By Katie McMath
It’s February which means it’s amethyst season! This lovely purple variety of quartz was once counted among the most valuable gems, along with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Today we know it is relatively common. Quartz is actually one of the most abundant minerals on Earth. It flows through streams of water in the ground, which eventually dry out, leaving crystals behind. This also means amethyst is usually easier to afford!
It’s not unusual to find large glimmering clusters of this stone. They fill up the hollow spaces that form as lava cools into rock. One amethyst cave in Byron Bay, Australia is large enough to seat four people. Groups can schedule meditation and relaxation sessions inside the magical crystal cave. Nearby stand two of the world’s tallest geodes, full of smoky quartz and splashes of amethyst.
Scientists hypothesize that amethyst’s purple color comes from iron or other trace minerals which find their way into quartz. When heated, amethyst lightens in color, and may turn pale yellow. The resulting stone is known as citrine, November’s birthstone. Citrine also occurs naturally. When a hybrid of the two forms it’s known as ametrine.
While amethyst may have a more modest reputation than other stones like diamonds or sapphires, this hasn’t always been the case. Before the 1700s it was prized around the world as one of the most valuable gems. Egyptian and Greek elite adorned themselves with amethyst ornaments. The Catholic Church prized amethyst as the Bishop’s stone, due to its purple color. It symbolized closeness to Christ. Today the Catholic Church favors the humility of plain white, though rich reds and purples may still be seen in churches and ceremonies.
Intaglio Carved Amethyst Bishop’s Ring
The name amethyst dates all the way back to Ancient Greek myth. One particular story told of a beautiful, honorable young woman named Amethyst. She was traveling to pay her respects to the Goddess Diana when she became the unsuspecting victim of an angry Dionysus, the god of wine and celebration. Dionysus, having been spurned by a human, took out his rage on Amethyst, and threatened to unleash his tigers on her. Fortunately Diana came to her aid, turning the girl into a sparkling white crystal. Dionysus was moved to the point of tears, which spilled into his glass of wine and tumbled onto the crystal, turning it a vivid purple.
In the Ancient Greek language amethyst meant “sober” or “not drunk.” They believed those wearing the stone could avoid the wrath of Dionysus. Instead the purple gem would allow its carrier to remain pure and clear-minded like the beautiful young woman Amethyst. If sobriety and peace are difficult for you to achieve, it’s possible an amethyst crystal could help.
The Greeks were not the only ones to recognize amethyst’s ability to cool the mind and offer a greater sense of concentration. Buddhist monks in India and Tibet use amethyst prayer beads during meditation, to channel their focus. Ancient Egyptians wore carved amethyst amulets for protection against evil magic and negative mind-states like anxiety or guilt. King Tut was even buried with a carved amethyst bracelet in his tomb.
Large deposits of amethyst have been found in South America in the past few centuries. This has brought the crystal’s price down significantly. It is especially abundant in Brazil and Uruguay. One geode known as the Empress of Uruguay weighs 2.5 tons and stands at nearly 11 feet tall! It travels around the world on display.
Not only is amethyst more wallet friendly, it is also resilient, ranking at a 7 out of 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale. This makes it suitable for everyday wear, even in rings. It is beautiful in its raw, natural form, but may also be cut and faceted to sparkle like a brilliant diamond.
At Eve’s Gallery we have a number of lovely treasures incorporating amethyst. Perhaps you’d prefer a custom piece set with specimens from our gem room. Either way there are plenty of ways to enjoy February’s mythical birthstone. May this gem grant the February babies extra peace and clarity this month!