus thought it could help people with drinking issues. Alexandrite is even called a stone-prophet. If the stone’s owner is in danger, it changes its color from green to red, regardless of the lighting. In the more critical situations, more yellow shades develop on the stone’s face.

It has been less than two hundred years since the mineral’s discovery, but in Russia there are no more deposits left. As the gemstone is one the most valuable and rarest gems, items made of alexandrite are even more expensive than diamonds. In fact, all jewels with alexandrite stone embedded into them are exclusive by default. Therefore, it is not surprising that some pieces of jewellery may cost a fortune - probably as much as luxury housing in London or New York would cost.

Фото © Harper’s Bazaar

At the end of the twentieth century, US researchers became the first to get artificial alexandrite, amazingly enough undistinguishable from the natural stone, even under lab conditions. The first shipment of artificial stones was not certified as synthetic production, and they were launched into the global market. As a result of this mistake, these minerals got mixed with natural samples. It is quite likely they will be never separated from each other. As of today, manufacturing artificial alexandrites is quite a costly process. For example, all laboratories, which were designed for this purpose in Russia, have long been shut down.