The mineral or gemstone chrysoberyl, not to be confused with beryl, is an aluminate of beryllium with the formula BeAl2O4. Chrysoberyl is transparent to translucent and sometimes chatoyant. An interesting feature of uncut crystals of chyrsoberyl are the cyclic twins called trillings. These twinned crystals have a hexagonal appearance, but are the result of a triplet of twins with each "twin" taking up 120 degrees of the cyclic trilling. The word chrysoberyl is derived from the Greek chrysos, "golden," and beryllos, of uncertain etymology.
Chrysoberyl occurs in granitic rocks, pegmatites and mica schists; often it is found in alluvial deposits. It has also been found in contact metamorphic deposits of dolomitic marble with corundum, and in fluorine bearing skarns. Most chrysoberyl is recovered from river sands and gravels.
The alexandrite variety displays a color change (alexandrite effect) dependent upon light, along with strong pleochroism. Alexandrite results from small scale replacement of aluminium by chromium oxide, which is responsible for alexandrite's characteristic green to red color change. Alexandrite from the Ural Mountains in Russia is green by daylight and red by incandescent light. Other varieties of alexandrite may be yellowish or pink in daylight and a columbine or raspberry red by incandescent light. The optimum or "ideal" color change would be fine emerald green to fine purplish red, but this is exceedingly rare. Because of their rarity and the color change capability, "ideal" alexandrite gems are some of the most expensive in the world.
According to a widely popular but controversial story, alexandrite was discovered by the Finnish mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskjold, (1792 -1866) on the tsaravitch Alexanders sixteenth birthday on April 17, 1834 and named alexandrite in honor of the future Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The name of the first person to actually find this stone has been lost in the mists of time. However, the first person to bring it to public attention, and ensure that it would be forever associated with the Imperial family was Count Lev Alekseevich Perovskii (1792-1856.)
Although it was Nordenskjold who discovered alexandrite, he could not possibly have discovered and named it on Alexander's birthday. Nordensljold's initial discovery occurred as a result an examination of a newly found mineral sample he had received from Perovskii, which he identified it as emerald at first. Confused with the high hardness, he decided to continue his examinations. Later that evening, while looking at the specimen under candlelight, he was surprised to see that the color of the stone had changed to raspberry-red instead of green. Later, he confirmed the discovery of a new variety of chrysoberyl, and suggested the name "diaphanite"(from the Greek "di" two and "aphanes", unseen or "phan", to appear, or show).
The finest alexandrites were found in the Ural Mountains, the largest cut stones being in the 30 carat (6 g) range, though many fine examples have been discovered in Sri Lanka (up to 65 cts.), India (Andhra Pradesh), Brazil, Myanmar, and especially Zimbabwe (small stones usually under 1 carat (200 mg) but with intense color change). Overall, stones from any locale over 5 carats (1 g) would be considered extremely rare, especially gems with fine color change. Alexandrite is both hard and tough, making it very well suited to wear in jewelry.
The gem has given rise to the adjective "alexandritic", meaning any transparent gem or material which shows a noted change in color between natural and incandescent light. Some other gem varieties of which alexandritic specimens have been found include sapphire, garnet, and spinel.
Some gemstones described as lab-grown (synthetic) alexandrite are actually corundum laced with trace elements (e.g., vanadium) or color-change spinel and are not actually chrysoberyl. As a result, they would be more accurately described as simulated alexandrite rather than synthetic.
Synthetic alexandrite is used as an active laser medium. Alexandrite laser crystals tend to be round, with a pale brown tint.
A chrysoberyl gemstone featuring a somewhat asymmetric, "native" oval mixed cut.Translucent yellowish chatoyant chyroberyl is called cymophane or cat's eye. Cymophane has its derivation also from the Greek words meaning wave and appearance, in reference to the chatoyancy sometimes exhibited. In this variety, microscopic tubelike cavities or needlelike inclusions of rutile occur in an orientation parallel to the c-axis producing a chatoyant effect visible as a single ray of light passing across the crystal. This effect is best seen in gemstones cut in cabochon form perpendicular to the c-axis. The color in yellow chrysoberyl is due to Fe3+ impurities.
Although other minerals such as tourmaline, scapolite, corundum, spinel and quartz can form "cat's eye" stones similar in appearance to cymophane, the jewelry industry designates these stones as "quartz cat's eyes", or "ruby cat's eyes" and only chrysoberyl can be referred to as "cat's eye" with no other designation.