“Because of its beauty the very best grade is called the Gem of Venus.”
Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), De Natura Fossilium
The name ‘Amethyst’ derives from the ancient Greek ‘amethystos’, meaning ‘not inebriated’, recalling the myth that this gemstone is connected with.
Chemical composition of Amethyst
Amethyst is a member of the macrocrystalline Quartz family (composed of large crystals), together with Citrine, Rose Quartz and Tiger’s Eye. Its color ranges from pastel pinks to dark purples, and is caused by ferrous elements.
Formation of Amethyst
Found in varying quantities on every continent, Amethyst varies depending on its provenance. Brazil is currently the most well-known source, and the first Brazilian Amethysts arrived in Europe in 1727. Uruguay also has rich deposits, and the stones obtained from there display intense deep violet hues. Other deposits are located in Madagascar, Kenya and Zambia. The deep violet Siberian amethyst is now nothing more than a memory, although the term ‘Siberian’ is occasionally used incorrectly to describe an intensely colored Amethyst of unknown origin.
A beautiful Amethyst from Uruguay
Historical Information of Amethyst
The origins of Amethyst are described in the following legend: the god of wine - Dionysus to the ancient Greeks, Bacchus to the ancient Romans - was the ‘bad boy’ of the mythological world. Despite his divine mission to end all worries, Dionysus had a tendency to get into trouble, particularly after imbibing a few flagons of fine grape juice. The myth recounts how Dionysus, inebriated, as he was wont to be and having been shunned by a passing mortal, swore to exact revenge on the next unfortunate soul to cross his path. At that very moment, Amethyste walked past, an innocent and beautiful maiden and faithful follower of Artemis, upon whom Dionysus unleashed two starving tigers. Hearing Amethyste’s screams, Dionysus filled his chalice and settled in to enjoy the spectacle. The omniscient Artemis intervened, turning Amethyste into a Quartz statue in a heartbeat, pure as her virtue. This spell served to rescue the damsel from harm, but was unfortunately irreversible. Dionysus, filed with remorse, cried tears of pain into his cup of wine. The tears mixed with the wine in his cup, and Dionysus, tripping, accidentally spilled the wine onto the statue, thus creating the purple gemstone that we know call Amethyst.
Various supernatural powers have been ascribed to Amethyst; there is no malady that this gemstone cannot cure! Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) wrote that Amethyst was able to dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence, while Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), Roman historian and author of ‘Historia Naturalis’ (the world’s first encyclopaedia), reported that if the name of the moon or sun was engraved upon an Amethyst hung from the neck by the hair of a baboon it became a charm against witchcraft and beneficial to those petitioning princes. Long before the Emperors of Rome donned the purple toga - the ‘toga picta’ - the Egyptian Pharaohs already used the color purple as a powerful symbol of their sovereignty. From the seal of Cleopatra to the Amethyst necklace worn by Queen Charlotte, Amethyst has always been associated with power. Therefore, it is not surprising that this gemstone was also well-loved by the Catholic clergy in medieval times. As it favored celibacy, it was immediately known as the ‘papal stone’. To this day, Bishops wear Amethyst rings.
Properties of Amethyst
The main factor to take into account when valuing an Amethyst is color: the more intense the hue, the higher the value. The most desirable Amethysts display hues ranging from medium to dark, transparent and pure violet in color, without shades of red or blue, although blue or red streaks are desirable and highly sought after. Amethyst crystals contain few inclusions; none are usually visible when the gemstone is viewed with the naked eye from a distance of 15 cm. As the gemstone is popular with gemstone cutters and jewelers, Amethysts may be found in every cut imaginable, more than any other gemstone. Regardless of cut, color tones and high brilliance are the criteria that define a quality stone.
Varieties of Amethyst
In order to distinguish between varieties of Amethyst, in addition to color, the origin of the gemstone is often used and is synonymous with quality in some cases. Breijnho Amethyst, for example, is extracted in Brazil from the Breijnho mines and is particularly sought after for the purple streaks that appear on the intense violet surface. In contrast, Zambian Amethyst has a clear, royal purple color with beautiful shades of blue and red which illuminate the body with every movement. The rare Uruguayan Amethyst displays fascinating deep violet hues and characteristic red streaks. The Rio Grande Green Amethyst (Prasiolite) displays intense green hues and is usually the most desired of the traditional Green Amethysts; these two varieties are delved in different mines: Green Amethysts are found in Uberaba (Minas Gerias), while Rio Grande Green Amethysts are sourced from Rio Grande do Sul.
Green Amethyst: cut gemstone and raw crystal
The following varieties of Amethyst are classified based on color: Platinum Amethyst is named for its optical similarities with platinum, thanks to silvery streaks. Brazilian examples of Lavender or Rose de France Amethyst display clear, delicate pastel purple hues. The Bicolor Amethyst is a composite of Amethyst and White Quartz, formed by the fusion of the crystals due to changing environmental conditions. Another bicolor variety is Ametrine (found in the Anahi mine in Bolivia), composed of Citrine and Amethyst, and introduced into the market in 1980.
Care for Amethyst
Some gemstones tend to lose their color or revert to their original color if exposed to extremely intense light; therefore, any such treatments should be avoided wherever possible.