And What Is So Rare As a Day In June?

Alexandrite Trio

And What Is So Rare As a Day In June?

“And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then if ever come perfect days…..”

-James Russell Lowell

Summer is Here

I am in my Happy Place….sitting on the steps to the front patio, shaded by the deep green of our Cherry, Capitol Pear, and River Birch trees. It’s early evening. The breeze is blowing. And millions of 17-year cicadas are singing in harmony.

This is Summer in Louisville.

Neighbor Jim used to recite the first lines of James Russell Lowell’s poem every June evening when I wandered over to chat and share a bourbon & soda or glass of wine with him and his wife, Carolyn. I miss them. Jim died several years ago at 93 and dear Carolyn has since moved to another home easier to navigate at age 87. Wonderful memories of our conversations spanning politics, Louisville history, art and books….lots of books.

“Emeralds by Day & Rubies by Night”

Alexandrite Trio
Alexandrite Trio

June is an elusive, magical time. How fitting that its birthstone gem is the Alexandrite, an elusive, magical stone.

Alexandrite was first discovered in 1830 by Russian miners searching for emeralds in the Ural Mountains. When they found the deposit during their daytime search, the stone shone a greenish-teal color. When the examined it later that night by firelight, the same stone glowed a reddish-purple. The miners were mystified, but mineralogists realized they’d found something unique. In 1834, it was named in honor of the then-future Czar of Russia Alexander II.

The same stone under 2 different lighting conditions: daylight & incandescent lighting

Deposits in the Ural Mountains were mined so extensively that the cache was depleted and thought to be on the verge of extinction. George Kunz, Tiffany & Company’s master gemologist loved the gem so much that he travelled to Russia in the early 20th century to buy up as much as he could. No one knows how many carats of Alexandrite he purchased, but it was well known that Tiffany had cornered the market on the stone. Few other jewelers could get their hands on it.

Fortunately for the rest of us, new deposits were found in Brazil in 1987 and along the border of Tanzania and Mozambique in 1993. Other deposits have been found in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Still, the stone remains very rare and highly prized for its stunning color change. The most dramatic color-change Alexandrites are from the Ural Mountains.

By the 1950’s, Alexandrite had joined the traditional list of birthstone gems as the modern alternative to June’s original birthstone, pearl.

Famous Alexandrites

The Whitney Alexandrite

Whitney Alexandrite
Whitney Alexandrite (1 stone shown under 2 different lighting conditions: incandescent lighting and daylight)

The 17-carat Whitney Alexandrite is one of the world’s most stunning examples of the stone. Donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gem Collection in 2009, the Whitney Alexandrite exhibits a bluish-teal color in daylight and a dramatic raspberry hue under incandescent lighting. It is especially unique in that most high-quality alexandrites are small, under 2 carats and those weighing 5-carats are considered extremely rare. Consider, then, the value of the 17-carat Whitney Alexandrite. A stunning specimen.

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43-carat Alexandrite (British Museum)

Knowing that 5-carat Alexandrites are super rare, take a look at this monster. This 43-carat Alexandrite lives in the British Museum. (Country of origin not known at time of this writing.)

June Birthstone

Alexandrite block original
Alexandrite block original

When I began planning the Birthstone Series of quilt blocks in 2017, I didn’t know much about Alexandrite. I thought it was a light bluish gemstone and nothing more. Silly me.

Had I done a bit more research, I know I would have reconsidered the coloration of the pattern, changing it to either a teal- or plum-hued block instead. The image above is the original quilt block colors and the 2 images below are the same quilt pattern reimagined in teal and raspberry hues.

Alexandrite Teal
Alexandrite Teal
Alexandrite Raspberry
Alexandrite Raspberry

The cut I chose for the June birthstone quilt pattern is an antique French cut. The French cut is considered to be one of the oldest faceting patterns in the world, originating as early as the 1400s. However, it gained popularity again in the 1800s and once again in the 1920s with the rise of the Art Deco movement in jewelry-making.

French Cut Gem Images2
French Cut Faceting

The French Cut is a simple cut with just 9 crown facets: the central table facet, 4 bezel facets & 4 girdle facets. The faceting on the pavilion helps make this cut shine.

French Cut Gem Images

You can find my Alexandrite Birthstone quilt pattern along with the other 11 Birthstone blocks, in my online shop. Each Birthstone patterns includes both the freezer paper pattern and a copy on regular paper that serves as your Key. Fabric bundles are also available. Shine on!