Amethyst is a purple, semi-precious gemstone variety of the mineral quartz, or rocky crystal. After feldspar, quartz is the most abundant mineral found in the Earth’s crust. Ancient Greeks believed quartz was actually a form of ice, and used the word “kruos,” meaning “icy cold,” to describe it. The name amethyst also derives from the ancient Greek word “amethystos,” meaning “not intoxicated.” The Greeks and, later, the Romans, wore amethyst as a protection from the enthralling powers of Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of ritual madness, wine and winemaking, and drunkenness.
Iron impurities in quartz, combined with irradiation, gives amethyst its signature violet color, though the gemstones can range in color from pale pink to dark purple. The most ideal grade of amethyst has a purple hue of between 75-80%, and is known as “Deep Siberian.” Paler shades of purple, bordering on lilac, are known as “Rose de France.” Amethysts are found in North and South America, and even as far as Zambia and South Korea. In Tibet, prayer beads are made from amethyst. Leonardo da Vinci believed the gemstone helped rid the mind of evil thoughts and increase intelligence. Perhaps due to its association with the month of February, it is said that St. Valentine, the patron saint of romantic love, wore a ring with Cupid carved into an amethyst.
Amethyst has long been incorporated into jewelry, with the earliest example dating back to 2000 B.C. On the Mohs scale, amethysts clocks in at 7, making them durable and hardwearing for jewelry. The gemstone was originally one of the Cardinal Gems, five precious stones—including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds—considered scared and rare, and also extremely valuable. While large deposits in Brazil, for example, have stripped amethyst of its status as especially rare, the gemstone is still popular in jewelry, decoration—in its unpolished form—and holistic remedies.