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A guide to buying amethyst

Amethyst is probably the most well known and easily identifiable purple gemstone. In the ancient past they were held in equal regard to diamonds and the ‘big three’ coloured gemstones (ruby, sapphire and emerald) and were at one time the reserve of royalty. Surprisingly amethyst is actually made of the very common quartz crystal. Distinct from other quartz varieties, amethyst has a unique lavender to dark purple colouration and its hue is determined by imperfections in the crystal lattice created by irradiation in combination with trace elements and iron. The discovery of large amethyst deposits in Brazil in the twentieth century resulted in a sharp fall in price. In contrast to diamonds, whose price was controlled or even manipulated by De Beers when supply rapidly increased, no tight control on the supply side of amethyst was ever effectively administered to maintain its price. In addition to jewellery, amethyst has been used in vases and many ornamental pieces of great aesthetic value and it is one of the most versatile of all gemstones. As with all coloured gemstones, colour is ‘king.’ When buying it is important to check for zoning (or uneven colour saturation), which can devalue a stone and lessen its appeal. When amethyst is cut for jewellery it is usually eye-clean, containing no inclusions that are visible to the human eye. For examples that are eye-clean and do not display significant colour zoning, faceting is the most appropriate way of enabling the stone to scintillate, or ‘sparkle,’ to its fullest potential. Most faceted amethyst are cut into oval, cushion, emerald, trillion or marquise shapes.

However when it comes to the more included stones and those with more visible zoning, the cabochon cut creates the best results. A skilful craftsman can actually work zoning and included areas of the stone into the design of a cabochon so as to actually enhance the aesthetic qualities of the finished article. An interesting footnote at this point relates to the fantasy cut, developed by Bernd Musteiner in 1943. This involves carving features into the surface of the gem, facilitated by the softer nature of the less precious stone, giving them a unique quality and appeal. Amethyst can be found in an array of carat sizes and in contrast to many precious stones their price per carat does not increase exponentially with carat size. Heat treatment with amethyst is extremely common and it is one of the main ways to enhance the colour and clarity of a stone. It can in fact completely change the colour of an amethyst altogether; such is the case when green examples are turned into Royal Purple with the application of heat. Amethyst offers an intriguing alternative to diamond engagement rings. Whilst not as hard as their erstwhile counterparts, amethyst is fairly durable and they come at a fraction of the price. It is generally regarded that white gold or platinum brings out the natural purple colouration of an amethyst better than anything else. It is unusual to set amethyst in yellow because gold and purple are found on opposing sides of the colour spectrum but that is not to say it should never be done, there is always room for personal preference, taste and style in any jewellery creation or combination.

(An example of citrine)

Looking after and caring for amethyst is a relatively simple proposition. It is, however, worth remembering that at 7 on the (7-10) Moh’s hardness scale, amethyst is not as hard as diamond or sapphire and as a consequence it is slightly easier to damage. It is not recommended to use any kind of chemical agent or detergent on the stone, as this can cause irreparable damage to the structure of the crystal. Simply clean with warm soapy water occasionally and regularly remove any grease or dirt that may build up with a soft cotton cloth. It pays to be a little careful when wearing the stone so as to avoid catching or scratching it on rough surfaces and sportspeople should take pains to remove amethyst jewellery whilst engaged in contact sport. Ironically, just as heat treatment so often enhances the depth of colour and transparency of the stone, prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight can actually fade and degrade the colour of an amethyst over time. Citrine and ametrine hail from the same quartz family as amethyst but they differ in colour. Citrine gives off a yellow tone and they are actually very rarely found in nature, so much so that most of the examples available on the market today are actually heat treated in order to produce the tones of gold to orange associated with these gemstones. On some occasions trace elements contaminate a portion of the citrine, leading to the creation of amethyst and citrine in the same crystal. These are known as ametrine and colours they produce can be spectacular, often said to resemble the evening sky around twilight with shades of orange, red, yellow, violet and purple.

Amethyst is a stone that is steeped in history and folk law. The etymology of the name can be traced to the ancient Greek amethystos, translating as possessing the power to reduce intoxication. In ancient Greek mythology the god of wine, Dionysus, decided to punish mankind for his wanton overindulgence in the consumption of his sacred substance. In doing so he came down from mount Olympus and turned the first human he encountered, a beautiful lady named Amethyst, into white quartz. Remorseful for his actions, he cried tears of wine over her, now quartz, body which stained the stone purple and it is from this statue that all amethyst was said to have been created. For this reason, ancient Greeks revered amethyst as a defence against intoxication for many centuries. Down the ages further mythology developed around amethyst and it was said by some to be an emotional and intellectual stimulant. Faith healers took to using the stone to inspire creative and positive thinking in the sick and it was also said to ward off thoughts of defeat or negativity. Philosophically the many strands of this folklore interwove around one another to the point at which they began to blend together. The result of this was a metaphorical interpretation of the idea of ‘intoxication,’ enabling amethyst to ward off the ill effects of emotional, psychological and spiritual ‘drunkenness,’ as much as it could alcoholic inebriation. Whatever you choose to believe (or not believe) it is clear that amethyst has a great deal of potential applications for the discerning jewellery wearer.

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