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Amethyst Properties Facts and Photos

piece of an amethyst geode with large rich purple coloured crystals 
Contents

1. What Colour is Amethyst
2. Amethyst Purple Crystal
3. Amethyst Properties
4. Early History of Amethyst
5. What Does Amethyst Do?
6. Inaccuracies in Literature
7. Article Pictures
8. Shop for Amethyst

What Colour is Amethyst?

Amethyst is one of the world's oldest gemstones.  Although best known for being a purple crystal, the colour can vary from being exceptionally subtle to incredibly dark.  The finest gem grade stones have a slightly reddish purple colour with deep saturation and no colour zoning.  Although amethyst in darker shades of purple is also popular, if too dark the crystal can almost look black. 

The colour purple once known as magenta doesn't exist naturally.  It can only be produced by combining red and blue.  It's therefore a perceived colour invented by our eyes and brain.

A rainbow exhibits the full spectrum of colours yet never includes purple.  This short video explains why that is.

Colours have long been known to affect our mood, behaviour and even our emotions.  Apart from in the plant kingdom purple is quite rare in nature. Only a small number of purple coloured minerals exist.

Throughout history this colour has been associated with religion, royalty and wealth.  Today it's also associated with magic, mystery and fantasy.

Purple, white and green were the colours used by the suffragettes.  Purple stood for loyalty and dignity, white for purity and green for hope.

Large open mouth shaped amethyst geode lined with crystals. In a museum display cabinetTo the Ancient Egyptians and Romans amethyst was rare, valuable and highly sought after.

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. 

Until 1856 purple could only be produced from natural dyes hence was rarely seen.  In the 15th century BC it was produced from the mucous of the murex sea snail.  Known as purple dye murex or tyrian purple, it was named after the Phoenician city of Tyre, modern day Lebanon.  Thousands of snails were crushed to produce just an ounce of dye.  In 2008 it was recreated using the original formula.  12,000 sea snails created just enough dye to colour a small piece of material.

Amethyst healing properties are closely associated with strength and power.  This is likely to be because its colour comes from impurities of iron.

It was only after huge reserves of amethyst were found in South America in the 1800s that it became a more affordable gemstone.  Today it can be found in many countries around the world including the United Kingdom.

Amethyst Spectacular Purple Crystal

Amethyst is well known as the purple variety of the mineral quartz.  Its crystals are widely used for decorative purposes.  As a gemstone it can be faceted or polished as a cabochon. Geodes are also very popular and no collection of rocks and minerals would be complete without one. 

Some of the finest amethyst crystals come from Africa and South America.

Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February on the modern, traditional and ayurvedic birthstone chart.  It's also associated with the zodiac sign of pisces.

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

Chevron amethyst which exhibits large sections of milky white quartz is the most extreme example.  In the UK chevron amethyst tends to be known as banded amethyst.  The name chevron comes from the prominent chevron-like or v-shaped patterns.

On Mohs scale of mineral hardness amethyst like most varieties of quartz grades 7. 

group of medium sized banded amethyst polished sotnes

Amethyst Properties

The colour of amethyst is delicate and will fade over time if exposed to sunlight.  Unless kept out of natural light completely, most crystals will experience some degree of fading.  For this reason if being used for its crystal healing properties, amethyst should never be charged in sunlight.   

The stone's purple colour comes from impurities of iron.  That alone however won't bring about a change in colour.  For that to happen the crystals must be exposed to heat which in nature comes from radiation.

When amethyst is heated artificially it causes a gradual reduction in the amount of iron that's present.  By disrupting its chemical composition, the colour of the crystals can be altered.

Heat treatments mimic natural geological processes.  They have long been used to remove unwanted wisps of colour or to lighten, darken or change the colour of a stone completely.

Much of the world's commercial grade citrine is heated amethyst.  This is because this yellow variety of quartz is quite rare.heated amethyst citrine crystals
When heated to around 450°C (842°F) amethyst crystals turn yellow.  Turn up the heat 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 crystals are heated.

Prasiolite is a rare green variety of quartz.  Most commercial grade stones are produced by heating amethyst.  It's often referred to as green amethyst which is a misnomer.  Amethyst is a geological name used to describe the purple variety of the mineral quartz. 

It's normally quite easy to tell natural citrine from 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, the shade is rarely as intense and is usually uniform throughout the stone.

White quartz or subtle shades of orange or yellow will often be visible towards the base of the crystal. This is because in amethyst there's not as much iron in the lower section.  Look closely at an amethyst crystal and you'll see the depth of colour increases towards the tip.  It's believed this is because of the mix of iron in the water as the crystal grows. 

Large sized citrine crystal on a black surface

Early History of Amethyst

Altering the properties of stones to enhance or change their colour dates 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 to this mineral was 3100 BC.

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

section of geode featuring large amethyst crystals

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 Oriental 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".

It's believed in the past translucent stones of a similar colour were grouped together.  Amethyst would have been with fluorite, corundum (blue corundum is sapphire) 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"

rough amethyst crystals

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

Being exceptionally hard corundum would not have been easy to engrave.  It's therefore 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 (garnet)."

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

He says 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 he's not referring solely to the group of stones known as amethystos but to all groups of stones which are purple or whose tints are derived from purple.  That includes corundum, fluorite and possibly garnet amongst others.
amethyst crystals in a museum display cabinet

In 1846 John Kitto published "A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature".  In this reference he talks about how the Ancient Egyptians counterfeited precious stones one being amethyst.

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.  It was adorned with twelve precious gemstones each of which had the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on the side.

In the Middle Ages amethyst was believed to encourage celibacy and symbolise piety hence was favoured by the church.

More recently a large purple crystal can be seen in the Royal Sceptre, part of the British Crown Jewels.  Crafted from gold, this huge amethyst is mounted below a diamond encrusted cross with an emerald in the centre.

What Does Amethyst Do?

Its healing properties make amethyst one of the most widely used of all crystals.  The belief it had the ability to counter the effects of alcohol is likely to have come about because its colour was once likened to wine.  Having been given the name "amethystos" from the Greek for "not" and "intoxicate", a myth was born.

The literal meaning of amethyst seems to be part of the reason why it's widely used in ecclesiastical rings worn by bishops and cardinals.

A powerful and protective stone, amethyst soothes emotions, eases stress and aids deep meaningful sleep.  Its calming energies make it perfect to use for meditation.

Healers recommend it for soothing irritability, calming mood swings and controlling anger.

The use of crystals for healing flourished during the New Age movement of the 1970's.  It then disappeared almost completely until a few years ago.  As people started looking for alternative ways to improve their health and wellbeing a resurgence began.

Despite there being no medical evidence to support crystals having the ability to heal, that hasn't put anyone off.  In fact crystals being used for the purpose of healing has become a multi billion dollar industry.amethyst tumbled stonesAn amethyst crystal is a beautiful naturally occurring material.  The pieces we enjoy today have evolved slowly over millions of years.  They can certainly have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing but whether that comes from the energy of the crystal or a placebo effect is for you to decide.

There's no shortage of information about what amethyst does and how to look after it.  One article I read in an influential online magazine recommends leaving stones in the sun for a few hours to recharge them.  It said alternatively they could be placed in a salt bath to remove negative energies they may have accumulated.

Follow this guidance and your amethyst is unlikely to remain beautiful for very long.  With amethyst colour being sensitive to light it will fade if exposed to sunlight.  You may also find that it starts turning yellow.  Although most varieties of quartz can be submerged in water, to keep any crystal in pristine condition it should never be soaked in salt water.  Salt is a corrosive.      

Inaccuracies in Literature

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

In 1576 a book of poems was published written by 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 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.  Each time the author claims incorrectly, this myth about amethyst comes from Greek mythology.ancient amethyst and gold ring

Article Pictures

The amethyst geode at the top of our article was once part of our collection.  The geode in the second photo (taken by Stone Mania) is on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.  The banded amethyst stones are from our collection.

The citrine crystals are heated amethyst. 

The rough amethyst geode with large crystals (photo by Stone Mania) is also on display in the Smithsonian.

The next two photos are courtesy of Ron Wolf and Stan Celestian.  The tumbled stones are from our collection.

Our last photo which comes from the Smithsonian Magazine links to the full article.

Photos are clickable and redirect to the original non-compressed image.   

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