Raw amethyst crystals. Image via Pinterest.
Although the violet beauty of the amethyst is *crystal* clear, the name for February’s luminous red-violet gemstone has somewhat wine-soaked origins. Its purple hue made the ancient Greeks associate it with their god of the vine, Bacchus, and his penchant for extreme drunkenness. In a bid to have their cake and eat it too, many Greeks attempted to stay sober not by drinking less, but with wishful thinking and a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too move: by wearing an amethustos, meaning “not intoxicated”…even going so far as to fashion drinking vessels and wine goblets from amethyst.
Amethyst or the loves of Bacchus and Amethyste (L’Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d’Amethyste) was penned by the French poet Remy Belleau (1528–1577), in which he spun a tall tale about Bacchus chasing the maiden Amethyste. Wish to remain chaste, she prayed to the also-chaste goddess Diana to protect her from Bacchus’s advances. So Diana transformed her into a white stone, which made Bacchus regret his pursuit. By way of an apology, he poured wine over the stone, dyeing it purple. Other variations of this story have the god weeping remorseful, wine-filled tears which stained the former Amethyst-turned-quartz.
Gods are not the only high-flying company kept by the amethyst throughout history. Believed at one point to be equal in value to sapphires, emeralds and rubies, amethysts were set into religious jewelry, adorned the fingers of bishops and embellished royal crown jewels throughout Europe, including the coronation regalia worn by British royalty. Not surprisingly, New Age types have long been drawn to the amethyst, associating it with the energy of the third eye or sixth chakra, and the ability to communicate with one’s guardian angels, increase psychic abilities and travel between worlds.
Roses in amethyst hues. Image via Pinterest.
While the color can range from a light, pinkish violet to the most regal of deep purples, the ideal grade is considered to be about 80% purple and 20% blue (with only secondary red hues), called Deep Siberian. This name honors the fact that some of the finest specimens originate from that region of Russia, within granitic rocks in large geodes. Sri Lanka, parts of Asia and within volcanic rocks in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state are also known for some of the highest quality stones, but good quality can be found in places as far flung as South Korea to Zambia (where the annual production is about 1000 tons) to Lower Austria. In North America, the largest mine is north of the US border in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The fact that the amethyst is plentiful in so many places is reflected in the sheer number of different myths, legends, religions and cultures around the world it is associated with.
Amethyst crytal faces. Image via Pinterest.
Interestingly, the color of an amethyst often occurs in stripes that are parallel to a crystal’s final face, requiring the stone cutter to place the stone in such a way that the finished gem will have an even allover hue. In amethysts with uneven coloring or only a thin layer of purple on the surface, the cutting can be particularly tricky. However, in the right hands, the results are unquestionably luminous – which is probably why the amethyst is the gemstone to give when honoring the 6th anniversary of marriage.
Check out ISHARYA’s carefully curated selection of amethyst jewelry. Be sure to let us know how you enjoy your amethysts by using the tag @Isharya!