Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz often used in jewelry. In the 20th century, the color of amethyst was attributed to the presence of manganese. More recent work has shown a complex interplay of iron and aluminium is responsible for the color. On exposure to heat, amethyst generally becomes yellow, and much of the citrine, cairngorm, or yellow quartz of jewelry is said to be merely burnt amethyst. Veins of amethystine quartz are apt to lose their color on the exposed outcrop.
Amethyst was used as a gemstone by the ancient Egyptians and was largely employed for intaglios. The Greeks believed amethyst gems could prevent intoxication, while medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets as protection in battle. Beads of amethyst were found in Anglo-Saxon graves in England.
In Greek mythology, Dionysus, the god of intoxication, was pursuing a maiden named Amethystos, who refused his affections. Amethystos prayed to the gods to remain chaste, which the goddess Artemis granted and transformed her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethystos’s desire to remain chaste, Dionysus 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 is 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.
Amethyst is produced in abundance from the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil where it occurs in large geodes within volcanic rocks. It is also found and mined in South Korea. The largest opencast amethyst vein in the world is in Maissau, Lower Austria. Many of the hollow agates of Brazil and Uruguay contain a crop of amethyst crystals in the interior. Much fine amethyst comes from Russia, especially from near Mursinka in the Ekaterinburg district, where it occurs in drusy cavities in granitic rocks.
Traditionally included as one of the most valuable gemstones, along with diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald, amethyst has lost much of its value due to the discovery of extensive deposits in locations such as Brazil. The highest grade amethyst called “Deep Russian” is exceptionally rare and therefore its value is dependent on the demand of collectors when one is found.