Amethyst is a purple coloured gemstone, the most prized member of the quartz family. It has been known of and treasured since the time of the ancient Greeks. Its wine-purple colour lead the Greeks to believe that it would protect one from drunkenness, and keep the wearer clear headed and quick-witted. According to Aristotle, amethyst was also the name of a nymph who invoked the help of the Diana to protect her from the attentions of Bacchus; she did this by transforming the nymph into a precious gem. In remembrance of his love, Bacchus gave the stone its colour and the quality of preserving its wearers from the noxious influence of wine. Good specimens were found in Aztec graves, but it is not known from where the stones were mined.
Amethyst has been thought to have many attributes throughout history, and all of them are good. It was thought to control evil thoughts, quicken intelligence, and to make a person shrewd in business. On the battlefield, it was thought to preserve soldiers from wounds and aid the warrior to victory. In the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, the amethyst enhances the “wealth corner”, focusing on the giving and receiving of material wealth. It is associated with the crown chakra at the top of the head where divine essence enters. In Renaissance magic, an amethyst engraved with the image of a bear was worn as a protective amulet. If worn round the neck on a cord made from dog’s hair, it even affords protection against snakebite!
Where Does Amethyst Come From
Today, most amethyst comes from Brazil, though there are minor sources in India, Sri Lanka, the USA and Zambia. Historically, however, the main source was in Siberia. The inaccessibility of Siberia made it a very rare gemstone, and only available to Royalty and aristocracy. The discovery of huge mines in South America at the start of the 20th century made it suddenly available to a wider public, who embraced it with gusto; as a result, much of the amethyst jewellery seen today dates from that era. What was presumed to be the largest-ever cavity was discovered in 1900 in Rio Grande do Sul. The deposit measured ten by five by three metres, and was estimated to weigh eight tonnes. There is a piece weighing 200 kilogrammes, taken from this, in the Smithsonian Museum. In recent times, a find in the USA contained well over 1000 kilogrammes of cuttable amethyst; some crystals were 19 cm in length. There is a three metre tall geode – a hollow rock filled with amethyst crystals – at the Crystal Caves at Atherton, south-west of Cairns.
Properties of Amethyst
As a member of the quartz family, amethyst is very suitable gemstone for jewellery; it has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale, and is of good toughness. The finest colour is a rich royal purple with reddish overtones, often found in African amethyst. Steam cleaning is not recommended, though it is safe to clean with warm, soapy water. It is also the birthstone for February.