Amethyst, the February birthstone, has adorned the nobility for centuries. Now it’s in reach of most consumers. Here’s how to pick a stunning amethyst for the king or queen of your heart – or treat yourself to a royal present.
February Birthstone: Gemological Characteristics of Amethyst
Amethyst is the purple variety of the quartz mineral species. Its color ranges from a strongly saturated violetish purple to reddish purple in fine quality gems; to weak grayish violet in commercial quality stones. Natural irradiation acting on trace amounts of iron in its crystal structure causes amethyst’s characteristic color. Amethyst also commonly shows color zoning, which often occurs as angular bands of darker to lighter purple. The saturated purple color is typically limited to the tips of amethyst crystals, while the rest of the crystal fades to colorlessness. Cutting an amethyst crystal often produces a few high-quality, deep purple stones and many more low-quality, light-colored stones.
Gemologists and consumers alike love amethyst because it is a beautiful gem that is also affordable. Even fine amethyst can have a modest price tag. Here’s another reason: Amethyst rough comes in fascinating packages. In gem localities like Brazil, amethyst sometimes forms in hollow, crystal-lined geodes so big you can stand in them.
February Birthstone: Amethyst History & Lore
The name amethyst derives from the Greek amethystos, which means “a remedy against drunkenness,” a benefit long ascribed to the purple gem. It’s no coincidence that methy is the word for wine, typically of a color very similar to that of this gem. Amethyst was also believed to keep the wearer clear headed and quick witted in battle and business affairs. Renaissance Europeans thought it calmed lovers overrun by passion.
Amethyst is the gem traditionally given for the sixth wedding anniversary. Wear it in celebration of your wedding nuptials or as your February birthstone and you’ll be in royal company: Catherine the Great (Empress Catherine II of Russia; 1729–1796) had a penchant for the gem, and decked herself in necklaces, earrings and other amethyst-adorned ornaments. The famous jewelry connoisseur Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896–1986) made a memorable statement when she wore a lavish Cartier-designed amethyst bib necklace to a gala in Versailles in 1953.
February Birthstone: Where Amethyst Comes From
Amethyst was as expensive as ruby and emerald until the 19th century, when large deposits were found in Brazil. The country is still an important source for amethyst, and its southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, is a particularly productive area. Along with its rich amethyst deposits, the region is also home to vast grassy plains, thick forests, waterfalls, panthers and jaguars.
The Anahí mine in Bolivia is another famous source for amethyst. Hidden in the Pantanál wetlands, the Anahí mine is shrouded in fascinating lore. It was discovered by a Spanish conquistador in the 1600s, given to him as dowry when he married Anahí (a princess from the Ayoreo tribe), forgotten for three centuries, and rediscovered in the 1960s.
The February birthstone is also found in Zambia. The country is a major producer, and the Kariba amethyst mine is an important source. Amethyst mined here tends to be of superb quality with richly saturated colors.
February Birthstone: Amethyst Qualities to Look For
To pick a stunning gem, consider these tips:
- Color: The finest amethyst is a strong purple or reddish purple, with no visible color zoning. Any brownish or bronze-colored tints lower the value dramatically. Amethysts that are a little less saturated in color are usually more affordable than those with more color saturation. A light lilac amethyst is usually much less expensive than an intense purple.
- Clarity: Almost all faceted amethyst is eye clean; that is, no inclusions can be seen with the naked eye. Material with eye-visible inclusions is usually cut into beads or cabochons.
- Cut: It is not unusual to see faceted amethysts of 10 or 20 carats and even larger. Because the gem is so plentiful, matched sets of faceted amethyst are relatively easy to obtain for bracelets and necklaces. The gem can also be found in a variety of fancy cuts and nonstandard sizes.
February Birthstone: Amethyst Care & Cleaning
Amethyst is a 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. This means that it is appropriate for daily use in rings and other jewelry, but over time may show wear and require repolishing. Because amethyst is more susceptible to damage than harder gems such as rubies, sapphires and diamonds, do not store your amethyst jewelry next to these, as they can scratch it.
Heat treatment is the most common technique for improving the color and marketability of natural amethyst. Heat treatment can’t make pale amethyst darker, but it can lighten the color of very dark amethyst and make it more attractive. It can also remove unwanted brownish inclusions in some amethysts. Some amethyst turns yellow–to citrine–with heat treatment.
Heat treating amethyst results in a durable and permanent change in color. However, submitting it to intense heat may render it slightly more brittle than usual, and care must be taken not to damage pointed faceted corners and edges. Note, too, that excessive heat can remove the color entirely, and some amethyst fades with prolonged exposure to strong light. Though the color is stable with normal use, this is not a gem to wear to the beach every day.
Amethyst jewelry can be cleaned with an ultrasonic cleaner or a steamer, but use caution to avoid thermal shock. A soft brush with mild soap is the safest option.
As you shop, you’ll also encounter lab-created amethyst. Having the same chemical properties as its natural counterpart, synthetic amethyst has been manufactured since the 1970s. As manufacturing processes became increasingly sophisticated, it became more difficult for gemological labs to distinguish natural from synthetic amethyst. GIA can tell the difference, but many in the jewelry industry do not request testing because of the expense and time required to determine the origin of what is a comparatively inexpensive gem. Still, merchants are required to tell you if a gem is natural or synthetic.
Amethyst has enchanted kings and queens for many centuries. Now you know how to buy a royal gift for your love with a February birthday. And for some quick tips, take along our Amethyst Buying Guide the next time you go shopping.