Amethyst Birthstone - Meaning and History
Purple! The color you get by combining red and blue.
From its earliest discovery, amethyst’s purple hue has cast a spell - one that bewitches even today. Its sumptuous shade represents royalty, dreaminess and passion.
If you like the color purple, then you’re probably aware that amethyst is the most famous of purple gemstones.
The name comes from the Greek word – ‘Amethystos’ and was believed to cure drunkenness. Because of its wine-like color, early Greek mythology associated the gem with Bacchus, the God of wine. Amethyst was also believed to keep the wearer clear headed and quick witted. Wearing an amethyst can be a symbol of personal empowerment and inner strength.
It is the gem traditionally given for the 6th wedding anniversary.
Amethyst’s Composition, Varieties and Mines
Amethyst has a hardness of 7 and therefore makes a durable stone fit for any gem setting. Lower grades of material can be cabbed, carved, and made into beads and other ornamental objects.
Amethyst receives its purple color from its iron content. When the crystal is exposed to radiation and heat under the earth’s surface, the iron makes it turn purple. The more iron and radiation, the darker the purple color. High-quality amethysts aren’t difficult to find, exceptional specimens are still rare.
Until the 19th century, Russia was the major source of amethyst. When large deposits were found in Brazil, amethyst was suddenly in abundance. Today, the most important sources of amethyst are in Africa and South America (mainly Brazil - Maraba, Rio Grande do Sul and Bahia mines). The pink and bi-color clear and purple amethysts are unique to Brazil. The Anahí mine in Bolivia is another important source for this purple gem. This mine is also famous in as the source of the bi-colored amethyst-citrine crystals called Ametrine. Zambia’s Kariba mine is one of the largest amethyst producers in the world producing stones with rich saturated colors (raspberry). Amethyst is also found in the Phoenix, Arizona. The Four Peaks mine - located high in the most rugged part of the Mazatzal Mountains - produces some very fine dark purple and purplish red amethyst crystals.
Amethyst has enchanted kings and queens for many centuries.
Value for amethysts depends almost entirely on color. Unlike most other gemstones where the carat weight exponentially increases the value of the stone, Amethysts value is not affected by the carat weight, since it is readily available in large sizes. The biggest factor in the value of amethyst is the color displayed.
Amethysts purple color can be so light that it is barely perceptible or so dark that it is nearly opaque. It can be reddish purple, purple, or violetish purple. Amethyst exists in this wide range of colors.
The most highly valued amethysts are “Siberian quality.” This term no longer refers to the stone’s origin. Gemologist use it to refer to stones that exhibit red and blue flashes on deep purple color. Most of this quality is used in high-end or designer jewelry. Although Siberian reigns atop the value listing, light-colored amethyst has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. The lightest, pinkish violet shades (pale lilac) are called “Rose de France,” a clever bit of marketing.
Recently lavender pinks have been found in Brazil that can occasionally have the look of fine kunzite and morganite.
Color zoning in amethyst
Amethyst Gemstones commonly show color zoning, consisting in angular zones of darker to lighter color. Amethyst crystals grow slowly. The composition of the waters within which they grow is likely to change over time. As the composition changes, varying amounts of iron is absorbed into the surface of the crystal. Subsequently, radiation emitted by surrounding minerals modify the iron to produce the purple color. This time lapse process can cause the crystal to have zones of different color intensity. Each of these zones records a time interval in the growth of the crystal, which is similar to the growth rings of a tree. Although this is interesting, the most preferred amethyst gems have a rich, uniform color. Any brownish tints in an amethyst’s purple color, or any noticeable color zoning, lower its value dramatically.
Things to consider while buying
An issue of concern to the amethyst buying public is the availability of synthetic amethyst that for even the experienced people is generally difficult to identify. Lab created amethyst has been known since the 1970s. The best way to distinguish natural from synthetic is through gemological testing. But it is avoided because of the cost and time required to test - for a comparatively inexpensive gem. A merchant is required to tell you if a gem is natural or synthetic.
Heat treatment is the most common technique for improving the color and marketability of natural amethyst. Heat treating amethyst results in a permanent change in color. Heat treatment can’t make pale amethyst darker, but it can lighten the color of very dark amethyst and make it more attractive. Some amethyst turns yellow – to citrine – with heat treatment.
Caring for Amethyst Gemstones
Amethyst is a hard stone and is therefore appropriate for daily use in rings and other jewelry, but if you let it rub against harder stones such as rubies, sapphires and diamonds then it can be scratched. Similarly, it can scratch softer gems, such as opals or pearls.
Amethyst birthstone jewelry can be cleaned with an ultrasonic cleaner, but steam cleaning is not recommended. A soft brush with mild soap is the safest option.