The Science of Amethyst
Amethyst is a variety of quartz which appears translucent purple, in shades from palest lavender to nearly black, thanks to natural irradiation and metallic impurities. As a quartz, it is a silicate mineral with the formula SiO2, and it has a trigonal crystal structure. It prefers to grow in the shape of six-sided prisms terminating in a six-sided point. It has no cleavage, but has a conchoidal fracture and glassy lustre. It typically has a hardness of 7, but impurities can make it softer. It is generally considered insoluble and leaves a white streak on a streak plate. It has a very weak pleochroism in which observing a piece from different angles might make the hue or shade of purple seem to change slightly. It is also piezoelectric and subtly dichroic. Amethyst can fade over time if exposed to too much light, especially sunlight.
Amethyst is found throughout the world, though high-quality gem-grade stones are typically found in Brazil, Siberia, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay. The largest quantities of any grade of amethyst are mined from Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, and Zambia. In Canada, Amethyst is most typically found in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Amethyst is the provincial stone of Ontario and Thunder Bay, Ontario is the largest amethyst mine in North America. Despite Thunder Bay being closer to us than Brazil, stones from Thunder Bay often cost more due to higher cost of Canadian labour, and because there is less quantity of the stone than in Brazil, which has the largest amethyst mines in the world.
When purchasing raw Amethyst geodes, vugs, or clusters, you might find a green or grey "rind" on the outer shell. This is a man-made cement that is added to the outside of a geode before it is fully extracted and then transported. Thus keeps the geode from breaking, as they are often fairly delicate. This cement is usually kept on as it is difficult to remove and removal makes a piece much more delicate.
Amethyst is often heat-treated to change its colour. This often results in yellow or orange citrine. There is some argument on the internet and in the spiritual community about whether this stone should be called citrine. For this reason, we call ours “heat-treated” citrine or “natural” citrine, depending on its origin. Gemologically speaking, it is incorrect to refer to heat-treated citrine as amethyst because amethyst is by definition purple. Once it has changed colour, it is no longer amethyst.
Fascinatingly, sometimes when amethyst is heat-treated, it turns green instead of yellow or orange, creating heat-treated prasiolite. For this reason, it is sometimes called “green amethyst” to differentiate from the much rarer natural prasiolite. Again, this is by definition incorrect.
Many people are concerned about fake amethyst. Synthetic, lab-grown amethyst is possible, but it is a lot of trouble so usually gone through for the high-quality gem market. Compared to other stones, Amethyst is common enough and cheap enough that it is not faked very often. Most often fake amethyst appears in costume jewelry, with beads made of plastic and glass. When it comes to telling real from fake, one of the best indicators is price, as a price that is too good to be true probably is. (An elastic bracelet of just amethyst beads, for example, should probably be at least $2 CAD, and that is for amethyst beads that are cloudy with a lot of inclusions.) However, this doesn’t mean someone might not take those extremely cheap glass beads and sell them at real amethyst prices. In this case, it is best to talk to sellers, see how knowledgeable they seem, and shop around for a while before deciding. Some people advocate for scratch tests, but 1) that’s very difficult to do with beads and gems, 2) stores don’t usually let you do that before purchase, and 3) glass and amethyst are very similar in hardness, so it takes a very keen eye to tell which one is harder. In fact, for a true test, you need a specific kind of glass tile, as glass windows and servingware are often too hard for testing quartz.
History of Amethyst
Amethyst was used as a gemstone by the ancient Egyptians. In ancient China, it was used to remove negative energies and for protection. The ancient Greeks believed amethyst gems could prevent intoxication. Good quality amethyst has been found in Aztec graves. Medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets as protection in battle in the belief that amethysts heal people and keep them cool-headed. During this time, it was also considered a symbol of royalty and decorated English regalia. Beads of amethyst have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves.
It was once considered one of the Cardinal Gems. These five gemstones (amethyst, diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire) were considered the most prized aboved all others. Amethyst lost this status when such vast deposits were found in Brazil that its price reduced significantly.
Historically, amethyst was popular for carved gems such as cameos and brooches, whereas these days it is more popular as a faceted gem. To this day, Anglican bishops wear an episcopal ring often set with an amethyst, an allusion to the description of the Apostles as "not drunk" at Pentecost in Acts 2:15.
Peter the Great had a significant interest in mining the Ural mountains for precious gems. It is here that the exceptional Siberian amethyst was found, still considered the highest quality of amethyst. Amethyst later became the favourite stone of Catherine the Great, and she continued the mining of the Urals.
It is worth noting that the gemological advances we have today were not always available, and sometimes similar-looking stones were confused for each other. Where historical sources call amethyst exceptionally hard, they may be referring to a purplish beryl.
Folklore & Mythology
The Greek word "amethystos" may be translated as "not drunken", from Greek a-, "not" + methustos, "intoxicated". Amethyst was considered to be a strong antidote against drunkenness and lasciviousness, which is why wine goblets were often carved from it.
You may have heard of a myth in which a woman named Amethyste or Amethystos was pursued against her will by a drunken Bacchus or Dionysus. She prayed to Diana or Artemis for help, and the goddess saved her by turning her into quartz or a quartz statue. The god then either cried tears of wine over her or, while crying, spilt his wine upon her, and the quartz was stained purple. In other versions, the young woman was accidentally nearly killed by the god and then transformed by the goddess to spare her life, the god then accidentally staining her purple with tears or wine. Unfortunately, this myth seems to been invented by the poet Remy Belleau in his poem “L’Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d’Amethyste.”
However, in the ancient poem Dionysiaca, we do find an actual connection between amethyst and Dionysus. In this poem, the goddess Rhea gives amethyst to Dionysus in an effort to save his sanity.
Amethyst was the third stone in the third row of the chest piece of the high priest, as designed for Aaron upon instruction received by Moses. This stone is thought to have represented the tribe of Issachar. In Hebrew, it was called “ahlmh”, which may have referred to dreaming or may have referred to its hardness.
Tibetans consider amethyst sacred to the Buddha and make prayer beads from it.
Amethyst is a popular semi-precious stone and is considered to be the birthstone of February. In Feng Shui, amethyst is thought to increase wealth, calm the mind and spirit, or to strengthen relationships, depending on the feng shui school.
In new age spirituality, amethyst is connected to the third eye and crown chakras. It is thought to have the vibrational number 3, to be connected to the zodiac signs Aquarius and Pisces, and to be connected to the planets Jupiter and Neptune. Many consider it symbolic of spiritual wisdom. Some believe triangular markings on the stone to be especially powerful.
Crystal healers believe in the power of amethyst to help with pain of both the body and the mind and in doing so, it may help with addiction, anger issues, anxiety, breathing, grief, insomnia, nightmares, paranoia, and stress.
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