Amethyst is the purple, violet or mauve variety of the quartz group of minerals and the most highly valued this family. The colour is produced when manganese is present in clear quartz, and occurs in a range of shades. The intensity and depth of the purple depends on the amount of iron within the mineral. Amethyst has a hardness of 7 on Mohs’ scale, which makes it a durable gemstone for jewellery.
Amethyst is found in alluvial deposits or in geodes, the most significant occurrences being in southern Brazil, Uruguay and Madagascar. The gemstone, however, is spread throughout the world, including Canada and the Urals in Russia.
HISTORY & MYTHOLOGY
The name amethyst comes from the Greek word ‘amethystos’ meaning ‘not intoxicated’, as it was believed to protect against drunkenness. According to Greek mythology, Bacchus, the god of wine, being neglected by the goddess Diana, decided, in a fit of fury, that the next person he encountered would be attacked by tigers. When a beautiful maiden came along, the animals savaged her. Diana turned her in to a clear crystal to protect her. In penitence, Bacchus poured wine over the clear crystal, giving it its purple colour, and so created amethyst. This connection with Bacchus led to the belief that drinking wine from an amethyst cup would prevent intoxication.
The rich, deep violet colour of amethyst is the most desirable which has made amethyst a stone for royalty over many thousands of years. Fine amethysts are featured in the British Crown Jewels and were also favoured by Catherine the Great and Egyptian Pharoahs. The Ancient Egyptians believed that amethyst possessed good powers and stones were placed in the tombs. Because amethyst was thought to encourage celibacy and symbolize piety, amethyst was very important in the ornamentation of Catholic and other churches in the Middle Ages. During this period of history, it was also used as a medication, believed to dispel sleep and sharpen intellect.
Amethyst was considered to be the stone of bishops. St. Valentine, a bishop, wore an amethyst signet ring, engraved with the figure of his assistant, Cupid. St. Valentine’s Day is still observed in February and aptly, amethyst is the birthstone for this month.
As a birthstone, amethyst symbolises sincerity and is reported to soothe and calm, absorbing negativity. Amethyst is also the stone for the zodiac sign, Pisces, for birthdays from 19th February until March 20th.