Gem of the Month: Amethyst

Amethyst – the birthstone for February with its characteristic colour is immediately recognisable. The colour purple has long been associated with royalty and nobility – accordingly, amethyst has been a stone of royalty for thousands of years. It is now an affordable and popular gemstone for everyone.

Gemmology matters: Amethyst is a macrocrystalline variety of the mineral Quartz (SiO2). The purple colour of amethyst is due to trace amounts of iron (Fe4+) impurities at specific sites in the crystal structure of quartz. The difference between amethyst and citrine is due to the oxidation state of the iron impurities present in the quartz and is the reason why amethyst can be heated to form citrine.

Amethyst can occur as crystals that are six sided on either end and may form as “drusy” which are crystalline crusts covering the host rock. It is found inside geodes and in alluvial deposits all around the world – most commercial amethyst is mined in parts of South America and Africa although synthetic amethyst is also produced in large quantities.

Like all quartz, the hardness of amethyst on the Moh’s scale of hardness is 7. It has no cleavage and conchoidal fracture. Amethyst is suitable for most types of jewellery and has no special care requirements. The colour of amethyst may range from deep purple, light lilac, lavender and mauve. Top quality amethyst is a deep medium purple with flashes of rose and is termed Siberian Amethyst for the original source of this type.

Mythology and Lore: Amethyst has been used as gemstones and other ornamental objects for thousands of years – it’s use recorded as far back as the Minoan period in Greece (c 2500 B.C.). The name amethyst comes from the Greek word amethustos which means not drunken. Early Greeks believed that drinking wine from an amethyst cup would prevent intoxication.

In ancient cultures, amethyst amulets were worn as antidotes against poison, to dispel sleep, as protection against harm in battle and to sharpen one’s wits. In medieval times, amethyst was still credited with protecting one from the effects of drunkenness, both of the cup and also from the intoxicating effects of being in love. The wearing of amethyst was also thought to protect soldiers from harm and give them victory over their enemies, and assist hunters with the capture of wild animals.

Amethyst is usually associated with Pisces but also variously Virgo, Aquarius and Capricorn. Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February and may be given on the 4th, 6th and 17th years of marriage.

According to Greek myth, amethyst originated when Bacchus, the God of Wine, became angry at mortals. He vowed the next mortal that crossed his path would be devoured by tigers.  Just then, a beautiful young maiden named Amethyst was on her way to worship at the temple of the Goddess Diana. Diana, knowing of Bacchus’ vow, turned Amethyst into a pillar of colorless quartz to protect her from the tigers.  When Bacchus witnessed the miracle, he repented and poured wine over Amethyst (alternative versions suggest that he wept tears of wine over the pillar) staining the quartz purple.

Alternatives in Purple: When people think of a purple gemstone, amethyst springs immediately to mind. Amethyst is an affordable gemstone and is available in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and cuts. However, there are a few alternatives in purple although none so easy to purchase. One excellent but sometimes difficult to find alternative is purple sapphire – once called “oriental amethyst”, the use of this name is now discouraged by the trade as being misleading. Sapphire may be found in a range of shades including a variety of pinkish or bluish purple colours although they will obviously be far more expensive than amethyst. The other obvious candidate is tanzanite – a rare gemstone which is generally a bluish purple colour (although the colour is the result of heating brownish or greenish zoisite). Certainly, amethyst is a wonderful choice for those looking for a purple gemstone.

Links of interest:
International Colored Gemstone Association – Gem by Gem article on Amethyst
Mineral Galleries – article on amethyst
Bernadine Fine Arts Jewelry – amethyst facts and information
Amethyst information page by Mineral Miners
Univ Texas Gem Notes on Quartz (including amethyst)
Wikipedia – article on Amethyst

We have good stock of amethyst in both rough and cut form at the moment. Our Ebay store contains a number of faceted amethyst gems in calibrated sizes and we expect more stock in quite soon. We have also received a parcel of excellent quality African amethyst of great colour (mined in Nigeria) and will be offering this soon at very realistic prices (see photo above).

That is all for now from Aussie Sapphire.


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