Birthstone for the month of February, Amethyst is most famous for its stunning purple colour which is caused by impurities of Iron and Manganese within the gemstone. It varies greatly depending on its source so experts can identify from which part of the world it has been mined purely upon a visual inspection. It has been in great demand throughout history and some of the finest gemstones have been included in royal jewellery collections from Ancient Egypt to the British Crown Jewels. It is also believed to have been a favourite of Catherine the Great.
Fascinatingly translucent, it is the most highly sought after variety of Quartz whose colour and the fact that its graded 7 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness, make it a perfect choice for use in jewellery. Its colour is quite delicate so excessive exposure to bright sunlight can result in it fading and when heat treated, Amethyst changes into Citrine. Natural Citrine is quite rare hence many of the gemstones found on the market are actually heated Amethyst. Banded Amethyst also known as Chevron Amethyst is frequently confused with Derbyshire Blue John.
During the Middle Ages it was believed to encourage celibacy and symbolize piety (dutiful devotion to God and observance of religious principles) hence it was a favourite of officials of the church.
Its name comes from the the ancient Greek word "amethustos" meaning "unintoxicated" hence the ancient Greeks believed it would protect them from becoming drunk so wine goblets and other amulets were often made from it.
Amethyst can be faceted or cut as a cabochon and range in colour from the palest of lilac to the deepest of purple. The deeper colours are generally the most valuable and currently the finest grade gemstones come from Western India, Rio Grande do Sol in Southern Brazil and South West Sri Lanka.
It was believed to have been one of the gemstones in the High Priest's breastplate also known as the Breastplate of Aaron, a religious garment worn by the Jewish high priest which had embedded in it, twelve magnificent gemstones each bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. According to the Septuagint, Amethustos was the third gemstone in the third row of the breastplate.
Pliny the Elder, Roman author and natural philosopher, identified four varieties of Amethyst whose colour he compared to wine. He says "all these gemstones are transparent and of an agreeable violet colour and are easy to engrave. Those gemstones from India are most perfect as a result of having the very richest shades of purple."
Popular for use in crystal healing, it is believed to be both powerful and protective and is a stone of spirituality and contentment. It is said to be a natural tranquilizer whose serenity enhances higher states of consciousness and is helpful where insomnia is as a result of an over active mind. It can also help with recurrent nightmares. Once worn to prevent one from becoming intoxicated, it has a sobering effect on over indulgence and can help overcome addictions and blockages. Extremely beneficial for the mind, focusing on concentration and the ability to control ones faculties, it balances the energies of the intellectual, emotional and physical bodies and provides a clear connection between the Earth plane and other worlds.
Amethyst is mined in Western India, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Russia, Zambia, Namibia, Madagascar and some other African countries. Generally the gemstones from South America tend to be available in larger sizes although those from Africa have the reputation for having a more saturated colour. The very dark coloured gemstones which are generally not as large are also mined in Australia.
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