Amethyst Facts About the Colour Purple
- Prior to 1856 purple could only be produced from natural dyes hence it was a relatively rare colour
- The mineral amethyst which is the purple variety of the mineral quartz first appeared during the Neolithic Age. Paintings of animals and the outline of human hands have been found on cave walls in France. The purple dye was created from sticks of manganese and hematite powder and the paintings have been dated to about 16,000 to 25,000 years BC
- In the 15th century BC purple dye was being produced from the mucous of the murex sea snail and was known as purple dye murex or tyrian purple. Thousands of these medium sized predatory molluscs were needed to make the tiniest amount of dye
- Throughout history the colour purple was only permitted to be worn by royalty, aristocracy and wealthy or affluent members of society. Periodically laws were put in place to prevent commoners from wearing it
- In the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament God instructs Moses to have the Israelites bring him an offering which includes cloth of blue, purple and scarlet
- The colour was originally known as tyrian purple and was named after the Phoenician city of Tyre, modern day Lebanon
- In an experiment conducted in 2008 an attempt was made to recreate tyrian purple using the original formula. 12,000 sea snails created just 1.4 ounces (less than 40 grams) of dye and to put that into perspective, it 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
- Even today purple is still considered to be a slightly more exclusive colour
Amethyst Birthstone for the Month of February
An attractive stone and variety of the mineral quartz that's hugely popular as a decorative material. Geodes of all sizes are keenly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts and amethyst can be found in several countries around the world. Some of the finest grade stone comes from Africa and South America and it 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 the mineral amethyst can vary widely within the same crystal, a trait correctly known as colour zoning. Although quite common, chevron amethyst is the most extreme example and this stone usually exhibits large sections of milky white quartz. The name chevron amethyst or banded amethyst as it tends to be known in the UK, stems from the prominent chevron-like or v-shaped patterns. Some chevron amethyst stone can resemble Derbyshire Blue John which is a rare variety of the mineral fluorite.
On Mohs scale of mineral hardness along with most varieties of quartz amethyst grades 7. Mohs scale compares the scratch resistance of one mineral against another but hardness should not be confused for toughness.
Chevron amethyst stones | Photo; Stone Mania ©
Mineral with an Unmistakable Colour
Amethyst crystals can vary significantly from the deepest shade of purple to subtle violet but the 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 stone's 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 and 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 that's present in a crystal which causes it to change colour. So whilst impurities of iron may be present in the 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 of a stone completely. Heat treatments mimic natural geological processes and can be 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 because with this yellow variety of quartz being relatively rare it's also expensive. When heated to around 450°C (842°F) amethyst crystals turn yellow and with an increase in temperature turn orange and then orange-brown. The final colour of the stone is determined not only by temperature but also by the length of time that it's heated.
Ametrine which is a combination of amethyst and citrine is also very rare and most of the world's supply comes from just 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 which is a green variety of quartz is another rare mineral so is widely produced by heating amethyst. It's sometimes referred to as green amethyst which is inaccurate and a misnomer because amethyst is the geological name for the purple variety of the mineral quartz.
It's usually relatively easy to tell whether citrine is amethyst that has been heated because the colour is almost always a deeper shade of yellow or kind of burnt orange. Whilst the colour of natural citrine can vary it's usually fairly uniform throughout the crystal whereas in amethyst that has been heated there will almost always be areas of mostly opaque white quartz towards the base of the crystal.
Some History of the Mineral Amethyst
Enhancing or changing the colour of stones is almost as old as the gem trade itself. Theophrastus the 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" and the 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".
The earliest reference to this purple coloured stone can be traced back over 5000 years to 3100 BC and this variety of quartz is known to have been popular and highly sought after in Ancient Egypt. Theophrastus remarked on its colour being similar to wine and that along with rock crystal it can be found by "dividing other stones". He says both are often 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".
Amethyst geode lined with distinctive quartz crystals
It's believed that in the past translucent stones of a similar colour were grouped together so amethyst would have been placed with the minerals fluorite, corundum (blue corundum is sapphire red is ruby) and possibly even tourmaline. Oriental amethyst was a reference to stones from the East and 'occidental' means 'relating to the West'.
Later writers like Pliny also compare the colour of amethyst to wine and in his works 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. The mineral corundum would not have been easy to engrave because of its hardness so it's generally believed it was not included in the rank known as amethystos. This is supported by Pliny's descriptions 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 known today as garnet. He continues, "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 (garnet) "slightly inclining to a tint of rose".
He says the name amethystos according to "some authorities" comes from the Ancient Greek words for 'not' and 'to intoxicate' on account that it's "a supposed preservative against inebriety". It's believed with this statement Pliny is not referring solely to the rank of stones known as amethystos but to the entire class of stones which are purple or whose tints are derived from purple which includes the minerals 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 crystals. Photo; Stan Celestian - Flickr
In 1846 John Kitto published an encyclopaedia called "A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature" in which he talks about how Ancient Egyptians counterfeited precious stones. He writes that glass was known and made by these "ingenious people at a very early period." Glass ornaments were made about 1500 years BC and glass vases were used for holding 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 paragraph demonstrates how the use of the word 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."
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Washington D.C | Photo; Stone Mania ©
In biblical times an amethyst crystal is believed to have been the third stone in the third row of the high priest breastplate. This religious garment was worn by the Jewish high priest when presenting himself to God and was adorned with twelve precious gemstones. Each one had the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on one side.
In the Middle Ages the mineral amethyst was believed to encourage celibacy and symbolise piety (dutiful devotion to God and observance of religious principles) hence was a favourite of the church. More recently a large amethyst crystal can be seen in the Royal Sceptre which is part of the British Crown Jewels. The sceptre is crafted entirely from gold and 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 that have been written about the mineral amethyst over the years make reference to a tale from Greek mythology which explains how the name came about. Despite extensive research we have never been able to find any hard evidence to support its existence. 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 however which is many years after the fall of Ancient Greece, a book of poems was published that had been written by the French poet Remy Belleau and 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 of the myth have appeared and each time the author claims incorrectly, that it comes from Greek mythology.
Healing Properties of Amethyst
One of the most powerful and protective 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. Other properties associated with amethyst include being able to dispel anger, rage, fear and anxiety. It alleviates sadness and can bring emotional support during times of grief.
The amethyst photos in this article are all clickable and redirect to the original full size image.
Our Collection of Amethyst