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Alexandrite VS Emerald: Which gemstone is better?

by Madonna

When it comes to choosing a gemstone, the decision often comes down to personal preference, budget, and the specific qualities of the stones in question. Two gemstones that frequently captivate attention are alexandrite and emerald. Both are renowned for their beauty and unique characteristics, but how do they compare against each other? In this article, we will explore the origins, properties, market values, and symbolism of alexandrite and emerald to help you make an informed choice.

Origins and Discovery

Alexandrite: The Enigmatic Chameleon

Alexandrite is a rare and extraordinary gemstone, best known for its remarkable color-changing ability. Discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia in the early 19th century, alexandrite was named in honor of Tsar Alexander II. Its unique ability to change color—from green in daylight to red under incandescent light—was said to mirror the colors of the Russian imperial military. This phenomenon, known as the “alexandrite effect,” makes it one of the most fascinating and sought-after gemstones.


Emerald: The Ancient Gem of Kings

Emerald, on the other hand, has a much older history. Known and cherished since antiquity, emeralds were mined in Egypt as early as 1500 BCE. The legendary Cleopatra was famously passionate about emeralds, often wearing them as part of her royal adornments. These stunning green gems have been prized by various civilizations, from the ancient Incas to the Mughal emperors of India, making emeralds one of the most storied gemstones in history.


Geological Formation and Properties

Formation and Crystal Structure

Both alexandrite and emerald belong to the beryl family of minerals, but they differ significantly in their chemical compositions and formation processes.


Alexandrite: Alexandrite is a variety of the mineral chrysoberyl and forms under high-pressure, low-temperature conditions in metamorphic rocks. Its chemical composition includes beryllium aluminum oxide with trace amounts of chromium, which is responsible for its color-changing properties.

Emerald: Emeralds are a variety of beryl, with a chemical composition of beryllium aluminum silicate. The presence of chromium and sometimes vanadium gives emeralds their rich green color. Emeralds typically form in hydrothermal veins or in pegmatites, often associated with mica schist and shale.

Physical Properties

Hardness: On the Mohs scale of hardness, alexandrite scores an impressive 8.5, making it one of the harder and more durable gemstones suitable for everyday wear. Emeralds are slightly softer, with a Mohs hardness of 7.5 to 8, making them more susceptible to scratches and damage if not handled carefully.

Clarity: Both gemstones can exhibit inclusions, but their clarity is judged differently. Alexandrites are generally expected to have fewer inclusions than emeralds, which are often known for their “jardin” or garden of inclusions. These inclusions can add character to an emerald but can also affect its durability and value.

Optical Phenomena and Color

Alexandrite: The Master of Color Change

The most striking feature of alexandrite is its color change. In daylight, alexandrite typically appears green to bluish-green due to the absorption of yellow and red light. Under incandescent light, it transforms to a purplish-red or raspberry color as it absorbs more blue and green light. This optical phenomenon is due to the complex way in which alexandrite’s crystal structure interacts with light, making each stone unique.

Emerald: The Quintessential Green

Emeralds are celebrated for their vivid green color, which can range from bluish-green to yellowish-green. The finest emeralds exhibit a pure, intense green with high saturation. Unlike alexandrite, emeralds do not change color under different lighting conditions. Their value is heavily influenced by the uniformity and intensity of their green hue.

Market Value and Rarity

The Value of Rarity

Both alexandrite and emerald can command high prices, but their market values are influenced by different factors.

Alexandrite: Natural alexandrite is incredibly rare, especially in sizes over one carat. The color change effect, combined with its scarcity, makes high-quality alexandrite one of the most expensive gemstones in the world. Stones with a strong color change and minimal inclusions are particularly valuable.

Emerald: While emeralds are also rare, they are more commonly found in larger sizes compared to alexandrite. However, high-quality emeralds with rich color and good clarity can still fetch astronomical prices. Colombian emeralds, known for their exceptional color and quality, are among the most valuable.

Enhancements and Treatments

Common Practices in the Gem Trade

Both alexandrite and emerald often undergo treatments to enhance their appearance, but the types and implications of these treatments can differ.

Alexandrite: Alexandrite is typically untreated, as its natural color change is its most prized feature. However, synthetic alexandrites and imitations are common, so certification from a reputable gemological laboratory is crucial when purchasing.

Emerald: Emeralds are frequently treated with oils or resins to fill surface-reaching fractures and improve clarity. These treatments can enhance the gem’s appearance but may require special care, as the fillings can deteriorate over time or with exposure to heat and chemicals. Untreated emeralds with good clarity are exceptionally rare and highly prized.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

The Mystique of Alexandrite

Alexandrite is often associated with transformation and balance due to its color-changing nature. It is considered a stone of good fortune and creativity, believed to bring emotional stability and enhance intuition. In metaphysical circles, alexandrite is thought to align the mind, body, and spirit, promoting harmony and aiding in decision-making.

Emerald: A Symbol of Rebirth and Love

Emeralds have long been symbols of rebirth, growth, and fertility. In ancient times, they were believed to provide foresight and protect against evil. Emeralds are also associated with love and passion, often given as tokens of affection. In the modern era, emeralds continue to be popular choices for engagement rings and other significant jewelry, representing lasting love and commitment.

See Also: Emerald Used For Spiritually

Investment Potential

Alexandrite: A Rare Collector’s Gem

Given its rarity and unique properties, alexandrite has significant investment potential. The limited supply of high-quality natural alexandrite means that its value is likely to appreciate over time. Collectors and investors often seek out alexandrites with a strong color change and good clarity, making these stones a sound investment for the future.

Emerald: Timeless and Resilient

Emeralds have a long history of retaining and increasing in value. High-quality emeralds from renowned sources like Colombia, Zambia, and Brazil are highly coveted. While treated emeralds are more common and affordable, untreated emeralds with excellent color and clarity can be valuable assets. The enduring appeal and historical significance of emeralds ensure their place as a stable and attractive investment.

Choosing the Right Gemstone for You

Factors to Consider

When deciding between alexandrite and emerald, consider the following factors:

Personal Preference: Your aesthetic preference is paramount. Alexandrite’s color-changing property offers a dynamic visual experience, while emerald’s lush green hue provides timeless elegance.

Occasion and Use: Consider how you plan to wear the gemstone. Alexandrite’s hardness makes it suitable for everyday wear, while emeralds, though slightly softer, are perfect for special occasions or settings where they will be protected.

Budget: Both gemstones can be expensive, but the rarity of high-quality alexandrite often makes it more costly than emeralds. Determine your budget and seek stones that offer the best value for your investment.

Symbolism: If the symbolic meaning of the gemstone is important to you, think about what each stone represents and how it aligns with your values or the occasion for which you are purchasing the gem.

Certification: Always seek certification from a reputable gemological laboratory to ensure the authenticity and quality of your gemstone. This is especially crucial for alexandrite, given the prevalence of synthetic and imitation stones.


Deciding whether alexandrite or emerald is the “better” gemstone ultimately depends on your individual needs and preferences. Alexandrite offers a mesmerizing color change and rarity that appeals to collectors and those seeking a truly unique gem. Emeralds, with their rich history and iconic green hue, provide timeless beauty and a sense of connection to ancient traditions.

Both gemstones have their own set of remarkable qualities, making either a worthy addition to any jewelry collection. By considering the factors outlined in this article—origins, properties, value, treatments, symbolism, and personal preference—you can make an informed decision that aligns with your tastes and goals. Whether you choose the transformative allure of alexandrite or the enduring elegance of emerald, you are sure to enjoy a gemstone that brings beauty and meaning to your life.


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