Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rare Gemstone : Alexandrite and the Last of the Romanovs

By on Sunday, August 29, 2010 8 Comments

Alexandrite is a very rare and valuable form of chrysoberyl. It is a pleochroic gemstone i.e. one which can display color changes. It appears green in daylight but turns to red, mauve or brown under artificial light. It was first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia and was named after Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881).


He was the third last of the Romanovs to rule Russia. The green-red color of the gemstone seems to represent his nation's bloody history right through the 19th century until the final assassination of Nicholas II, his grandson and his family in a cellar in Ekaterinberg in 1917. That's nearly 100 years of tears and bloodshed not just for the Royal family but for the suffering Russian people.

Alexander II was known as the reforming Tsar or Alexander the Liberator. In the aftermath of the Crimean War which humiliated and impoverished Russia, he initiated sweeping reforms to rid his administration of corruption, develop Russia's natural resources, lift harsh censorship and most importantly freed the serfs in 1861. Russian serfs were the last of European peasants to gain their freedom. He initiated the greatest changes in his country since his ancestor Peter the Great.

But even with his reforms, change did not come fast enough for some of his subjects. Others thought he moved too fast. He was thus the target of a number of assassination attempts. He bled to death in 1881 when a bomb was thrown at his feet.

Alexandrite and diamond ring

His heir, Alexander III, was a 6' 6" bearish autocrat who was totally unlike his liberal father. Having watched his father die, he retaliated harshly and had the assassins executed. Although only one Jewish girl was involved in the plot, the anti-Semitic Alexander nevertheless ordered the wholesale attack on Russian Jews through a series of pogroms. Many of them were forced to emigrate to places like America.

He set the clock back by reversing all his father's reforms and became the brutal ruler his grandfather was. His rough edges were however softened a little by his loving and popular wife, Maria Fedorovna, formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She was the beloved sister of England's Queen Alexandra (see my past mini-biography, Queen Alexandra's Jewels). A cultivated woman, it was Maria who introduced the Russian court to Faberge jewelry and the famous bejeweled eggs.


Alexander III was Russia's last autocrat. He died early of kidney disease. His son and successor, the doomed Nicholas II was the total opposite of his father - inexperienced and unprepared. Slight in stature, he was to be a weak and ineffectual ruler. He was essentially apathetic and not up to the task of governing a vast nation in turmoil. During his reign, Russia went from a superpower to an economic and military disaster.

He was devoted to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, and his family. But his actions were to doom them all, cost millions of Russian lives and brought about wrenching social change in the form of revolution. Some called him Bloody Nicholas.


His wife was a carrier of a cruel genetic disease passed down from Queen Victoria which would make their last child and only son, Alexei, a hemophiliac. Surely it is a hell on Earth for parents who can do nothing for a little boy screaming in agony for hours on end when the bleeding would not stop.

State museum of political history of RussiaRasputin via Wikipedia His illness was kept hidden from the Russians for fear that he be thought weak. So when the Tsarina started to depend on a disreputable self-styled monk, Rasputin, people thought the worse of her because Rasputin was frequently drunk and promiscuous.

She truly believed the rascal  was able to help her son. After one bad bleeding episode when Alexei was close to death, she called upon Rasputin who reassured her via telegram,  "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much."  Since Alexei did recover, from that time onwards, Rasputin could do no wrong as far as the Tsarina was concerned.

Nicholas let her do as she saw fit because he had greater problems on hand. Indeed, he started to depend on her more and more to rule Russia as he tried to lead the Russian army at the front during the First World War. So what were people supposed to think if she wouldn't listen to seasoned administrators but a dirty, debauched impostor? Nicholas refused to remove Rasputin which eventually led to the "monk's" murder by Russian aristocrats.

Russia was so ill-prepared for the First World War and so ineptly led, the troops were slaughtered in their millions. The country was disintegrating into chaos and civil war. People were starving. His subjects rebelled and Nicholas lost control of the army. He was forced to abdicate in 1917 and he and his family were exiled to different places. Nicholas believed right to the end that help was at hand and they would be sent abroad.

Last picture of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in captivity, 1917
The Bolsheviks (ultimately the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) were led by Lenin. In his meticulously researched book, Russian author, Edvard Radzinsky linked the order for the execution of the Royal Family to Lenin who wanted to deny Trotsky, another Bolshevik, a showcase trial with himself as prosecutor.

The documents he unearthed enabled him to piece together the last days and the assassination of the Romanovs. They, and some of their retainers, were sent down to a small cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg in 1918, supposedly for their "protection". There they were all shot, bayoneted or bludgeoned to death.

The girls, the Grand Duchesses (aged 15-23), were still alive after the initial barrage of bullets. The bullets actually bounced off them and ricocheted around the room which horrified the executioners. They were later found to have been wearing corsets stuffed with 1.3 kg of diamonds and other hard jewels. Their mother, the Tsarina, was wearing only a belt of pearls which gave her no protection - she died almost immediately. The murderers disposed of their bodies which were not found and identified until decades later.

The remains of the last two "missing" Romanovs , the hemophiliac Alexei and his youngest sister, Maria were found and identified last year by Russian scientists thus putting an end to any possibility that some of them survived. In the last 90 years since their deaths, hundreds have claimed to be survivors.

Some have called alexandrite a prophetic gemstone because it turns red in a dying day just as the Romanov dynasty ended in terrible bloodshed.

Other Related Russian posts:
References
Edvard Radzinsky  (translated from Russian by Marian Schwatz). The Last Tsar : The Life and Death of Nicholas II. Doubleday, New York.
John Bergamini The Tragic Dynasty

Alexandrite : Tsarstone Collectors Guide

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8 comments:

  1. A very beautiful stone, and a very interesting piece of history.

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  2. Another one of your wonderful posts, Pearl, linking gemstones to history. Couldn't stop reading and when I got to the end, I wished there was more! That's definitely a sign of a good book, haha.
    Susan

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  3. I find Russian history interesting, so I enjoyed this blog. The stone is beautiful. I did not realize it changed color.

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  4. Yes! Methinks you have written many posts that would make a fascinating book collection. I almost scrolled past this one and am glad I stopped to read.

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  5. Perhaps one day, I will write a book!!

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  6. Your title

    A Journal of Gems Throughout History ..

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  7. This is great! Thank you for writing it!

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  8. Terrific post Pearl. I did a book report on this family many years ago (1968) and at that time they were still looking for a link for survivors. Yes, you must write a book!!BB

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