Amethyst is a gemstone with a long-standing history, and highly coveted, as there is no other hue quite like it within the gem world. A member of the quartz family, the amethyst owes its colour to trace amounts of manganese and iron. Its strong purple hue can be seen throughout history, often adorning royalty, indeed a famous cabochon amethyst sits in British Crown Jewels, above the Cullinan I diamond in the Imperial Sceptre.
Queen Mary was also known for wearing an Amethyst parure, composed of a tiara, a necklace, and a pair of earrings, dating from circa 1815, and a ring from the 19th century. The parure was originally worn by Queen Charlotte, and was then bequeathed to Queen Mary by Princess Catherine of Württemberg in 1898. Queen Mary was seen wearing the parure often, most notably at a Gala Premiere of René Blum’s Ballet Company in 1937, and the Premiere of ‘The Passionate Friends’ in London in 1949. It is not known who owns the parure today.
The name amethyst is derived from the Greek ‘amethystos’ meaning ‘not drunken.’ Because of its wine-like colour, early Greek legends associated amethyst with Dionysus, the god of wine and pleasure. In Roman mythology, he was known as Bacchus. An early Greek belief suggested that if one drank wine from a chalice made of amethyst, or placed an amethyst under their tongue, it would enable one to drink profusely without getting drunk.
In the Medieval era, amethysts were a popular gemstone for embellishing garments of those in the church, and was even deemed the stone of bishops, who often still wear amethyst rings today.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, amethysts were mainly used in ecclesiastical jewellery, or jewels worn by nobility, owing to their expensive nature.
A large amethyst deposit was found in the early 19th century in Brazil, and the price plummeted. Before this, amethyst was an incredibly rare gemstone, and was considered equal in value to ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Whilst historically mined in several locations around the world, the finest amethysts came from Siberia.
The most valuable amethysts are prized for their depth of continual colour, a velvety richness of purple with a hint of blue. The colour of amethyst can vary from lilac, pale purple, lavender, through to deep mauve and pinky purple.
In January 2023, an amethyst and diamond cross that the late Princess Diana wore was auctioned at Sotheby’s and sold for a staggering $197,000.