The Art Medium Amethyst

As the most treasured member of the quartz family, amethyst is the birthstone for February, but that’s only one of its many claims to fame. Prized by ancient Egyptians for their rich purple color and beloved by Empress Catherine the Great for their beauty, these gems have an illustrious history in jewelry design that goes back centuries. Today they continue to feature in a wide array of jewelry created by celebrated jewelry artisans around the world.

Ranging in shades from lilac to deep purple, amethysts are most famous for their color. In fact, purple was held in such esteem by ancient Romans that it was reserved for Roman emperors and later worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. Amethysts naturally figured into this ‘royal’ or ‘revered’ status because of their coloring. Roman rulers revered amethysts, but this reverence predates them; amethysts were also a favorite stone among Egyptians who featured them in intaglio jewels.

Amethyst has been found in locations such as Russia (especially Siberia), Brazil, Zambia, India, Iran, Japan, and even parts of the United States to name a few. The most deeply colored and evenly saturated gems remain the most sought after and are generally more valuable than lighter colored amethysts. Earning a score of 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness, amethysts are quite durable–another reason why they are ideal for use in jewelry and other precious objects. A popular folkloric belief was that amethysts inspired women to divine love and devotion. The gem has also been honored for inspiring sobriety which is one reason why ancients drank from vessels carved from amethyst or wore amethyst amulets.

While ancients featured the gem in precious objects, amethysts gained immense popularity during the Victorian period. Designers often featured fine quality amethysts as focal points for brooches, pendants, and earrings and would set them off with rings of seed pearls or other precious stones. One of the most celebrated modern amethyst jewels is the Cartier ‘bib’ style necklace designed in the Egyptian Revival style for the Duchess of Windsor.

Amethysts feature in religious jewelry, crown jewels, and even commercial or artisan-quality jewels. Amethyst is not especially rare so it is not priced exorbitantly making it a favorite among artisans today for use as a medium. On the other hand, some of the best quality gems are incredibly valuable and have been featured in some of the most illustrious jewels ever created. Artists have used amethysts most famously in jewel craft, but they have been carved into objects and also inlaid in various art objects; many of the best quality jewels and amethyst-adorned objects can be viewed in the world’s most revered museums.