by Linda Heaphy

Crystals of Amethyst on display at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.
Photo credit: Jennifer M


The February-born shall find
Sincerity and peace of mind,
Freedom from passion and from care,
If they an amethyst will but wear.

Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz (SiO2). The name originates from Greek andmeans“not intoxicated", a reference to the belief held by the ancient Greeks and Romans that the stone prevented drunkenness.

Amethyst owes its colour to iron impurities, the presence of various trace elements and irradiation. The colour of amethyst is rarely constant throughout a single stone but is laid down in patches parallel to its crystal faces. As a result, amethyst must be cut carefully and in a way that makes the tone of the finished gem appear constant, with the “brilliant round” most popularly used to maximise uneven colour. Other cuts are used when the colour is better distributed, including the very popular cabochon.

The very popular cabochon cut is a forgiving cut for flawed or unevenly coloured stones

Amethyst can range in colour from the lightest of violets to deep purple. Stones are graded using the terms Siberian, Uruguayan or Bahain to represent high, medium and low quality stones respectively, regardless of the actual source. The most ideal grade is called "Deep Siberian" and has a primary purple hue of around 75–80%, with 25–20% blue and red secondary hues.

Amethyst has had a long an interesting association with humankind. Because its hardness is equivalent to quartz (second to diamond on the Mohrs Scale of Hardness at 9), it has remained a popular stone for jewellery making throughout the ages. Its use can be traced back at least 25,000 years, when Paleolithic people in Europe first used it as a decorative stone.  The Greeks and Romans believed it warded off drunkenness and they adorned their drinking cups liberally with amethysts, while medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets for protection in battle in the belief that they maintained cool-headedness. One of the two Saint Valentines is also said to have worn an amethyst engraved with the figure of Cupid. In Arabic tradition, amethysts are believed to protect their wearers from bad dreams and gout.  Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence. Because amethyst was thought to encourage celibacy, it was used extensively for ornamentation by the Catholic church and often worn by bishops. The colour purple is traditionally associated with royalty, and amethyst was therefore used to adorn the raiment and jewels of state of monarchs and rulers, particularly in Europe, as some of the finest deposits in the world were once found in Russia. In fact up until the 18th century, amethyst was included in the cardinal (most valuable) gemstones along with diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald.  However when sizeable but lower quality commercial deposits were discovered in Brazil and Uruguay in the 19th century, the value of the stone decreased accordingly.

Today, amethyst is considered to be a lovely and affordable gemstone, found in many different forms of modern adornment.  It is also popular in the form of geodes or druzes amongst gem collectors.

References and Further Reading

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy

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