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What is an Amethyst?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Amethyst is a variety of quartz that is distinguished by its purple color. Chemically, the stone is described as SiO2, or silicon dioxide, along with other quartzes. The transparent crystalline stone is often used in jewelry such as rings and necklaces, and some people believe that the color has soothing and healing properties. The ornamental stone is also the birthstone for the month of February and has been for centuries. It is also associated with several astrological signs, and often appears in texts on mysticism.

This stone has been treasured by humans for centuries. The purple color is quite unusual in nature, and high quality amethyst has a deep, even color saturation that is quite stunning. The crystals often grow quite large, allowing the stone to be used in large, elaborate settings of gold, silver, and other metals. The name comes from the ancient Greeks, who believed that amethyst could prevent drunkenness; the name means “not intoxicated.”

The color of amethyst can come from a variety of sources. Manganese and iron are two likely culprits, with some gems being almost red in color due to a higher iron concentration. When it is heated, the color will start to change, turning yellow or green before fading away entirely. Some jewelers deliberately heat it to spread the color evenly through lower grade stones, or to change the color. In many cases, amethyst will be found with deposits of other rock, and may form bands of color including purple, white, and green. Some jewelry uses banded amethyst for a striking visual, while other jewelers combine multiple types of quartz in one piece for a range of colors.

Amethyst is a fairly hard gemstone, but it is delicate. It has been known to fracture along hairline cracks, and will also lose its color if exposed to ultraviolet radiation on a regular basis. For this reason, jewelry made with it should be worn with caution so that it is not damaged. The stone should also not be subjected to extreme temperature changes.

Because amethyst is so abundant in nature, the stone is not classified as precious, although it often appears in settings with precious stones. The unique color has caused the stone to be prized enough that it appears in religious rings of office, crowns, and other ornamental jewelry all over the world. Traditionally, it has been associated with wisdom and purity, and can be worn by both women and men.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is an amethyst?

An amethyst is a variety of quartz that is best known for its striking purple color, which can range from light lavender to deep violet. According to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, it ranks at a 7, indicating a relatively hard gemstone. Its color is due to irradiation and impurities of iron and other transition metals within the crystal structure.

How is the color of an amethyst determined?

The color of an amethyst is primarily determined by the presence of iron impurities within the quartz, which, when irradiated, cause the crystal to take on its characteristic purple hue. The specific shade can vary depending on the amount of iron and the level of irradiation the stone has been exposed to during its formation.

Where are amethysts commonly found?

Amethysts are found globally, with major deposits in Brazil, Uruguay, and Madagascar. Other significant sources include Zambia, which is known for producing amethyst with a deep purple color. North America also has amethyst mines, particularly in Arizona and the Lake Superior region, contributing to the gemstone's global availability.

Can amethysts be used for anything besides jewelry?

While amethysts are widely used in jewelry for their beauty, they also have historical significance in various cultures as symbols of peace, purity, and unification. Some people believe in the metaphysical properties of amethysts, claiming they can promote calmness and clarity, though these claims are not scientifically substantiated.

How can you tell if an amethyst is real or fake?

To determine if an amethyst is real, examine its color; it should show a gradient, with white or clear quartz possibly present. Real amethysts are also cooler to the touch compared to glass and should not have bubbles inside. A professional jeweler can provide a definitive assessment using tools like a refractometer or by observing the stone under magnification.

How should I care for my amethyst jewelry?

To care for amethyst jewelry, clean it with warm soapy water and a soft brush, avoiding harsh chemicals. Amethysts can fade if exposed to prolonged sunlight, so it's wise to store them away from direct light. Also, due to their hardness, store them separately from other jewelry to prevent scratches.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By livlife40 — On Jun 17, 2011

Is there a way to stop a crack that's started to form in an amethyst? I have a piece that's pretty big and I've had it for years, but saw that there's a crack in the middle of it. It seems like it's growing longer by the week, which is aggravating considering it was near-perfect.

By nicky0 — On Jun 15, 2011

I've loved amethysts for years - got my first one when I was 11. There's a small mine near where I live where we go panning for them. We don't usually come away with much, but it's fun!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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