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December 2022

Discovering Amethyst: History and Curiosities of the Gemstone

Amethyst is a peculiar variety of quartz, distinguished first and foremost by its purplish colouring. Since 3,000 BC, starting in Ancient Egypt, this gemstone has been used to create jewellery, as well as seals and carvings. Among the gemstones best known and most appreciated in the world, amethyst continues to enrich the most diverse jewellery today. Let’s take a look at the history and characteristics of this purple quartz, and finally see some of the most famous creations with amethyst.

Amethyst: history and legends

As mentioned above, the amethyst was already known in Ancient Egypt. In those times, this precious gem was worn not only for its beauty: it was believed that amethyst was an excellent amulet to protect the wearer from the ambushes of brigands. Thus, the amethyst was often worn on the most dangerous journeys out of towns and villages. Amethyst was later also highly valued by the Greeks and Romans. In a myth narrated by Ovid, however, the name of this precious stone is traced back to a nymph. The tale presents us with this creature fleeing from Bacchus: in order to escape, the nymph asked for the intervention of Diana, who, to save her, decided to transform her into a luminous crystal. However, it was Bacchus himself who gave the amethyst its typical violet colour. Angry at the snub he had received, the goddess of the pleasures of the senses threw a goblet of wine on the stone to give it the familiar colouring.
 
Another belief about amethyst also has to do with wine. In fact, it was thought that this stone could protect against drunkenness. This legend could actually be traced back to the custom of pouring water into amethyst containers so that the liquid looked like wine to other diners.

Properties and characteristics of amethyst

When thinking of amethyst, the colour that immediately comes to mind is violet. However, it should be noted that there are varieties that are closer to blue, or conversely to red.
 
This gemstone is widely used in alternative medicine, allegedly effective in combating anxiety, nervousness, migraines, swellings and colds. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims. In crystal therapy, amethyst is also used to stimulate creativity and intelligence.

Where amethyst is mined

There are rich deposits of amethyst in different parts of the world. The main mining sites are located in South America, specifically in Brazil, Uruguay and Bolivia. Other deposits are located in the United States, Mexico, India, Madagascar and Russia. Amethyst formations are also present in Italy: there are more or less important presences in the provinces of Trento, Bolzano, Turin, Grosseto and Sassari.

The most famous amethyst jewellery

Throughout history, amethyst has been used to make and embellish a wide variety of jewellery. Some of the most famous examples include an Egyptian necklace with large violet gemstones, made around 2000 B.C. with stones mined in Namibia. Another famous example of jewellery made with an amethyst is the famous ‘Morris Amethyst’ brooch, currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. This important stone of no less than 96 carats was probably mined in Brazil and then surrounded by an elegant diamond crown.

At the Museum of London you can also admire the famous Delhi Sapphire, which is actually an oval amethyst with a dark purple colour.
 
Perhaps the most famous piece of jewellery made from amethysts, however, is the Napoleonic Tiara, which features 15 large oval stones that were originally displayed on a necklace worn by Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife. The tiara, currently held by the Bernadotte Jewel foundation, was recently worn by Sweden’s Queen Silvia and Crown Princess Victoria.

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