Julia Griffith FGA DGA EG, Gemmology and Diamond Tutor at Gem-A, introduces amethyst. Writing about the history of this beautiful stone and informing us about its gemmological properties...
The February-born shall find
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they, the amethyst will wear.
Let her an amethyst but cherish well,
And strife and care can never her dwell.
February's birthstone amethyst is one of the most recognised gemstones on the market. Many are familiar with the lore and appearance of this purple gemstone...more so than the hundreds of other gemstones that are offered within our trade.
Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz and out of all of the quartz gemstones ranks at the top for desirability and value. Amethysts are pale pinkish-violet to deep reddish-purple in hue and are most often found as faceted gems, cabochons or carvings. Many rough forms are also used within jewellery including single crystals, clusters or slices of crystal-lined cavities known as geodes. The most prized amethysts are known as Russian or Siberian Amethyst, named after the fine specimens found in these localities. These have a good clarity and rich purple colouration with flashes of red.
Historically, amethyst was kept as a talisman as it was believed to counteract the effects of alcohol. The word amethyst derives from the ancient Greek amethustos, which translates plainly to not drunk.
This mystical belief in amethyst in keeping one sober extends back to 320 BC to the poet Asclepiades of Samos, likely inspired by the wine-like colours of this gem. People believed that wearing an amethyst would save them from inebriation. The more affluent indulgers would sip from carved amethyst goblets or add powdered amethyst into their wine to keep their sobriety. This mystical power was argued as false by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD, however the belief continued for centuries to come.
Inspired by the amethysts association to wine, the French poet Remy Belleau created a myth in the sixteenth century explaining how the stone came into existence.
The poem speaks of Bacchus, the Greek God of wine and beautiful maiden named Amethystos, who refused the advances of Bacchus and prayed to the Goddess Diana to keep her chaste. To protect her, Diana transformed Amethystos into white crystal quartz. In frustration, Bacchus poured his wine over the crystals, dyeing them purple forevermore.
The belief that amethyst is one of the worlds more precious gems can be linked back to antiquity. Amethyst was one of the twelve gemstones that were mounted in the Priestly Breastplate, cited in the Book of Exodus. It is from these twelve gemstones that the birthstones have their roots. Christianity has used amethyst historically within the Episcopal rings of Bishops and other clergy to represent abstinence from alcohol.
Within the middle ages, amethyst became a symbol of royalty and the rich purple of amethyst can be found within regal wardrobes and jewels across the world. A large domed amethyst can be found sitting atop the large Cullinan I diamond within the Imperial Sceptre with Cross in our British Crown Jewels.
The amethyst was considered a cardinal, or most precious, gem and was historically acknowledged in high regard among the diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire. Cardinal gems held a value above all others due to their beauty and rarity. An abundant source of amethyst was found in Brazil in the eighteenth century and nowadays amethyst is widely accessible and ready to be enjoyed in all its regal beauty by gem and jewellery lovers worldwide. ■
This article was written by Gem-A for the January/ February 2017 issue of The Jeweller - The magazine of the National Association of Jewellers
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Cover Image quartz amethyst rough crystal from the Gem-A archive.