Amethyst is famous for its attractive purple hues, often said to be reminiscent of the colour of the wrapper of a popular chocolate bar. Sometimes dismissed as a ‘cheap’ gemstone, amethyst is a beautiful gem with a long and fascinating history.
Amethyst is the purple variety of the mineral quartz and is composed of silica. Although this is the most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust, gem quality quartz is relatively rare, especially in fine stones with good colour, clarity and size. The colour in amethyst crystals is often very patchy too, so it takes careful selection and cutting to produce an attractive cut gem with even colour.
Amethyst has been valued as a gem for thousands of years. The Romans loved amethyst; they believed it could protect against drunkenness and carved goblets and cups from large crystals. We cannot speak for the effectiveness of this remedy, but it is a nice story! It has been suggested that the ‘truth’ behind this belief is that cunning people would drink water from a cup made of amethyst to fool their friends into thinking they were drinking wine without becoming drunk. This sounds a bit more plausible, even if it does remove some of the magic!
Purple is a colour that has been associated with the very wealthy throughout history. Initially this was because only the richest could afford to have clothes made with expensive purple dye. Over time the idea stuck, and purple became associated with royalty and the clergy: Roman Catholic bishops traditionally have amethysts set into their Episcopal rings.
Until the eighteenth-century amethyst was considered rare and expensive, but the discovery of large deposits in Brazil brought the price down substantially. Today, amethyst is still a gem that can be very affordable, although the price can vary massively depending on quality, and fine stones combining a rich colour, good clarity and generous size can cost a significant sum. Pretty pinkish-purple hues are very attractive and usually cost less than the deeper purples; it is a matter of personal choice which you prefer.
You may sometimes see retailers advertising ‘green amethyst’. This is not strictly accurate, since amethyst is defined as the purple variety of quartz. However, the stone is normally derived from amethyst, with heat treatment producing the soft green hue that is more properly known as prasiolite or green quartz. Most amethyst becomes yellow when heated, and this is the way that much of the world’s citrine is produced, but occasionally the chemistry is just right to produce the green instead.
Whether it is your birthstone or just because purple is your favourite colour, amethyst is a beautiful gemstone and a fantastic way of adding a bright splash of colour to your jewellery collection. Our team of gemmologists and jewellers are happy to answer your questions and help you find your perfect stone. You can visit us in our showroom or view a small selection of our amethyst pieces on our website.