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Amethyst Properties Facts and Photos

piece of an amethyst geode with large rich purple coloured crystals 

1. Facts About the Colour Purple
2. February Birthstone
3. Properties of Amethyst
4. Through the Ages
5. Inaccuracies in Literature
6. Healing Properties
7. Article Photos
8. Our Collection of Amethyst

Facts About the Colour Purple

  • Traces of amethyst first appeared in the form of a dye during the Neolithic Age.  Paintings of animals and the outline of human hands have been found on cave walls in France. The dye was created from sticks of manganese and hematite powder.  The paintings have been dated to 16,000 to 25,000 years BC

  • Prior to 1856 purple could only be produced from natural dyes hence it was a relatively rare colour

  • In the 15th century BC the dye was produced from the mucous of the murex sea snail.  It was known as purple dye murex or tyrian purple after the Phoenician city of Tyre, modern day Lebanon

  • Throughout history the colour purple was only permitted to be worn by royalty, aristocracy and wealthy members of society.  Laws were periodically introduced to prevent commoners from wearing it

  • In the Book of Exodus God instructs Moses to have the Israelites bring him an offering which includes cloth of blue, purple and scarlet

  • In 2008 an attempt was made to recreate tyrian purple using the original formula.  12,000 sea snails created less than 40 grams of dye which was just enough to colour a piece of material the size of a handkerchief

  • Prior to his crucifixion Jesus was dressed in purple cloth by the Romans to mock his claim of being King of the Jews

Birthstone for the Month of February

Amethyst which is a purple variety of the mineral quartz is widely used for decorative purposes.  Geodes have always been popular and no collection of rocks and minerals is complete without one. 

Some of the finest material comes from Africa and South America.  Amethyst has long been known as the birthstone for the month of February.

According to research purple is the colour most often associated with magic, royalty and piety.  When crystals are used for gemstones they can be faceted or shaped as a cabochon.

The shade of colour in amethyst can vary widely within the same crystal.  This characteristic is correctly known as colour zoning.

Chevron amethyst which exhibits large sections of milky white quartz is the most extreme example.  Mostly known as banded amethyst in the UK, the term chevron comes from the prominent chevron-like or v-shaped patterns.

Some chevron amethyst can resemble Derbyshire Blue John which is a rare variety of the mineral fluorite. 

On Mohs scale of mineral hardness amethyst like most varieties of quartz, grades 7.  Mohs scale is a tool which measures the scratch resistance of one mineral against another.  Hardness is not the same as toughness

group of medium sized chevron amethyst crystals on a being coloured stone surface

Chevron amethyst stones | Photo; Stone Mania ©

Properties of Amethyst

Amethyst crystals can vary significantly from the deepest shade of purple to subtle violet.  Its colour is sensitive to light so will fade if exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.

Although iron is the primary cause of the colour, other contributing factors include heat often in the form of radiation and/or pressure.

All natural minerals are formed through a variety of different geological processes.  Should one change or be absent the outcome may well be the formation of a different mineral.

Exposure to heat causes a gradual reduction in the amount of iron present in a crystal.  This causes it to change colour.  Although impurities of iron may be present in a quartz crystal, without heat the colour is unlikely to change.

By disrupting a mineral's chemical composition it's possible to adjust or change the colour completely.

Heat treatments mimic natural geological processes.  They have long been used to remove unwanted tinges of colour or to lighten or darken the shade of many but not all rocks and minerals.

Much of the world's commercial grade citrine is produced by heating amethyst.  This is because this yellow variety of quartz is relatively rare hence also expensive.

When heated to around 450°C (842°F) amethyst crystals turn yellow.  Increase the temperature and they turn orange and then orange-brown.  The final colour is determined not only by temperature but also by the length of time the stone is heated.

Ametrine which is a combination of amethyst and citrine is also very rare.  Most of the world's supply comes from one mine in Bolivia.  Smaller amounts can also been found in India and Brazil.

With ametrine being so rare the vast majority is produced artificially.

Prasiolite is a rare green variety of the mineral quartz.  Most commercial grade stones are produced by heating amethyst.

This material is sometimes referred to as green amethyst which is inaccurate and a misnomer.  Amethyst is a geological name which only applies to the purple variety of quartz.

It's usually quite easy to easy to tell whether citrine is natural or heated amethyst.  Amethyst that has been heated tends to be a deeper shade of yellow or burnt orange. Whilst the colour of natural citrine can vary, it's fairly uniform throughout the stone.

Heated amethyst often exhibits opaque quartz towards the base of the crystal. 

Large sized citrine crystal on a black surface
Citrine crystal (heated amethyst)

Through the Ages

Enhancing or changing the colour of stones can be traced back thousands of years.  Theophrastus ancient Greek philosopher [c.370 - 285 BC] documented in his treatise Theophrastus On Stones;

"amethyst loses its colour in the fire like the sapphire and emerald".

Ancient Roman author, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder [23 - 79 AD] wrote about "giving quartz the colour of emeralds" and "how to change one gemstone into another".

Amethyst is known to have been popular and highly sought after in ancient Egypt.  The earliest reference was in 3100 BC.

Theophrastus remarked on the colour being similar to wine and that along with rock crystal, it could be found by "dividing other stones".  He says both can be found in veins, cavities or lining the interior of geodes and are only revealed when rocks are broken open.

The first English translation of Theophrastus On Stones (renamed as The History of Stones) by author and botanist John Hill was published in 1746.  In a footnote he writes;

"Although the ancients" knew of five species of amethyst, we have at least as many among the jewellers at present, though they are not at the pains to distinguish them by particular names, they divide them in general into Οriental and Occidental. The former are very fierce but of great hardness, lustre and beauty, the latter are had from many places particularly Saxony, Germany and Bohemia".

upright free-standing geode lined entirely with amethyst crystals

Amethyst geode lined with distinctive quartz crystals

It's believed in the past translucent stones of a similar colour were grouped together.  Amethyst would have been grouped with fluorite, corundum (blue corundum is sapphire, red is ruby) and possibly tourmaline. Oriental amethyst was a reference to stones from the East.  Occidental means 'relating to the West'. 

Later writers like Pliny also compare the stone's colour to wine.  In his encyclopaedia Naturalis Historia (Natural History) he writes,

"We will now commence with another class of precious stones, those of a purple colour or whose tints are derived from purple. To the first rank belongs the amethystos".

He goes on to say;

"All of these stones are transparent and of an agreeable violet colour and easy to engrave, those of India have in perfection the very richest shades of purple and it is to attain this colour that the dyers in purple direct all their endeavours"

From here detail becomes a little sketchy so historians are reliant on various translations of the original text to try and work out exactly what stones Pliny is referring to.

Corundum would not have been easy to engrave because of its hardness.  It's therefore generally believed it was not included in the group known as amethystos.  This is supported by Pliny's description of this group of stones in which he says, "they have a fine mellowed appearance to the eye and not dazzling the sight like the colours of the carbunculas."  Carbunculus is garnet.

He went on to say "the colour of one is almost hyacinth whilst another borders on crystal with the purple gradually passing off into white".

He said it has little value because when viewed sideways and held up to the light, fine amethyst (a reference to corundum or blue sapphire) should always have a purple brilliance like that of the carbunculus "slightly inclining to a tint of rose". 

Pliny said the name amethystos according to "some authorities" comes from Greek for 'not' and 'to intoxicate'.  This stems from it being "a supposed preservative against inebriety".

It's believed with this statement Pliny is not referring solely to the group of stones known as amethystos but to the entire group of stones which are purple or whose tints are derived from purple.  This includes corundum, fluorite and possibly garnet amongst others.

In another paragraph he talks about how amber is used to counterfeit certain gemstones and says,

"Amber too is greatly in request for the imitation of the transparent precious stones, amethystos in particular for as already stated, it admits of being dyed of every colour"

amethyst quartz crystals against a black background. In a museum display cabinet

Amethyst crystals. Photo; Stan Celestian - Flickr

In 1846 John Kitto published an encyclopaedia called "A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature".  The reference talks about how ancient Egyptians counterfeited precious stones.

Kitto writes glass was known and made by these "ingenious people at a very early period."  Glass ornaments were made about 1500 BC and vases were used for wine as early as the Exodus.

He says "such was the skill of the Egyptians in this manufacture that they successfully counterfeited amethyst and many other precious stones."

The following text shows how amethyst in ancient writings did not just refer to the purple variety of quartz; 

"The transparent gems to which this name is applied are of a colour which seems composed of a strong blue and deep red and according as either of these prevails, exhibit different tinges of purple sometimes approaching to violet and sometimes declining even to a rose colour.

From these differences of colour the ancients distinguished five species of amethyst, modern collections afford at least as many varieties but they are all comprehended under two species, the oriental amethyst and the occidental amethyst. These names, however are given to stones of essentially different natures which were no doubt, anciently confounded in the same manner.

The oriental amethyst is very scarce and of great hardness, lustre and beauty. It is in fact a rare variety of the adamantine spar or corundum. Next to diamond it is the hardest substance known. To this species also belongs the sapphire, the most valuable of gems next to the diamond and of which the oriental amethyst is merely a violet variety. Like other sapphires it loses its colour in the fire.

The more common or occidental amethyst is a variety of quartz or rock crystal and is found in various forms in many parts of the world as India, Siberia, Sweden, Germany, Spain and even in England very beautiful specimens of tolerable hardness have been discovered. This also loses its colour in the fire.

Amethysts were much used by the ancients for rings and cameos and the reason given by Pliny, was because they were easily cut."

Large open mouth shaped amethyst geode lined with crystals. In a museum display cabinet
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Washington D.C | Photo; Stone Mania ©

Large section of a geode featuring large amethyst crystals. On display in a museum display cabinet

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Washington D.C | Photo; Stone Mania ©

Amethyst is believed to have been the third stone in the third row of the high priest breastplate.  This religious garment used during biblical times was worn by the Jewish high priest when presenting himself to God.  It was adorned with twelve precious gemstones each of which had the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on one side.

In the Middle Ages amethyst was believed to encourage celibacy and symbolise piety (dutiful devotion to God and observance of religious principles) hence was favoured by the church.

More recently a large amethyst crystal can be seen in the Royal Sceptre, part of the British Crown Jewels.  Crafted entirely from gold the sceptre features a huge amethyst mounted below a diamond encrusted cross with an emerald in the centre. It also features the Cullinan I which is the world's largest clear cut diamond.

Inaccuracies in Literature

Countless articles written about amethyst make reference to a story from Greek mythology.  The only known reference to amethyst in Greek mythology relates to a stone given to Dionysus (Greek God of wine) by the titan Rhea in order to preserve the wine-drinker's sanity.

In 1576 a book of poems was published that were written by the French poet Remy Belleau.  One bore a striking resemblance to this apparent Greek myth. Published less than ten months before his death, there is nothing to suggest it was based on text from Greek mythology.

Bacchus is the name adopted by the Romans for Dionysus the Greek God of wine.

"Bacchus was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the goddess Diana answered, transforming her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethyste's desire to remain chaste, Bacchus poured wine over the stone as an offering, dyeing the crystals purple"

In recent years many different versions have appeared and each time the author claims incorrectly, the myth comes from Greek mythology.

Metaphysical Healing Properties

One of the most powerful and protective of all stones, amethyst transforms energy into love.  Naturally calming, it's perfect to use for meditation because it can help induce a deeper state of relaxation. 

Amethyst blocks geopathic stress and unwanted energies that create a negative environment.  A strong healing and cleansing stone it can be used to deal with obsessive behaviour and to help with addictions.

It calms and stimulates the mind bringing focus and a deeper understanding of matters that may seem mundane.  It strengthens the ability to make decisions, introduces new ideas and gives the motivation to put thoughts into practice.

A hugely spiritual stone, amethyst connects with nature and brings spiritual wisdom.  Ideal to sleep with, it induces calmness and tranquility and encourages clarity in dreams.

Article Photos

The amethyst photos in our article are clickable and redirect to the original non-compressed image.

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