The Controversy Behind the Naming of Alexandrite

Alexandrite is connected to the importance of Russian gems and minerals, and it is marked with controversy and popular details. All of this hinges on the naming of the gemstone. A Finnish mineralogist by the name of Nils Gustaf Nordenskjold is credited with the discovery of alexandrite. As the story goes, Nordenskjold uncovered the gem on the same day as the tsaravitch Alexander’s 16th birthday, which was April 17, 1834. It is said he named the find “Alexandrite” in honor of the future Russian Empire Tsar.


Nordenskjold had been known for describing and discovering a wide-range of minerals throughout the years. Some of them were new to the world, while others were simply unknown to the people of Russia. He had a reputation and knack for gemstones, which earned him distinction in the world of mineralogy.


Returning to the story of the naming of the gem, it was impossible that Nordenskjold could have discovered and named alexandrite on the Tsar’s birthday. He discovered the gemstone after further examining a mineral sample that was given to him for analysis. Previously mislabeled as an emerald, the owner of the sample was baffled by the high level of hardness that the item possessed. It would actually turn out to be the alexandrite that Nordenskjold went on to describe and name.


So, when Nordenskjold got his hands on the specimen, he looked at it by the light of a candle and noticed that it had the ability to change colors. The green shade of gem was not a raspberry red. He later announced that this stone was a newly discovered form of a variation of chrysoberyl and wished to call it diaphanite, which in Greek, basically meant it had two appearances.


The owner of the specimen, whose name was
Perovskii decided that the gemstone was his ticket to getting close to the Imperial family, so in 1834, he presented it to the future Tsar, telling him that he named the gemstone in his honor.

Tsar Alexander

Some time passed and when traveling members of royalty visited the Urals in 1837 (which is the originating location of the gems discovery), they encountered an array of appealing stones from the area, which included alexandrites. The special color-changing properties of alexandrite were not made public until the description was published in 1842.


The naming of Alexandrite over the previously dubbed Diaphonite proved quite profitable for the recognition of the gemstone. The connection to the Tsar allowed the allure and appeal of the gem to flourish throughout time. It is hard to forget the attachment to this gemstone when it comes to the Russian monarchy. It is described as being green by day and red by night. It states that a “green morning is full of hope” while the redness of the gem is significant to the faltering and demise of the Russian monarchy.