Amethyst is the classic purple gem, a stone with a long history that starts with its prized status since ancient times. Associated with both royalty and with religious uses in both Eastern and Western faiths, amethyst was quite rare and therefore quite expensive until the 18th century, when it cost as much as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Then the discovery of massive deposits of amethysts in Brazil brought the price down dramatically. For those with February birthdays, this means that owning a beautiful example of their birthstone is an affordable proposition.
Amethyst’s use in many cultures has given rise to extensive legends and lore. In fact, its name comes from the Greek word “amethystos,” which means not drunk, referring to the ancient Greek belief that the stone would protect its wearer from becoming intoxicated. Amethysts also became associated with royalty due to their hue—purple cloth was once outrageously expensive to produce, due to the scarcity of the dye-producing materials for that color, and so was worn only by royalty, who were the only ones who could afford it. Thus purple amethyst became associated with royalty as well, and can still be found in the crown jewel collections of many royal families today.
Even though it is now more readily available than in antiquity, amethyst is still the most prized variety of quartz gem. With a Mohs hardness of 7, it is a relatively scratch-resistant stone suitable for use in all kinds of jewelry. Amethyst is found in South America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The single greatest factor in determining the value of an amethyst is its color. Amethyst frequently displays color zoning, which means that areas of a single stone may display different intensity of color. A stone with noticeable color zoning will be less valuable than a stone with consistent color throughout. Also, a stone with a strong purple or reddish-purple hue will be more valuable than a lighter-hued stone, as long as the color is not too dark. Exceptionally dark amethysts can lose some of their brightness, and even appear black in low light.
Faceted amethysts can almost always be found without eye-visible inclusions; such inclusions tend to reduce the value of the stone, unless the color is exceptionally superior. Amethysts with good color but which have many inclusions are usually cut as cabochons or beads. Amethysts are routinely cut into calibrated sizes and into all kinds of standard shapes. Its price does not rise dramatically as its carat size increases, which makes it a popular choice for a piece of jewelry with a large center stone.
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