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Amethyst: History and Meaning of the Purple Gemstone

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Amethyst is a stunning purple quartz crystal, and thanks to its regal color, it has been a favorite of royalty throughout the ages. Fine examples of amethyst are found among Britain’s crown jewels, and it was treasured by famous figures including Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and Empress Josephine of France.

 

Amethyst Meaning

Amethyst is considered to be a calming, meditative stone that enhances one’s intellect, streamlines thought processes, and encourages steady focus on the task at hand. Take just one look into its gorgeous purple depths, and you’ll understand why it is used to promote peace and balance while releasing feelings of impatience and encouraging sobriety.

 

As a birthstone, Amethyst represents the month of February. Of course, it can be worn and enjoyed by anyone – no matter what their birth month. Amethyst rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are more popular than ever!

 

Amethyst History and Lore

This amazing gemstone got its name from the ancient Koine Greek words amethystos methysko methyo, a phrase which translates to “not intoxicated.” The stone was believed to prevent drunkenness, even though the ancient Greeks who named it believed that its brilliant color was caused by Dionysus, the god of intoxication and celebration.

 

The tale of the amethyst goes like this:
 

Caption

Head of Queen Arsinoe II (Greece). Carved amethyst set in a modern gold mount, from the 3rd century BC. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore


 

Dionysus, angered by an insult, vowed to punish mortals who refused to partake in his gifts, which were wine and intoxication. A maiden named Amethyst crossed his path and refused to partake, since she was on her way to honor the goddess Diana.

 

Dionysus became even angrier. He summoned a pair of tigers to devour Amethyst. Diana saw what was happening and to prevent the tigers from harming the maiden, she turned Amethyst into a crystal statue. Dionysus quickly saw the error of his ways and wept into his wine, which he then spilled onto the statue. Amethyst was transformed into purple crystal, and since that day, the stone was used as protection against intoxication.

 
READ ALSO: Passion and Desire: The Romance of Rubies
 

Greeks often wore amethyst jewelry, and many a Greek wine goblet was carved of amethyst or adorned with the stones in an attempt to prevent drunkenness. It continues to indicate sobriety today – so much so that Anglican bishops wear episcopal rings set with amethysts to represent the apostles’ state of sobriety at Pentecost (Acts 2:15).

 

Caption

End of crown from the 8th-9th century AD. Featuring gold, silver and amethyst. Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City.


 

Egyptians enjoyed amethysts too; many fine examples have been found at burial sites, and can be seen in museums. Like the Greeks, Egyptians carved beautiful works of art from amethyst. Falcons and scarabs were popular, and Cleopatra swore by an amethyst ring which she believed influential in her ability to captivate Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar. Because both men were Romans, Roman women began wearing amethyst jewelry in hopes of preventing their husbands from going astray.

 

In medieval Europe, soldiers wore amulets of amethyst in an attempt to keep calm and focused, and as a form of protection during battle.

 
READ ALSO: The History of Engagement Rings
 

Tibetans make and use amethyst prayer beads or malas, as they consider the stone sacred to Buddha – and in biblical lore, Amethyst was among the stones adorning Aaron’s breastplate. It is often used to adorn liturgical items such as pectoral crosses, and its’ association with compassion, Christ, the angel Adnachiel, and the Apostle Matthias makes it a favorite for use in Catholic clergy rings.

 

Amethyst Properties

Although amethyst is exquisite, it is a common semiprecious stone – some very nice pieces can be had at affordable prices. Like other quartz crystals, amethyst comes from natural sources as well as in lab-grown form. The lavender to violet tones in amethyst come from iron impurities, irradiation, and trace elements.

 

Ideal amethysts are called “Deep Siberian” or “Deep Russian.” The primary hue is 75 to 80 percent purple, with secondary hues between 15 and 20 percent blue and/or red, depending on the light source. Because amethysts often offer variable intensity with noticeable striping, cut stones sometimes exhibit multiple tones. Laboratory treatments can intensify the color, and are considered to be acceptable.

 
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With a hardness of 7, amethyst isn’t as tough as diamond, ruby, or sapphire, but it is suitable for use in jewelry. It is among several popular alternatives to traditional diamond engagement rings, as it costs less and offers an eye-catching appearance. Note that amethyst does lose its luster over time; re-polishing will bring back its beautiful glow.

 

There are many excellent sources of natural amethyst including Brazil, Uruguay, South Korea, Lower Austria, Russia, Zambia, Canada, and the United States.

 

Famous Amethyst Jewelry

As amethyst jewelry has been popular throughout the ages, there are many fine examples on display in museums. One famous piece is an ancient Egyptian amethyst necklace bearing an inscription on its central stone. Dating back to about 2000 BCE, it offers large, beautifully cut stones believed to have come from Nubia.

 

Another famous amethyst – and a far newer one – is the Morris Amethyst Brooch, which can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Believed to be Brazilian in origin, this magnificent stone offers a deep, port-wine color. At 96 carats, the heart-shaped amethyst is surrounded by a fine halo of diamonds, and is crowned with a lovely filigree design that exemplifies Edwardian sensibility and refinement.

 

Caption

Gold, amethyst, chalcedony, emerald, rock crystal, pearl, and colored glass necklace from Greece, 2nd-1st century BC.


 

The Delhi Sapphire isn’t a sapphire at all: Instead, this “cursed” stone is a magnificent deep purple amethyst. The oval-shaped stone is available for viewing at London’s Natural History Museum.

 

The Napoleonic Amethyst Parure Tiara offers an update on a rare historic piece. With 15 massive oval amethysts embellished with sparkling diamonds, it is an incredible work of art that turns heads whenever it is worn. The jewels were originally set in a necklace belonging to France’s Empress Josephine (1763-1814). Today, it is owned by the Bernadotte Jewel Foundation; Sweden’s Queen Silvia and Crown Princess Victoria are among the tiara’s recent wearers. The jewels can be removed from the tiara’s frame and worn in the original necklace form, if desired.

 

Caption

Bib necklace featuring European cut diamonds, amethyst, sapphire and ruby. Sold at auction for $3,081.


 

Finally, the Duchess of Windsor Amethyst Necklace, a stunning statement piece by Cartier, features 27 step-cut amethysts and a large heart-shaped amethyst. An array of diamonds and turquoise cabochons arranged in a luxurious bib setting of twisted 18- and 20-carat gold and platinum with Prince of Wales linking offsets the purple stones perfectly. Although this necklace was created for Wallis Simpson in 1947, its look is surprisingly contemporary. After her death in 1986, the piece was auctioned by Sotheby’s in Geneva, fetching a price of $605,000.

 

Fun Fact:

Pop culture figure Amethyst (Steven Universe) takes her inspiration from a gorgeous purple amethyst crystal with a unique history and meaning. Amethyst’s outfit has changed over the years, but her powers and gemstone remain the same.

 

Amethyst is a stunning purple quartz crystal, and thanks to its regal color, it has been a favorite of royalty throughout the ages.
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