The Mystery of Amethyst
Amethyst occurs in primary hues from a light pinkish violet to a deep purple. Amethyst may exhibit one or both secondary hues, red and blue. The best varieties of Amethysts can be found in Siberia, Sri Lanka, Brazil and the far East. The ideal grade is called “Deep Siberian” and has a primary purple hue of around 75–80%, with 15–20% blue and (depending on the light source) red secondary hues. Green quartz is sometimes incorrectly called green amethyst, which is a misnomer and not an appropriate name for the material, the proper terminology being Prasiolite. Other names for green quartz are vermarine or lime citrine.
Emerald cut amethyst
Of very variable intensity, the color of amethyst is often laid out in stripes parallel to the final faces of the crystal. One aspect in the art of lapidary involves correctly cutting the stone to place the color in a way that makes the tone of the finished gem homogeneous. Often, the fact that sometimes only a thin surface layer of violet color is present in the stone or that the color is not homogeneous makes for a difficult cutting.
The color of amethyst has been demonstrated to result from substitution by irradiation of trivalent iron (Fe3+) for silicon in the structure, in the presence of trace elements of large ionic radius, and, to a certain extent, the amethyst color can naturally result from displacement of transition elements even if the iron concentration is low. Natural amethyst is dichroic in reddish violet and bluish violet, but when heated, turns yellow-orange, yellow-brown, or dark brownish and may resemble citrine, but loses its dichroism, unlike genuine citrine. When partially heated, amethyst can result in ametrine.
Amethyst can fade in tone if overexposed to light sources and can be artificially darkened with adequate irradiation.
Roman intaglio engraved gem of Caracalla in amethyst, once in the Treasury of Sainte-Chapelle.
Amethyst was used as a gemstone by the ancient Egyptians and was largely employed in antiquity for intaglio engraved gems.
The Greeks believed amethyst gems could prevent intoxication, while medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets as protection in battle in the belief that amethysts heal people and keep them cool-headed. Beads of amethyst were found in Anglo-Saxon graves in England. Western Christian 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.
A large geode, or “amethyst-grotto”, from near Santa Cruz in southern Brazil was presented at the 1902 exhibition in Düsseldorf, Germany.
In the 19th century, the color of amethyst was attributed to the presence of manganese. However, since it is capable of being greatly altered and even discharged by heat, the color was believed by some authorities to be from an organic source. Ferric thiocyanate has been suggested, and sulfur was said to have been detected in the mineral.
Synthetic amethyst is produced by gamma-ray, x-ray or electron beam irradiation of clear quartz which has been first doped with ferric impurities. On exposure to heat, the irradiation effects can be partially cancelled and amethyst generally becomes yellow or even green, and much of the citrine, cairngorm, or yellow quartz of jewelry is said to be merely “burnt amethyst”.
Synthetic amethyst is made to imitate the best quality amethyst. Its chemical and physical properties are so similar to that of natural amethyst that it can not be differentiated with absolute certainty without advanced gemnological testing (which is often cost-prohibitive). There is one test based on “Brazil law twinning” (a form of quartz twinning where right and left hand quartz structures are combined in a single crystal) which can be used to identify synthetic amethyst rather easily. It is possible to synthesize twinned amethyst, but this type is not available in large quantities in the market.
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, which is why wine goblets were often carved from it. In his poem “L’Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d’Amethyste” (Amethyst or the loves of Bacchus and Amethyste), the French poet Remy Belleau (1528–1577) invented a myth in which Bacchus, the god of intoxication, of wine, and grapes was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste, who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the chaste 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.
Variations of the story include that Dionysus had been insulted by a mortal and swore to slay the next mortal who crossed his path, creating fierce tigers to carry out his wrath. The mortal turned out to be a beautiful young woman, Amethystos, who was on her way to pay tribute to Artemis. Her life was spared by Artemis, who transformed the maiden into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The god’s tears then stained the quartz purple.
This myth and its variations are not found in classical sources. Although the titan Rhea does present Dionysus with an amethyst stone to preserve the wine-drinker’s sanity in historical text.