February is a month known for its connection with lovers and it is no surprise that this month’s birthstone is Amethyst.
The name “amethyst” derives from the Greek amethystos, which means “a remedy against drunkenness,” a benefit long ascribed to the purple birthstone. According to myth, a beautiful nymph was turned into a gem by Diana to protect her from Bacchus – the god of wine. As a remembrance of his love, Bacchus poured wine onto the stone and gave it this beautiful color.
Amethyst is the world's most popular purple colored gem. The word "amethyst" makes most people think of a dark grape shade, but this stone occurs in many hues of purple. The color can be so light that it is barely perceptible or so dark that it is nearly opaque. It can be reddish purple, a true purple, or a violet purple. Amethyst also exists in a wide range of colors, but it is the purple color variety of quartz that has been used in personal adornments like jewelry for over 2000 years.
This gem has a Mohs hardness of 7 and does not break by cleavage, which makes it durable enough for use in rings, bracelets, earrings, pendants, and other types of jewelry. The first step in amethyst receiving its signature color begins during crystal growth. That is when trace amounts of iron are incorporated into a growing quartz crystal. After crystallization, gamma rays, emitted by radioactive materials within the host rock, irradiate the iron to produce the familiar purple color. The intensity of amethyst's color can vary from one part of the crystal to another. These color variations, known as “color zoning,” are caused by varying amounts of iron being incorporated into the crystal during the different stages of crystal growth. These crystals grow slowly and the composition of the fluids delivering the iron and the silica needed for crystal growth can vary due its environment. The darkest color of amethyst forms when the largest amount of iron is incorporated into the growing crystal.
Ancient Egyptians used amethyst in jewelry and breastplates to gain its protective powers from harm in war or in peace. This birthstone was used in episcopal rings and was considered to have influence of holiness and peace over the beholders. St. Valentine was a bishop himself and popularized this gem as a sacred symbol of pure love. Roman wives wore amethyst rings or amulets to use the birthstone powers’ of preserving affections of their husbands. Amethyst was also attributed to calming fears and curing the nervous system, bringing peace and serenity to the owner. Lastly, it was believed to stop the spread of infectious diseases.
Because of its durability, it is generally considered hard enough for almost any jewelry use. But some care is needed to maintain its polish and natural color. Amethyst can encounter a variety of common objects that can produce a scratch on its surface. Accidental scrapes on hard objects or abrasion with other gems of equal or greater hardness in a jewelry box can cause damage. Amethyst is also a brittle material that can be chipped or scratched by impact. It is best not to wear this type of jewelry during exercise or other rigorous activities. Long-term storage of these gems and accessories is best done in a jewelry box or other dark location. The color of some amethysts can fade with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or bright display lights.
Amethyst is the gem traditionally given for the sixth wedding anniversary. Wear it in celebration of your wedding nuptials or as your February birthstone.