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Amethyst

Click HERE to shop amethyst, or scroll to the bottom of the article. 

Amethyst is the official birthstone for the month of February. 

Amethyst – a beautiful gemstone so popular that the name is synonymous with its color, a violet to deep purple. In ancient times it was valued for its reputed ability to guard against drunkenness (amethustos means “not drunk”). In modern times it is valued as the birthstone for February, and as a very beautiful stone that is relatively accessible and affordable in many forms.

Before the 18th century, amethyst was rated as a precious gemstone (like emerald, ruby or diamond), but the importation of relatively abundant amethyst from Brazil since those times has changed its modern-day status to “semi-precious.”

                  

 

Properties of Amethyst

  • Classification: tectosilicate (framework)
  • Crystal system: hexagonal
  • Color: shades of violet/purple
  • Streak: colorless (harder than streak plate)
  • Luster: vitreous (glassy)
  • Diaphaneity: translucent to transparent
  • Cleavage: none
  • Fracture: conchoidal
  • Mohs scale hardness: 7
  • Specific gravity: 2.6 - 2.7

Mineralogy and Geological Occurrence

Amethyst is a form of quartz (formula SiO2) with a purple coloration caused by the presence of around 10 – 100 ppm iron. Natural, low-level gamma radiation of the iron produces the purple color. The purple color is often most intense close to the tips of crystals, along the edges of prismatic crystals, or (more rarely) in phantom growth layers inside the crystals. Heating amethyst (or placing it in strong sunlight) can cause the color to fade, or even turn to yellow/orange tones.

Amethyst crystals do not get very large, crystals longer than 12” (30cm) are rare. The common growth forms include [Mindat.org]:

  • Druzy crystal aggregates which outline cavities; the crystals are usually short-prismatic and often lack prism faces. Most common in volcanic rocks, but also in hydrothermal veins, and even in cavities in sedimentary rocks;
  • Scepters (late syntaxial overgrowth) on other color varieties of quartz, in particular in high- to medium-temperature environments like alpine-type fissures and pegmatites;
  • Split-growth crystals ("artichoke quartz") in hydrothermal veins in ore deposits, but also in volcanic rocks.
    As individual well-formed crystals in small cavities and fissures, in particular in volcanic rocks.
  • As hydrothermal vein filling, often with several growth phases with variable color that cause a banding pattern. 

Amethyst can be found on most continents. Currently, commercially valuable amethyst is sourced from South America (Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay), Africa (Zambia), Asia (South Korea) and Canada (Ontario). In the past, India, Russia and Austria were major producers of amethyst.

In the United States, amethyst is the state stone of South Carolina. It also occurs in North Carolina, Georgia, Maine, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and the Great Lakes region. Other states have less widespread occurrences of amethyst, including New Mexico.

Amethyst has no major industrial uses; its major value is as a semi-precious stone for jewelry, for the metaphysical trade and for home décor.

New Mexico Amethyst

Amethyst has been officially reported from 12 counties in New Mexico, typically associated with volcanic or sedimentary terranes. Occurrences include:

Catron - the Mogollon district

Cibola – the Zuni Mountains district

Colfax – Tres Hermanos area

Dona Ana – Organ Mountains and Palm Park near Hatch

Grant – Black Hawk, Central, and Lone Mountain districts.

Hidalgo – Fremont district

Luna – Baker Ranch geodes

McKinley – east of Fort Defiance

San Juan – the minette agglomerate of Ship Rock

Santa Fe – Cerillos and Ne Placers districts

Sierra – Chloride, Kingston, and Tierra Blanca districts.

Socorro – Council Rock, Ladron, San Jose, and San Lorenzo districts.

   
A bishop's signet ring, featuring engraved amethyst.

 

Amethyst Trivia

- European bishops of the Catholic church traditionally wore an amethyst signet ring (see photo above) as a symbol of both royalty and purity.

- Amethysts have long graced the heads and necks of European royalty as tiaras, parures, and necklaces.  Click HERE for a review of some famous royal amethyst jewelry. If you love following the British royal family, click HERE for an article devoted to their amethyst jewelry.

- The highest-grade amethyst (called "Deep Russian") is exceptionally rare, so when one is found, its value is dependent on the demand of collectors

- The largest amethyst ever found (according to the internet) is the “Empress of Uruguay”, an amethyst geode almost 11 feet high, weighing 2.5 tons. It’s on display at the Australian Museum The Crystal Caves (see photo below)

 

 

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