Amethyst is the purple variety of quartz. Although it's color has to be purple in order for it to be considered amethyst, the different shades of purple can vary greatly from light to very dark. The deeper regal purple varities have been sought after by royaly throughout history. Amethyst is one of the most beautiful of the purple gemstones. Other gemstones of comparable richness of color and overall beauty, however, are much more expensive than Amethyst. Luckily, Amethyst is relatively plentiful, and perfect specimens are easy to come by. This keeps the price very affordable for even large carat sizes.
In nature, sometimes amethyst deposits are subjected to unusually high temperatures. This can create a bi-colored quartz called amertine which combines the colors of amethyst and citrine. The gemstone is half purple, and half golden yellow. A similar effect can be created in the laboratory by heating amethyst. When amethyst is exposed to any high heat it's color will change. Proper care for an amethyst involves keeping it out of prolonged direct sunlight.
In Greek belief, amethyst was created by Bacchus, the god of wine. When Bacchus poured wine over a quartz statue, it absorbed the wine and took on a purple hue. Amethyst became the symbol of sobriety in ancient Greece, and was believed to absorb the effects of alcohol. The word Amethyst comes from the Greek word amethystos which translates to "not drunken". Wine goblets carved from amethyst were thought to prevent intoxication. Catholic bishops are each given an Episcopal ring when they begin their service. Traditionally, the ring is set with a large oval amethyst. The amethyst speaks of his power as a man of God, but at the same time the calm suble nature of the gem reminds the bishop to be compassionate as a servant of God.
Amethyst has also been considered as sacred to Buddha, and Tibetan monks often carved prayer beads from this holy gem. In other cultures it has been used as a calming gem. Amethyst was used to ease anxiety and unbalanced emotions.
The origin of the tradition of birthstones is sometimes attributed to the Breastplate of Aaron, the high priest of Hebrews. The breastplate of the high priest was a ceremonial garment set with 12 gemstones, each stone representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve gems corresponded to the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Amethyst is the modern birthstone for February.
Amethyst has a Mohs scale hardness rating of 7.