Gem/Gem Topic of the Month

Each month this section will feature either a topic of interest to gem lovers or one special gemstone with background on the material and its value.

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 August, 1998 (Revised, August, 2004)

Color Change Stones

One of the most interesting of the optical phenomena to be seen in gemstones is color change. This characteristic is sometimes confused with pleochroism, where a stone shows different colors when viewed down different crystal axes, such as in Andalusite and iolite. True color change, however, exhibits itself as a color difference over the whole stone when viewed in different light sources.

Typically one color is seen in incandescent light which is rich in red wavelengths, and another in fluorescent or natural daylight sources which are rich in the blue end of the spectrum. The most famous gem of this type, and the one to which all others are generally compared, is Alexandrite (the color change variety of the species chrysoberyl). The finest specimens from old Russian sources, and virtually unobtainable in today's market, switch from near ruby red to near emerald green with a change in the light source.

Present sources of Alexandrite, which ranges from poor to good in quality are India, Sri Lanka, Madgascar and South America. (The faceted stones below are from Sri Lanka, and the cat'seyes from India).

Alexandrite

Daylight Incandescent

Alexandrite Cat'seye

Daylight Incandescent

 

Under certain conditions, when a gemstone contains an element which reacts very selectively and strongly to red wavelengths (such as chromium) different body colors can be produced due to the richness of reds in incandescent light and their relative scarcity in either daylight or fluorescent light sources. Depending on the other elements present, various combinations of colors and strengths of the effect will be seen.

The three species most usually sold in color change forms are: chrysoberyl, sapphire and garnet. Many other gemstones may show the effect to a greater or lesser degree including: diaspore, tourmaline, spinel, iolite, and beryl. There are many global sources for these stones such as Turkey, Brazil, and various African countries.

CC Garnet, Daylight CC Garnet, Incandescent

Synthetic color change stones have been available nearly as long as synthetics themselves. First among these was color change synthetic corundum marketed as "Alexandrium" with true synthetic Alexandrite being a more recent addition.


Value

Fine Russian Alexandrite is at the apex of all color change stones in terms of both quality and value. Alexandrite from other sources such as Brazil, India and Sri Lanka varies in price depending primarily on the saturation of the colors and the strength of the change.

Other color change species are available at more modest prices, which for fine sapphires might reach into the same range as non-Russian Alexandrite, with the best grades of color change garnet somewhat lower. No established price ranges for most species are found as specimens are few and generally go to collectors.

As in all gems, size and clarity and color affect value, but additionally in this group are two factors: completeness of the color change and attractiveness/saturation of each color. A stone with a modest color change having two saturated and attractive colors may be as valuable or more valuable than one whose change is more dramatic but whose colors are greyed or browned.


Gemological Data

This varies with the species but does not vary, from the non color change forms of the same gemstone.

 

All text and images, unless otherwise designated, © 2004 Barbara Smigel


Stones Currently Available:

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Go to: Homepage -- what's new in faceted gems -- what's new in designer cabochons and gem carvings -- gem of the month -- gem of the month archive -- birthstone of the month -- key to all the codes used on the ACS site -- definitions of terms used on the ACS site -- how to order -- about ACS -- about the ACS cutters -- settings for these gems --faceting information -- purchase UltraTec equipment