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Amethyst, More Than Just a Birthstone

February 6, 2019

Early civilization as far back as the Assyrians (1400 BC) invested rare and beautiful gemstones with magical properties. Some minerals were thought to contain a force or possess certain values and powers. For instance, amethyst was said to prevent intoxication. Tradition associates a gem with each sign of the zodiac based on a color system. Color was thought to unleash the power attributed to the birthstone. In time, birthstones became associated with calendar months rather than the zodiac. And people began to select birthstones in colors other than the original.

The idea that certain birthstones were associated with certain months goes back at least to the 1st century CE. Oddly enough, the idea of wearing one's birthstone - that is, wearing a piece of jewelry containing the gemstone associated with the month one was born in - appears to be much more recent. George Frederick Kunz, in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, states that the custom began in Poland during the 18th century. The wearing of one's birthstone is traditionally thought to be lucky. Thus, if one was born in the month of February, and one wears an amethyst (one's "birthstone"), one should attract good fortune.

Despite being abundant today, amethyst has been one of the world’s most revered stones for many centuries. Amethyst was as expensive as ruby and emerald until the 19th Century, when Brazil’s large deposits were discovered.  It’s no wonder that fine amethyst adorns the fingers of bishops as well as the coronation regalia of British royalty.  Today amethyst is found in many places including Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Africa, Canada, Russia, USA and Europe.

Amethyst is the purple (and only purple) variety of the quartz family of gemstones. It’s the gemstone that’s most commonly associated with the color purple, even though there are other purple gems such as sapphire and tanzanite. Its purple color can be cool and bluish, or a reddish purple that’s sometimes referred to as “raspberry.” Amethyst’s purple color can range from a light lilac to a deep, intense royal purple, and from brownish to vivid. Amethyst also commonly shows what is called color zoning, which in the case of amethyst usually consists of angular zones of darker to lighter color.  All other gem quality quartz should not be termed amethyst.  One of the biggest examples of a gemstone misnomer today is "green amethyst" which should never be called amethyst.

This gemstone has a rich history of astonishing civilizations with its stunning, saturated beauty. The Neolithic people in Europe now view it as a mere decorative emblem around 25,000 B.C., Ancient Greeks and Romans used amethyst in several ways from beads in jewelry to amulets. These ancient civilizations placed a high value in this stone. Their belief was that the amethyst crystal meaning was synonymous with luxury. As such, it was highlighted as part of their crowns, scepters and rings. Christian bishops once wore amethyst jewelry in the form of a ring. It’s color was meant to symbolize royalty and an allegiance to Christ. Members of the Catholic clergy wore amethyst stone in their crosses because their amethyst meaning was one of piety and celibacy.  It is even thought that the breast plate of the high priest of Israel was adorned with an amethyst as its ninth stone. It’s said that there were ten stones upon which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved, and amethyst is believed to have been one of such stones.  Because of its wine like color, early Greek legends associated amethyst with Bacchus, the god of wine.  The ancient Greeks carved goblets of amethyst in the belief that it would prevent intoxication.  The Greek word "amethystos" may be translated as "not drunken", from Greek a-, "not" + methustos, "intoxicated".  The medieval European soldiers wore amethyst jewelry as protection in battle in the belief that amethysts heal people and keep them level headed.  In other lore, it is said that Sant Valentine; the patron saint of romantic love; wore an amethyst ring carved with the image of Cupid.

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