June Mostly means a Bouquet of Pearls
June is one of a few months out of the year that has more than one gem associated with the month. One of the gems, Alexandrite is extremely rare and not very well known so, most of us June babies use the illustrious pearl, one of the finest gifts the universe has given mankind, as our birthstone.
A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a mollusk, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as baroque pearls, can occur.
The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, the pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable, and valuable. As well it should be, as the pearl is one of the most beautiful and amazing specimens of this world. I am fascinated by all pearls. South Sea pearls, Akoya pearls, freshwater pearls, and my favorite, Tahitian pearls.
Hardness of 2.5–4.5 on the Mohs scale
The Cultured Pearl
The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild but are extremely rare. These wild pearls are referred to as natural pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the majority of those currently sold. Pearls have been harvested and cultivated primarily for use in jewelry, but in the past were also used to adorn clothing. They have also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines, and paint formulations.
Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900s when the first commercial culturing of saltwater pearls began in Asia. Since the 1920s, cultured pearls have almost completely replaced natural pearls in the market—making this classic gemstone affordable for nearly any budget.
From the Pearl, with transition to the Alexandrite…
The alexandrite displays a color change (the alexandrite effect) dependent upon the nature of ambient lighting.
Because human vision is most sensitive to green light and least sensitive to red light, alexandrite appears greenish in daylight where the full spectrum of visible light is present, and reddish in incandescent light which emits less green and blue spectrum.
The controversial history of alexandrite dates to Imperial Russia, where it was first discovered in emerald mines near the Tokovaya River in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Its Finnish discoverer initially mistook it for emerald before realizing it changed colors under different light sources.
Hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs scale
History in Russia…
According to legend, this gemstone was named for Alexander II because it was discovered on the future czar’s birthday in 1834. Because alexandrite’s red and green hues matched Russia’s military colors, it became the official gemstone of Imperial Russia’s Tsardom.
Russian jewelers were fascinated by this rare chameleon-like gem. George Frederick Kunz, the master gemologist at Tiffany & Co., was also fond of it and produced a series of alexandrite rings between the late 19th and early 20th century. Similarly, Alexandrite was occasionally used for jewelry in Victorian England, as well.
After Russia’s mine deposits were exhausted, the popularity of alexandrite waned until new supplies were discovered in Brazil in 1987. Brazil, Sri Lanka, and East Africa are now the main sources for alexandrite, though these are not as vividly colored as the original Russian stones.
Because it’s so scarcely available, fine quality alexandrite is practically unaffordable to the public. Even lower quality stones are expensive and limited in supply.
In conclusion, alexandrite is extremely rare and since the 1960s, labs have grown synthetic alexandrite—not to be confused with simulated alexandrite, which is actually corundum or colored crystals infused with chromium or vanadium for color. Creating synthetic alexandrite is an expensive process, so even lab-grown stones can be costly.