A favourite of the Ancient Greeks, amethyst is popular for its vibrant shade of purple that was well loved by royalty across the centuries. The Greeks also fashioned drinking vessels from the gems, believing that the power of the amethyst would stop them from getting intoxicated by the wine they drank. This didn’t seem to stop them from trying though.
The Meaning and History of Amethyst
The root of the word amethyst is deeply linked to its symbolism for the Greeks. It comes from the roots of a meaning “not”, and methysko meaning “intoxicate”. This myth led to the gem being associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, festivity, and theatre. In the ancient stories it was the Titan Rhea, mother of Zeus and his siblings, that gave Dionysus an amethyst to preserve his sanity.
In the 16th century, the French poet Bellau wrote stories of Dionysus and his patronage of the stone. These included some where a fair maiden named Amethyste rejected Dionysus’ advances, praying to the goddess Artemis for chastity. Artemis changed Amethyste to stone to keep her chaste for eternity. Dionysus, now humbled by Amethyste’s devotion, poured wine on her stone form, giving her the purple colour we know amethysts for. Various versions of this story then became popular, changing between the Greek and Roman versions of Dionysus and Artemis or Bacchus and Diana. However in each story there’s one thing that stays the same, the amethyst getting its famous purple colour from wine.
In Medieval Europe amethysts became associated with royalty, as the Roman association of purple with royalty passed down to Medieval aristocracy. This led to many royals commissioning jewellery with amethysts as their central focus to show their regal pedigree. However, this came to an end towards the 17th and 18th centuries as the discovery of new amethyst deposits in Brazil made amethysts less exclusive and less desirable.
In Asia the gem was known for its association with the Buddha and Buddhist monks. Certain orders of monks, especially in Tibet, became known for crafting prayer beads from the gem. This was because amethyst was considered to be sacred to the Buddha. It is from the altitude in the mountains that they were mined that the gems became known as “eyes of god”. This sacred aspect then became associated with the Buddha, and monks would make pilgrimages to mines in the Himalayas to find amethysts for their prayers beads.
Where does Amethyst come from?
The large majority of modern amethyst comes from the mines across the southern states of Brazil. These areas are notable for their abundance of all kinds of quartz, not just amethysts but citrine, rose quartz, and blue quartz. Other major sources can be found just across the border in Uruguay, on the island of Madagascar, and in the mountains of South Korea. Russia is also the producer of not a huge quantity of the gem but some of the finest amethysts with some of the deepest colours found anywhere. These gems sell for the highest prices to collectors based on their colour and any flecks that they might have.
The properties of Amethyst
Amethyst is a type of coloured quartz, so its hardness is the same as the other quartz varieties, sitting at around a 7 which is perfect for use in jewellery. The famous purple of the amethyst comes from irradiation and minor impurities in the gem, usually iron. This means that the colour can in fact be artificially deepened through further irradiation. These synthetic amethysts are not usually used in jewellery, with most of them used for quartz watches and clocks.
Amethyst - the February birthstone
In the Western world, amethyst has become known as the birthstone for February. It is also the stone associated with the astrological sign of Pisces, which sits in the latter part of February and early March. The association between amethysts and the month of February is said to stem from this astrological link, with the gems being co opted as the symbol for the whole month.
Mystical Properties of Amethyst
Unsurprisingly, the mystical properties of amethyst are very much tied to the mythology behind the gem. They were said to protect from intoxication, keeping its bearer clear sighted and careful at all times. This then became a more general power of keeping its bearer calm and coolheaded, so we see many soldiers and generals from the Middle Ages with amethyst gems to keep them calm in battle.
Interesting facts about Amethyst
1. The largest opencast amethyst mine is found in Maissau, Austria
2. Amethysts are one of the 5 Cardinal Gems
3. Amethyst is the State Gemstone of South Carolina in the USA
4. The most expensive type of amethyst is a Deep Russian, unsurprisingly from Russia
5. Amethysts are one of few gems to be valued on their colour rather than size
Caring for your Amethyst jewellery
As a variety of quartz, amethyst comes with the usual quartz care requirements. It is a tough stone, which can’t be scratched by many other gems, but it can do them some damage if not handled properly. Heat can also discolour your amethyst, turning the beautiful violet into a slightly less beautiful yellow-brown. The other main danger to the colour is long exposure to direct light, as this can fade the colour of the gem. This colour can sometimes be returned through irradiation, but that is a long and expensive process so it is best just to keep your jewellery out of direct light.
Where to buy Amethyst jewellery
Amethyst jewellery is much desired for its deep violet tones that give very regal tones to any outfit. Our February amethyst collection includes a sterling silver ring, necklace, bracelet, and earrings. You can mix and match between the pieces for different outfits, switching between the two styles of earring depending on the occasion to create a statement look. The colour makes it a jewel to base outfits around rather than to match to the outfit, so do be sure to plan ahead.