Alexandrite was named in honor of Russian Czar Alexander II because it was rumored to have been discovered on his birthday in 1834, though that history is debated. While alexandrite might not have been discovered on Czar Alexander's birthday, because it was discovered in Russia and because it does change from green to red--the two colors of the Russian flag--naming the stone after Alexander was still a reasonable decision. Alexandrite was discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in the 1830s, though probably not on Czar Alexander II's birthday and probably not by the Finnish mineralogist credited with it. The first name proposed for alexandrite was "diaphanite," a combination of the two Greek words di meaning "two" and phan, which means "to appear."
Although the Ural deposit closed after only a few decades, limited mining continues today. Little Russian alexandrite is available and those lucky enough to own one truly are keepers of a gem from a bygone era.
Alexandrite was later discovered in Sri Lanka and this source continues to produce stones of significant size. Alas, the purity of color in Sri Lankan alexandrite never quite matches that of other sources.
For decades, there was little fine alexandrite available until the 1960's and 1970's when some Brazilian deposits were discovered. A major new find was made in 1987 at Hematita in Brazil.
In 1996 the tribal peoples of Andhra Pradesh unearthed the first hints of alexandrite in the Araku Valley. The discovery of Indian alexandrite has certainly had its ups and downs from much needed mining regulation in 1999 to the destruction of coastal mines during the 2004 tsunami.
Today, Indian alexandrite primarily hails from Narsipattnanm, 62 miles inland from the first discovery in Vishnakahaputnam. It is characterized by an intense green with an incredible color change that ranges from vibrant amethyst to lilac to red to reddish purple. Formed hundreds of millions of years ago during the Paleozoic era, it is believed that the pegmatitic rocks found at the location of alexandrite’s discovery in Russia and at Narsipattnanm are the same. Mining Indian alexandrite is a dangerous business and the tribal miners risk life and limb tunneling muddy soil to a depth of nearly 100 feet to find rocks rich with tiny clusters of alexandrite. As with other mines containing pegmatitic rocks, Brazilian alexandrite is found in rugged areas that can be difficult to access.
Mines in Madagascar, Tanzania and Mozambique, have been producing good quality alexandrite for several years. African alexandrite is typically located in wet regions near rivers and mined by sifting through river beds by hand to unearth the alexandrite-rich alluvial deposits. Brazil and India remain the primary sources of fine alexandrite today.