Have you ever beheld a stone that emanates vigor and tranquility at the same time? This transparent quartz, at hand in pale pastel lilac and hints of deep purple, owes its fabled color to trace amounts of manganese and iron. Its lavender hues have long been associated with a meditative calm, but stand for a royal firmness, too.
DID YOU KNOW?
This gemstone’s name is related to a common belief upheld in Ancient Greece. A- means not, and methysko stands for intoxicate. Thus amethyst was thought to protect its owner from drunkenness, insanity, and passionate excess. The Greeks carved drinking vessels from it, thinking it would prevent intoxication.
Did you know?
Amethyst is an international stone par excellence. In modern times, it is mainly mined in Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Zambia, and the United States. Smaller amounts are sourced from Spain, Argentina, Russia, Afghanistan, South Korea, Canada, France, India, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
DID YOU KNOW?
THE ARTIST’S MUSE
It is said that Leonardo da Vinci once stated that amethyst not only helps to get rid of evil thoughts, but quicken one's intelligence as well. This reflects the idea that the stone would stabilize the mind and sharpen the wits, and promote sleep and pleasant dreams.
In his Naturalis Historia, the famous Roman natural philosopher Plinus the Elder put down that “the falsehoods of the magicians would persuade us that these stones are preventive of inebriety, and that it is from this that they have derived their name. They tell us also, that if we inscribe the names of the sun and moon upon this stone and then wear it suspended from the neck, with some hair of the cynocephalus [baboon] and feathers of the swallow, it will act as a preservative against all noxious spells.”
The oldest amethyst jewelry has been dated back to 2000 BCE. Ancient Egyptians carved amethyst into the shapes of animals such as scarabs, amulets, and pendants. The Romans made seals out of it. Chinese amethyst vials and snuff bottles have been found dating back to the 18th century. Symbolizing royalty, the violet quartz adorned English royal emblems and crown jewels during the Middle Ages. It was also favored by Christian clergy.
Amethyst truly is a stone that captures the imagination. Its somber, smoky tones have been a source of poetic inspiration for the likes of John Keats, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and others. The 16th-century French poet Remy Belleau wrote a poem called Amethyst or the Loves of Bacchus and Amethyste, in which he invented a myth about Bacchus, the Roman deity of intoxication, and Amethyste, a maiden on her way to the temple of the Roman goddess Diana. Bacchus was bad-tempered and had vowed to take revenge on the next mortal he would meet. He spied Amethyste and unleashed his two guardian tigers upon her. Diana intervened, turning the fair woman into a clear stone to protect her. Filled with remorse and in an act of offering, Bacchus humbly poured wine over the stone, dyeing the crystals purple. This myth, and its variations, are however nowhere to be found in classical Roman sources.
I Held a Jewel in My Finger
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
I held a jewel in my finger
And went to sleep
The day was warm, and winds were prosy
I said, “Twill keep” I woke – and chide my honest fingers,
The gem was gone
And now, an amethyst remembrance
Is all I own
THE ISLAMIC TRADITION
In the medieval Arab world, amethyst was relatively affordable and therefore among those gemstones that were commonly-owned. The 11th-century scientist al-Biruni refers to it as jamast. In his magnum opus, Treatises on How To Recognise Gems, he writes that it is related in the words of ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbbas that the palace of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, was built from it. al-Biruni goes on to cite al-Kindi, who wrote that the mine of this lavender stone was located in the village of Safraa’, at a distance of a three days’ journey from Madinat al-Nabi. al-Biruni adds that it was worn in cases of stomach ache, and that Arabs used to make amethyst ornaments.
Amethyst has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that still turns heads today. Along with 82 white marble domes and a courtyard featuring one of the largest marble mosaic artworks in the world, Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque counts 1096 amethyst-and-jasper-embedded columns.