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Amethyst: The Color for Kings

Amethyst has long been a favorite gem of kings and queens for its royal purple hues. The gem, the most precious member of the quartz family, exhibits color ranging from pale lilac to deep purple. Amethysts are featured in the British Crown Jewels and were worn by Catherine the Great as well as Egyptian royalty.

Through the ages, various special properties have also been prescribed to amethyst. The Greeks and Romans considered it a strong antidote against drunkenness and drank wine from goblets carved out of the gem. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that amethyst could dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence. The stone also is supposed to bring peace of mind to the wearer and prevent fatal poisoning.

In some legends, the stone also represents piety, celibacy and dignity. In Tibet, for instance, amethyst is considered sacred to Buddha and rosaries are often made from it. In the Middle Ages, the gem was an important ornamentation for the Catholic Church and other religions. In fact, it was considered the stone of bishops, and they still often wear amethyst rings.

The birthstone for February, amethyst is an extremely popular gem for jewelry because of its regal color, variety of sizes and shapes, affordability and wide range of hues. It also is the recommended gem for couples celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary.

The stone is mined in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina, as well as in Zambia, Namibia and other African nations. Very dark amethyst in small sizes also is mined in Australia. But the ideal for fine quality amethyst was set by a Siberian variety, often called Russian or Uralian amethyst, which is now considered a defunct source.

Generally, South American amethyst tends to come in larger sizes than African amethyst. But the African variety has a reputation for having deeper color intensity and is therefore considered more valuable. The African version also is harder to come by than amethyst mined from South America. Most of today's amethyst comes out of Brazil.

The finest and most valuable amethysts are very clear, with very deep color (and they sometimes exhibit reddish or rose overtones). Some stones are so oversaturated with color they have areas that are blacked out, which can negatively impact their value.

Amethyst is available in a wide range of calibrated sizes and shapes, including many fancy cuts. Large fine stones are sold in free sizes but generally the stone is cut in standardized dimensions. Paler shades, sometimes called "Rose of France", were common in Victorian jewelry. Banding - darker and lighter zones of color - is also a common occurrence. Occasionally, amethyst is even found combined with its sister quartz citrine into a single stone called ametrine.

The most common enhancements to amethyst are heat and irradiation. The stone, which ranks a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale, is considered durable enough for everyday wear. However, care should be taken not to expose the gem to excessive amounts of bright sunlight, as this can cause its color to fade.

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