Smokin’ Stones: Just the Facts About Amethyst Gemstones, February’s Birthstone

Amethyst is probably one of the most well-known gemstones, and possibly one of the most loved, due to the rich reddish purple to violet color it can achieve in the finest qualities. But it is only the birthstone of those born in February.

ABOVE: This magnificent carved amethyst, in an 18k yellow gold pendant by Deborah Spencer, represents the most lushly colored end of the amethyst tonal range. Note the red flash from deep in the stone. Photo courtesy Deborah Spencer, Trios Studio, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

I’m hedging my color bets here, because there is a debate about the terms violet and purple. Are they the same? Both are a combination of red and blue. Is purple redder and violet bluer or vice versa? Some distinctions say that violet contains green, which makes the color duller. There are people who can be quite passionate about which is which. I am in the camp that believes violet is bluer–like the very finest colors of tanzanite. Finest quality amethysts will often show a red flash in their depths which, to my mind, makes them purple. But I certainly understand those who say they’re violet because of the intensity of the color.

pair of Brazilian amethyst gemstones

These light-toned Brazilian amethysts represent the other end of the amethyst tonal range. Photo Mia Dixon, Courtesy Pala International.

Amethysts can come in every imaginable tone of purple, too. From the most delicate shade of lavender (sometimes marketed as Rose de France) to the deepest, lushest shade of royal purple with red flashes, like the amethyst that forms the centerpiece in Deborah Spencer’s necklace. (In days past, deeply colored amethysts with a red flash were sometimes referred to as Siberian amethysts. The Ural Mountains in Russia were the source of some of the earliest and finest amethysts.) Most commonly, you’ll find all the colors in between.

ametrine gemstones, combination of amethyst and citrine quartz varieties

Ametrines, like this 17.15 carat emerald cut stone, show two varieties of the quartz world–amethyst combined with citrine. Photo Mia Dixon, Courtesy Pala International.

Amethysts are a color variety of quartz, that workhorse of the gem and industrial world. (Quartz also comes in golden to orange to brown citrine; the split personality of ametrine–partially purple, partially golden; grey to brown smoky quartz; pink rose quartz; green quartz; and the myriad varieties, colors, and patterns of chalcedony and jaspers. It is a noble lineage.)

Like all quartzes, amethysts are hard (at 7 on the Mohs hardness scale) and durable. You can wear them in just about anything. They come in any form: faceted, carved, cabbed, beads, crystals. It’s not unusual to see amethyst crystals mounted into pendants as they are found in Brazil, lining the insides of geodes in perfect terminations. Amethyst crystals can attain massive size, and so can the geodes that contain them.

amethyst geode boots

These toe-tappin’ boots are two halves of an amethyst geode, at The Uncarved Block, Pueblo Show, Tucson 2018. Photo courtesy of Merle White.

Quartz, however, is very susceptible to thermal shock. They should never be held under the nozzle of a steam cleaner. And if you have a surfeit of diamonds in your jewelry box, you should store your amethyst pieces in cloth bags to prevent the harder stones from scratching them.

No matter what color of purple is your favorite, you can find an amethyst to suit you.

Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.

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