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Stunning Amethyst is the purple gem par excellence. Ranging from light shades of lavender to intense royal purple, this gorgeous crystal has been highly esteemed throughout the ages for its beauty as well as its legendary power to soothe, stimulate and expand the mind. It is also known to balance our persona, helping us curb bad habits and overindulgence. This remarkable stone is found in different varieties on every continent, and whether polished, left natural or faceted for magnificent jewels, this is a gem whose beauty transcends its commonality.
What is Amethyst?
Amethyst is a stunning purple variety of the Quartz family, and is in fact its most prized and valuable kind. It is prevalently found in the form of small, stubby, pyramidal crystals, though it can also form within hollow geodes, at times measuring up to several tonnes in weight and 3 metres (10ft) in height. Tall prismatic sceptre crystals are rarer, and very sought after by collectors.
Though other purple minerals do exist in nature, Amethyst is the gem more commonly associated to the colour purple. This tint is due to impurities of iron or manganese compounds which produce tones ranging from light pink to deep royal purple. Its hues vary from cool, blue tones to warmer red-purple ones (the latter referred to as ‘raspberry’). The ideal grade is ‘Deep Russian’ or ‘Deep Siberian’, the name referring to the grading of intense deep purple crystals that were once found in Russia.
Characteristics of Amethyst
It can be said that colour is Amethyst’s most striking characteristic, which heavily influences the price placed on a given gem. As this purple stone is readily available in substantially large structures, its value is not primarily defined by its carat weight (this is of course different to most gemstones, the value of which instead increases exponentially in relation to the carat weight), rather the colour displayed becomes Amethyst’s most important consideration in setting a gem’s value. The deeper shades of pure purple tend to be the most valuable although gems with red or blue flashes are desirable and highly sought after.
Amethyst crystals occur with very few inclusions and are typically eye-clean, which means they have no visible inclusions when examined at a distance of 15cm (6in) from the naked eye. Amethyst gems commonly display colour zoning, usually consisting of angular zones which fade from darker to lighter shades of purple. Natural Amethyst is diachronic, displaying bluish violet and reddish violet. However, when heated at a high temperature it may lose said diachronism and turn yellow-orange, yellow-brown or dark brown, resembling Citrine. Furthermore, an Amethyst can be artificially darkened if heat treated and can fade in tone if overexposed to light.
This is an incredibly popular gem with jewellers and gemstone cutters, which means that it is possible to find a much wider variety of shapes and cuts of Amethyst than any other gem. The presence of colour zoning or slim layers of colour within these gem make for a challenging cut as one of the elements of the art of lapidary involves cutting the crystal in a way to make the colour of the finished gem appear homogeneous.
Varieties of Amethyst
The highest grade Amethyst is known as the ‘Deep Russian’ or ‘Deep Siberian’, which is exceptionally rare and highly valued. This variety is typically clear and deep purple (meaning purple makes up about 75% to 80% of the colour) with a slight blue hue, and more rarely a red hue. However, it is no longer produced as the Russian mines it originated from have dried up, making it all the rarer. However, the name ‘Siberian’ is often incorrectly utilised to describe any intensely coloured Amethyst gem.
Ametrine (also known as Golden Amethyst or Amethyst-Citrine Quartz) is a particularly striking variety of Amethyst. This is produced by a mixture of Amethyst and Citrine occurring in the same crystal, which creates a purple and yellow (or orange) bi-colour gem with an often sharply divided colour zoning. The unusual pigmentation is the product of iron impurities in different states of oxidation. Its main deposits are found in Bolivia and, though it has been famous since the 17th century, it has only become commercially available since the late 20th century. Ametrine gems were traditionally cut to display evenly split colours, but free-form ‘fantasy’ cuts that do not seek a balanced contrast between the two colours, as well as concave cutting which creates a blend of the two colours (known as Sunburst Ametrine), are becoming increasingly popular.
Other interesting varieties of this magnificent purple gem are:
- Amethyst with Milky (or sometimes Clear) Quartz - such mixture creates gorgeous crystals which are typically purple on the top and white (or clear) on the bottom or even, though more rarely, banded purple and white.
- Cactus Quartz – characterized by the spectacular formation consisting of a large crystal (or crystals) covered by a layer of spiky smaller crystals. This is a variety specific to Boekenhoutshoek (Magaliesberg) in South Africa, is a combination of Amethyst and Citrine.
- Canadian Amethyst – specifically found near Thunder Bay (Ontario) in Canada, this is an Amethyst stone with an internal coating of red Hematite under the surface of the crystal which gives it a red-orange tint.
- Lavender Amethyst – a pale purple variety.
- Veracruz Amethyst – typified by tall, prismatic crystals, found in Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Where can Amethyst be found?
Amethyst can be found in varying amounts on every continent, though the best varieties can be found in Brazil, Uruguay and Zambia and were once found in Siberia.
Amethyst was an incredibly expensive and rare gem until the 19th century, when its price dropped following the discovery and subsequent mining of the large deposits in Brazil. The Brazilian Minas Gerais produces vast quantities of large crystal-lined geodes nestled within volcanic rock. Furthermore, the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso, Espirito Santo, Bahia and Ceará are all producers of worldwide importance. Other countries in South America with notable Amethyst deposits are Uruguay, which produces deep coloured crystals in large geodes and pipes, and Bolivia with its Anahi Mine in Santa Cruz, especially noted for Ametrine.
A clear and very dark Amethyst was once found in Russia, mainly in the Siberian district of Ekaterinburg in the Urals, though these deposits are now dried up. These occurred in drusy cavities in granitic rocks and are considered the finest variety of Amethyst. Other Asiatic producers are South Korea and India (particularly in the south).
A further large global producer of Amethyst is Zambia, where over 1000 tonnes are produced a year. Other states in Africa with a notable production of this gem are Namibia and South Africa. In the former, crystals found in the Goboboseb Mountains, near Brandberg, are typically zoned in lighter to darker colours, while in the latter country deposits are mainly found in Boekenhoutshoek (Magaliesberg), in the Mkobola district, where crystals take the fascinating form of ‘Cactus Quartz’.
In the United States, Amethyst is found in several localities, the most prominent are the Mazatzal Mountain region in Arizona, the Red Feather Lakes in Colorado, Amethyst Mountain in Texas, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Diamond Hill in Rhode Island, known for producing rare sceptres. Tall, elongated prismatic crystals are exclusively found in Mexican localities such as Las Vigas de Ramirez and Piedras Parado (in Veracruz) and Amatitlan (in Guerro), while plates of stubby crystals are a product of Guanajuato. Amethyst is relatively common in Canada too, where it is found in Ontario and Nova Scotia. The largest North American mine is found in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where specimens typically present an internal coating of red Hematite. In Nova Scotia, rounded Amethyst pebbles worn by water can be found along the beaches in the area of Digby, along the bay of Fundy.
Finally, in Europe a lilac-coloured, drusy Amethyst has been recently uncovered in Nyiri, northeastern Hungary, while the world’s largest opencast Amethyst vein can be found in Maissau, lower Austria.
World famous Amethyst masterpieces
Tiffany Amethyst – a 56 carat cushion cut gem set in an 18 carat yellow gold necklace designed by Tiffany and Co. circa 1915. This stunning example of Art Nouveau jewellery is currently held at the Smithsonian Institution.
Morris Amethyst Brooch – a 96 carat heart shaped Amethyst surrounded by old European cut diamonds and mounted on a platinum top with a yellow gold undercarriage. Probably crafted during the Edwardian period (1901-1915), this brooch was donated to the Smithsonian Institution by Mrs G. M. Morris in 1973.
Duchess of Windsor Necklace – designed in 1947 by Cartier and commissioned by Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. This is a bib-style necklace consisting of a heart shaped Amethyst centrepiece, 29 step-cut Amethysts, Turquoise cabochons and Diamonds set in gold and platinum.
Queen Silvia’s Tiara – made with Amethysts originally owned by the French Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon I, this tiara is still worn by the Swedish royal ladies today. It features oval Amethysts surrounded by Diamonds, separated by Diamond elements in the French Empire style.
Delphi ‘Sapphire’ – looted from the Indian Temple of Indra in 1857 during a horrific mutiny, this gem followed an enthralling journey to the Natural History Museum in London (all which is noted on a typewritten note stored with the gemstone at the museum), and is said to be cursed. The gem is set in a silver ring and decorated with rather mysterious astrological and alchemical signs.
Properties of Amethyst
Amethyst is considered a remarkable stone of contentment and spirituality, appreciated for its capacity to calm the mind and inspire a deep meditative state. This ability to simultaneously soothe and expand the mind also enhances passion and creativity, strengthens intuition and the imagination and refines one’s thinking processes. Furthermore, this gorgeous gem helps put thought into action and aids the assimilation of new ideas.
Amethyst is a stone associated to balance and is often dedicated to curbing bad habits and overindulgence. It is said that if placed on the navel, Amethyst is able to provide the personal strength needed to free oneself from addictive personalities, and quit addictions such those to smoking, drinking, drug use and/or unhealthy physical lust.
It is also referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ as it is known to calm and soothe the mind. It may help with relieving obsessive tendencies and also hyperactivity and, if placed under a pillow while sleeping or rubbed on the forehead, it can stimulate pleasant dreams and even treat insomnia. It is particularly effective on children, as a means to ward off fear of the dark or recurring nightmares. Furthermore, this is known to be a great gem for negotiators, diplomats and business people as it can calm impassioned temperaments and aid the ability to debate.
As a talisman, it is worn to enhance the ability to focus and to strive for success. Also, in its darker shades it makes a particularly effective talisman to stimulate creative processes. It is in fact often utilised by artists, composers, inventors, poets and painters as it is valued for assisting those who strive to create something new and original while making use of more traditional methods and tools.
Finally, Amethyst gems are known as ‘all-healers’, as they are considered a tremendously effective crystal for healing not only people, but also animals and plants. Geodes or unpolished gems are found to be particularly effective.
Amethyst is traditionally the birthstone for the month of February.
This mesmerizing crystal is associated to the elements of Air and Water.
Amethyst has a high frequency energy which can purify the aura of any negative energy or attachments, and also forms a protective shield of luminous energy around the body, encouraging those under its influence to remain centred and focused. It is known for enhancing cognitive perception and aiding the development of psychic and intuitive abilities, initiating greater understanding and wisdom.
Its energy stimulates two chakras: that of the Brow and that of the Crown. The former, also called the Third Eye, is at the centre of our perception and consciousness, and informs our everyday awareness of the world. Darker, bluer Amethyst crystals can be used to treat any imbalances within this chakra making us receptive to new ideas, visions and dreams, and creating space for our thoughts and internal communication to be vibrant and open. The Crown Chakra instead is our gateway to the universe that expands beyond our bodies. It is the source of our spirituality and is able to connect us with higher planes of existence and universal energy, influencing how we respond to the world around us. When this chakra is in balance, we are more aware of our place in the universe and may, for example, understand and face setbacks as an essential part of life. Imbalances to this Chakra can be treated with the life force emanating from light violet Amethyst crystals.
Furthermore, Amethyst can protect against ill-wishing and psychic harm by transforming negative energies and returning them to the universe as loving, positive energy.
Amethyst in ancient lore
The name ‘Amethyst’ derives from the ancient Greek "amethystos", translated as "not drunken" (from a-, "not" + methustos, "intoxicated"). Ancient Greeks and Romans considered the gem a potent antidote against drunkenness, which is probably why wine goblets were often studded with Amethyst or even carved from it. Furthermore, it was thought that if worn on the body, especially if placed on the navel, an Amethyst gem could have a sobering effect and could prevent overindulgence and drunkenness.
Ancient legend links this gem to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (Bacchus to the Romans). Legend goes that the god felt insulted after being shunned by a passing mortal. and swore to take vengeance on the next man or woman to cross his path. The unfortunate soul was a beautiful maiden by the name of Amethyst, a devout follower of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, the moon and childbirth (Diana to the Romans). Dionysus set two hungry tigers onto Amethyst and filled his goblet with wine, ready to enjoy the event. In order to protect Amethyst, Artemis turned her into a clear Quartz statue. Though the maiden was indeed spared from harm, the spell could not be reversed. Dionysus was instantly struck by a sense of guilt and wept tears of wine over the statue, staining it and creating the stunning purple gem we call Amethyst.
Some attribute the creation of this myth to the French poet Remy Belleau (1528-1577). In his poem "L'Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d'Amethyste" (Amethyst or the loves of Bacchus and Amethyste), Belleau similarly narrates that Bacchus was pursuing the beautiful Amethyst, who refused his affections. Amethyst prayed to the goddess Diana to remain chaste and in answering the prayer, Diana transformed the maiden into a statue of crystalline clear Quartz. Bacchus was humbled by such desire to remain chaste and poured a goblet of wine over the stone statue, turning the crystal purple.