If you were born in February, your birthstone is amethyst – a purple gemstone that has starring roles in the jewelry and regalia of kings and queens. The February birthstone is found in the personal collections of Great Britain’s and Russia’s royal families. Britain’s Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) commissioned a now famous amethyst necklace. Empress Catherine II (1729-1796) of Russia, also known as Catherine the Great, was particularly fond of amethyst and used the gem in buttons, earrings, necklaces and aigrettes (hair ornaments that usually held feathers, or were in the shape of a feather, and were often set with gems). Ancient cultures also loved amethyst and it has been found in 4,400-year-old jewelry.
Thanks to the discovery of large amethyst deposits in Brazil in the 19th century, the February birthstone is a gem that’s affordable and beautiful for everyday jewelry, as well as crown jewels. Let’s take a trip to some amethyst sources around the world to learn where it comes from. But first, a little background to help you understand the gemological properties of your February birthstone.
The Scoop on February Birthstone: Amethyst
Amethyst is a variety of quartz. The gem comes in colors that range from light lilac to a deep, intense purple. Natural irradiation acting on trace elements of iron in its crystal structure causes the color.
Amethyst often shows color zoning (areas of different color in a gem, caused by variations in the conditions under which the gem formed). Amethyst that is medium-dark to dark reddish purple with no visible color zoning is typically the most desirable. Heat treatment is commonly used to lighten dark amethyst to make it more attractive and to remove brownish hues.
Quartz is ubiquitous, so amethyst (purple quartz) is found in many countries. However, it is not always gem quality and in sufficient quantities to make large-scale commercial mining feasible. Here, we’ll focus on major producing areas, so read on to find out where your February birthstone is found.
Amethyst from Zambia
Zambia is a major producer of amethyst. A vast tract of grasslands and forests, the Miombo Woodlands sprawl across central and southern Africa. In this gem rich country, the Kariba amethyst mine in the copperbelt region of Zambia is our destination. Shrubs, small trees, occasional hills make up the surrounding landscape. Amethyst mined here tends to be of superb quality with richly saturated colors.
Amethyst from Brazil
In addition to Zambia, Brazil is an important producer of amethyst, where it sometimes forms in hollow, crystal-lined geodes so large you can stand in them.
The Rio Grande do Sul region is one of the most important amethyst sources in the country. One productive mine is nestled in a heavily forested area, hedged in by lush ferns and trickling waterfalls, and the surroundings prowled at night by panthers and jaguars. Rough amethyst mined here tends to have lighter color than amethyst found in other countries.
Just 30 minutes from the mine, in the town of Ametista do Sul stands the Matriz Church – a Spanish Colonial style edifice in white stone and gold trim. Inside awaits a stunning surprise: the walls are covered with clusters of rough amethyst crystals, while other impressive specimens decorate the altar. A cross of gold and amethyst inspires the faithful.
Amethyst from Bolivia
The Anahí mine is hidden in a maze of swamplands and waterways of the Pantanál ecological reserve. The location’s history includes a 17th-century conquistador, a native princess, centuries of being forgotten and rediscovered, and the claim to being the world’s only source of ametrine (a mix of amethyst and citrine). A single-engine prop airplane is the most expeditious way to get to the remote, security-patrolled location – but you’ll need an invitation to go. It’s also best to travel during the dry season, as the rainy season brings rushing rivers, tropical bugs, and torrential rains. Other times of the year, the landscape is a rainbow of parrots, toucans, and exotic wildflowers.
Amethyst from Arizona
Just 46 miles outside of Phoenix, high on a rocky mountainside is the entrance to the Four Peaks mine in Maricopa County, Arizona. A remote location, hot summer temperatures, a lack of water and power at the mine makes for challenging conditions. This jagged, arid, rattlesnake-infested terrain in the Mazatzal Mountains produces amethyst crystals that range from light to dark purple, and includes some purplish red material.
Amethyst: Royal, regal, and affordable
Until large deposits of amethyst were discovered in Brazil just two centuries ago, the gem was as expensive as ruby and emerald, and relegated largely to the nobility. Today, amethyst is plentiful and affordable. Fine quality natural amethyst has a modest price tag, and the price per carat does not rise dramatically with larger size. So if you were born in February – or love the color purple – consider making a royal statement by adding a piece of beautiful amethyst jewelry to your wardrobe.
Be sure to read our amethyst buying guide for tips on what to look for when selecting the February birthstone.