Originally known as the Royal Stone, thanks to its majestic colour that symoblises power, only royalty were allowed to wear the stone. This would explain why amethyst is found in royal collections all over the world from ancient Egypt to the British Crown Jewels. Amethyst is used abundantly in jewellery from almost every era but perhaps most dramatically in the Art Deco epoch by jewellers who valued it for its size, vibrant colour and ability to be cut into large geometric shapes to suit their bold, brave new minimalist designs.
Amethyst is probably the most well known and easily identifiable purple gemstone. In the ancient past they were held in equal regard to diamonds and the ‘big three’ coloured gemstones (ruby, sapphire and emerald) and were at one time the reserve of royalty. Surprisingly amethyst is actually made of the very common quartz crystal. Distinct from other quartz varieties, amethyst has a unique lavender to dark purple colouration and its hue is determined by imperfections in the crystal lattice created by irradiation in combination with trace elements and iron.
The discovery of large amethyst deposits in Brazil in the twentieth century resulted in a sharp fall in price. In contrast to diamonds, whose price was controlled or even manipulated by De Beers when supply rapidly increased, no tight control on the supply side of amethyst was ever effectively administered to maintain its price.
In addition to jewellery, amethyst has been used in vases and many ornamental pieces of great aesthetic value and it is one of the most versatile of all gemstones. As with all coloured gemstones, colour is ‘king.’ When buying it is important to check for zoning (or uneven colour saturation), which can devalue a stone and lessen its appeal. When amethyst is cut for jewellery it is usually eye-clean, containing no inclusions that are visible to the human eye.
Amethyst can be found in an array of carat sizes and in contrast to many precious stones their price per carat does not increase exponentially with carat size. Heat treatment with amethyst is extremely common and it is one of the main ways to enhance the colour and clarity of a stone. It can in fact completely change the colour of an amethyst altogether; such is the case when green examples are turned into Royal Purple with the application of heat.
Looking after and caring for amethyst is a relatively simple proposition. It is, however, worth remembering that at 7 on the (7-10) Moh’s hardness scale, amethyst is not as hard as diamond or sapphire and as a consequence it is slightly easier to damage. It is not recommended to use any kind of chemical agent or detergent on the stone, as this can cause irreparable damage to the structure of the crystal. Simply clean with warm soapy water occasionally and regularly remove any grease or dirt that may build up with a soft cotton cloth.
The name Amethyst is derived from the Greek word ametusthos, meaning “not intoxicated”. Amethyst was also reputed to control evil thoughts, increase intelligence and render men shrewd in business matters. For travelers, it was worn as a protection from treachery and surprise attacks. Like other royal stones, it protected its wearer from disease and infection.
Amethyst is the birthstone for February and the gem for the 6th and 17th wedding anniversaries.
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