Purple is one of my favourite colours so it’s fitting that beautiful amethyst, February’s birthstone, happens to be my birthstone and the stone for my star sign, Pisces. I own quite a few pieces of amethyst jewellery, from necklaces to rings, in every shade from deep purple to soft lilac. I love the darker hue – there’s something rather mysterious and exotic about it.
Amethyst is a variety of the mineral quartz and gets its purple colour from iron. It is dichroic i.e. it displays two colours – a bluish or reddish purple tinge – when viewed from different angles. Large quantities of the stone are produced in Brazil and it is also found in Africa (Madagascar) the United States, Canada, Australia and Siberia, in alluvial deposits or in geodes (hollow stone often lined with crystals). The quality of amethyst varies according to its source. Deep purple gemstones with red flashes are the best quality and can be found in Siberia and Uruguay. Since Amethyst is widely available, it is one of the more affordable gem stones.
Amethyst scores 7 on the Mohs Hardness scale, below topaz (8), rubies and sapphires (9) and diamonds (the hardest stones at 10). It is sometimes heat treated to change the colour to yellow when it becomes citrine. Crystals that are part amethyst and part citrine are called ametrine and I have seen some stunning examples of ametrine jewellery.
Myths and legends
The word amethyst is derived from the Greek word ‘amethustos’ meaning ‘not intoxicated’ and the Ancient Greeks and Romans made drinking goblets of the gemstone, believing that it would prevent drunkenness. Over time, the amethyst also came to symbolise piety. In the Middle Ages Catholic churches were often decorated with amethysts; Bishops today wear amethyst rings.
According to one legend, Dionysus, the god of intoxication, grapes and winemaking was pursuing the beautiful maiden, Amethystos, who rejected his attentions. She prayed to the gods to help her remain chaste and her prayer was answered by the goddess Artemis who turned her into a white stone. The remorseful Dionysus poured wine over the stone as an offering, causing it to turn purple.