Birthstones: February - Amethyst
A hue that is associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, magic and peace, purple in all of its tones has enchanted people for centuries. In fact, throughout history purple was one of the most expensive colours to produce. Naturally occurring in Amethyst, this gemstone takes centre-stage during February, ranging from deep cadbury-hues to ethereal lilac dreams.
As Amethyst has such an intriguing history and qualities, we delve deeper below into this February birthstone below.
What Makes An Amethyst?
Amethyst is a form of Quartz, yet what sets Amethyst apart from its other quartz cousins is its hue - a stunning shade of violet. The signature shade itself is from irradiation, and the amount of irradiation can affect whether it is a light pinkish violet colour to deep purple.
Natural Amethyst Stone, Source - The Crystal Age
Amethysts can also be pleochroic, this means that when the light hits, they exhibit secondary hues of red and blue. Yet to be characterised as an amethyst, the primary hue must always be a shade of purple.
The ideal, and most sought after form of Amethyst, is Deep Siberian Amethyst which has a primary hue of 75 to 80% with 15 to 20% of blue and some red secondary hues.
Antique 1910 Deep Siberian Amethyst Ring, Source - Romanov Russia Pinterest
Yet, even though deeply saturated Amethysts are desired, another fashionable Amethyst is the ‘Rose De France’ which is a very light shade of purple. Associated with femininity, this shade is akin to pale lilac and lavender.
Rose de France Amethyst, Source - KSCrystals
Other popular forms of Amethyst are Moroccan Amethyst and Zambian Amethyst.
Amethyst is also sensitive to light and irradiation, meaning it can pale through time if exposed to harsh light sources and also deepen if exposed to adequate irradiation.
Where Amethysts are Mined
Like most forms of Quartz, Amethysts are mined globally, due to the fact they can occur in a variety of different types of rock. Yet, a large source occurs in large geodes in the volcanic rocks of Minas Gerais in Brazil. In fact, Amethysts are abundant throughout Brazil and also in Uruguay.
Uruguay Amethyst Geode, Source - The Mermaid of Portobello
Large deposits of Amethyst can be also found in Nassau in the lower region of Austria as it is the largest open cast vein of Amethyst in the world. What’s more, fine qualities of Amethyst can be found throughout Russia, notably in the Ekaterinburg district, where Amethyst forms on cavities of granitic rocks.
Another one of the largest sources of Amethyst is in Zambia, with an annual production of 1000 tonnes.
Zambian Amethyst, Source - Pinterest
South India, South Korea and the United States are also notable producers of Amethyst.
History and Significance of Amethysts
Amethyst has accrued a variety of different meanings throughout history.
Like most gemstones, Amethysts have been widely incorporated into jewellery, decoration, religion and spirituality for centuries. In fact, the earliest known pieces of Amethyst jewellery originated from Ancient Egypt. Then, amethyst was a popular choice for intaglios, portraying emperors, soldiers, myths and more.
Amethyst Scarab, ca. 1981-1950 BC, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The name ‘Amethyst’ originated from the Biblical Greek word “amethystos” which loosely translates too ‘not drunken’. A snowball effect ensued, as it became to believe that these violet-hued gemstones could protect against drunkenness.
In Paganism, one of the world’s oldest religions, Amethyst was a focal gemstone for meditation, healing rites and as a scrying tool. When placed on the patient, Amethyst helped cleanse, purify and heal the mind body and soul, calming the patient’s irrational fears, balancing emotions and preventing nightmares.
Through early Christianity to the Middle Ages, Amethysts grew in popularity, resulting in a myriad of different associations and beliefs. In fact, during the ‘Old World’, the time period which historians refer to before the ‘New World’ was discovered, Amethysts were considered to be one of the cardinal gems. The cardinal gems were gemstones that were selected for their rarity and precious nature, making them far greater than any other gemstones. These included Diamond, Emerald, Ruby and Sapphire (which still stand today), and once upon a time Amethyst was with them.
Byzantine Gold Cross Necklace with Amethysts and Emerald Plasma, 6th - 7th Century, Source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Byzantine St Theodore Cameo Amethyst Pendant, ca. 1100, Istanbul, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Especially in early Christianity, Amethyst was synonymous with Christ, perhaps lending to why purple is also associated with royalty. What’s more, at this time, the lighter Amethyst hues represented Christ’s purity of spirit, and the deeper purplish-red hues represented the chastening and purifying of Christ’s suffering. This culminated in another belief where, as the colours alluded to the wounds of Christ, that Amethysts could help heal wounds. This belief alone meant that many Medieval soldiers wore Amethysts as a stone of protection in battle, as it could heal any wounds they received.
Victorian Gothic revival Gold Amethyst Cross, Source - Lillicoco Archive
Portuguese Table-Cut Amethyst Cross, ca. 1680-1700, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
What’s more, in the Old Testament, Amethyst is mentioned as one of the 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and one of the 12 gemstones adorning the breastplate of high Priest Aaron in Exodus 39. Today, Amethyst and Christianity are still intertwined; ecclesiastical rings like Bishops Rings are often made with Amethysts with their diocese’s intaglio.
14th Century Amethyst Ring 'As with great love' inscription, ca.1400, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
During the Renaissance, the belief that Amethysts could help prevent drunkenness was renewed. The French Poet Remy Belleau created the story of Bacchus and Amethyst in 1576. Bacchus was the Roman God of wine and within Belleau’s tale a beautiful maiden crossed the path of Bacchus on her way to pray at Diana’s temple. Bacchus was at this time incredibly angry for receiving slight. His anger got the better of him, deciding to unleash his two guardian tigers on the maiden. Yet, before the tigers could reach her, Diana intervened, turning the maiden into a pure clear Quartz stone. Immediately, Bacchus was overcome with remorse, and to atone for his actions he poured wine over the stone, turning the crystal into a deep Violet shade, and consequently, Amethyst was born!
17th Century Amethyst Cupid Cameo Pendant, 1600-1650, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
French Amethyst Grape Earrings, ca.1851, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
As mentioned earlier, the colour purple has become synonymous with royalty and divination through history, and Amethyst’s role and use in society has helped garner this. From being one of the cardinal gems in the Old World to associations with Christ, this gem was widely used to decorate English regalia. Although in the 18th and 19th century, large deposits of Amethyst were found in Brazil, consequently depreciating its value. However, Queen Elizabeth II still has a special amethyst jewellery set, and a large Amethyst remains within the Sovereigns Sceptre in the famous crown jewels.
The Sovereigns Sceptre, Source - The Crown Jewels, Historic Royal Palaces
It’s not just Christianity in which Amethyst was popular. In Eastern cultures, such as in Tibet, Amethysts were considered sacred to the Buddha. Therefore, prayer beads, a form of Buddhist jewellery, were widely made from Amethyst.
Due to all of these meanings and the abundance of Amethyst in both history and mines, there have been a few famous Amethysts found and set into jewellery. One of the earliest examples is the reported ring of St Valentine (another important saint day in February!). Apparently St Valentine wore an Amethyst ring which was carved into a shape of a cupid or had a cupid engraved within it.
Portrait of St Valentine, Source - History
Another famous Amethyst is the Delhi “Sapphire”, which is on display at the Natural History Museum. This Amethyst is believed to be cursed as it was looted from the Temple of Indra in Kanpur (the Hindu God of war and thunderstorms) in 1857 by British troops. Since it arrived on British shore, whoever had the stone fell into a series of misfortunes, from financial issue to deaths of family members. This meant that the piece was passed from person to person until it fell in the hands of Edward Heron-Allen who transformed it into a silver ring with two Amethyst scarab beetles (symbolic for immortality and protection) and engraved the ring with zodiac symbols to help neutralise its negative power. Sent to the National History Museum, many historians today believe the myth was made up by Heron-Allen itself, yet it still protected by a glass case (just in case!).
Two of the largest and also historically significant Amethysts is the 56ct Tiffany Amethyst necklace, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1915, the 96ct Morris Amethyst Brooch, notable for its deep hue and created in the Edwardian era.
Other famous Amethysts have Queen Silvia of Sweden’s Amethyst tiara, and the Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson’s Cartier Amethyst and Turquoise Necklace made in 1947.
General Tips on Buying and Maintaining Amethyst
As all gemstones are graded on the Mohs scale, Amethyst is a 7. This means that Amethysts are widely used in both fine and everyday jewellery, yet they are more prone to wear and chips than harder gemstones like Diamonds, Emeralds, Rubies and Sapphires.
Amethyst is a gemstone that is beautiful no matter how it is cut. For instance, today, roughly cut Amethyst crystals are associated with the wellness industry as they have a more bohemian look and have been used in spiritual and pagan religions since the dawn of time.
In antique and modern jewellery, Amethyst is cut into a variety of standard shapes including ovals, pears, emerald, triangles, marquises, cushion, and round. Facet patterns for Amethyst include the classic triangular, brilliant cuts, step cuts and mixed cuts.
Many Amethysts when faceted and cut into the standard shapes are eye-clean, meaning they are free from eye-visible inclusions. Yet, Amethysts are prone to inclusions like most Quartz as they form in long prismanic crystals.
Amethysts that do have inclusions and of a paler hue are low in value, yet if they possess a deep and rich hue these Amethysts are fashioned into cabochons and beads, and can still sell for a relatively high price.
It is rare for Amethysts to undergo fracture-filling treatment.
Amethysts have to be purple in order to be classed as Amethysts, even though they are pleochroic. In the past, there was a belief that Green Amethysts existed, however this has been disputed, and rather these were other forms of Quartz or lime citrine.
On the subject of citrine, there is a naturally occurring quartz called Ametrine which is a mixture of Amethyst and Citrine with zones of purple and yellow or orange, this is due to different oxidisation states of Iron within the crystal. Although this has Amethyst present within this piece, the gemstone has to be fully purple to be an Amethyst.
Ametrine, Source - The Crystal Age
The most expensive form of Amethysts is a strong reddish-purple or purple itself existing within Siberian Amethysts. The more saturated in hue corresponds with the expense. If there are any brownish or bronze coloured tints, the price will lower dramatically. If the purple is weaker or changes in hue throughout the stone, it will also be cheaper to purchase. Yet, Rose De France Amethysts are still sought after despite this as its hue is associated with femininity.
Amethyst is available in all sizes for jewellery. Interestingly, Amethyst has been chosen often for being a large centre stone as the price per carat does not rise dramatically if it’s a larger size. Amethyst is also found in calibrated cuts, which are industry-standard sizes.
You can see our Lillicoco collection of Amethyst pieces here.