Amethyst, purple power
... the price of amethyst rivaled that of ruby and emerald gemstones. That has changed over time, although you will still see amethyst used in high jewellery pieces, for example, the one pictured above by Bulgari, as well as by, Cartier, Van Cleer & Arpels, and Graff to name a few.
Let's explore the history of this beautiful purple gem, the colour of nobility to find out why.
For thousands of years, purple amethysts have been fashioned into everything from beads to amulets to jewellery. Amethyst’s eye-catching colour had the added advantage of suggesting wealth and status, so it was perhaps inevitable that it frequently became the gemstone of choice for prosperous merchants and powerful dignitaries in Rome and Egypt.
Their use continued right through the Middle Ages where knobbly and irregular cabochons were often set into gold rings, ring brooches, and as a decorative embellishment to the bosses of earrings and buckles. Its popularity spread throughout Europe and no doubt due to its associations with piety, humility, and celibacy, amethyst was adopted by the Church, becoming the gem we most closely associated with massive gold rings worn by Popes and Bishops.
By the 16th century, amethyst was considered to be the ideal antidote curing everything from drunkenness to nightmares and, indeed, Mary Queen of Scots wore amethyst to dispel her natural (and not unreasonable) tendency towards melancholia.
Advances in diamond cutting and polishing by the middle part of the 18th century resulted in the use large and colourful semi-precious stones in jewellery. This was very much the era of experimentation in colour and amethyst was often set in bright yellow gold filigree frames known as ‘cannetille work’ with other compatible gemstones.
By the early 19th century the discovery of large amethyst deposits in Brazil inevitably led to an increase of the gem on the market, no doubt this increase was helped by the fact that members of the aristocracy favoured the rich opulence of its colour. In 1837, the Russian Emperor Alexander I presented Frances, Third Marchioness of Londonderry, with a splendid set of Siberian amethyst and diamond jewels. Without a doubt, these Russian specimens are the most desirable colour of all — a deep ‘Imperial’ purple with a distinctive red secondary hue.
In the 19th century, Victorian Era jewellers set amethysts into their necklaces, earrings, and brooches. By the 1930s, the stones had become the go-to gems in Art Deco jewellery. Amethysts were also important to Victorian jewelers because of their role in acrostic rings, in which the first letters of the names of gemstones would be arranged to spell our words like DEAREST (diamond, emerald, amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, topaz). In other pieces such as brooches, a large faceted amethyst would be surrounded by an oval of smaller amethysts.
By the Edwardian era, pale Indian specimens were the gemstone of choice for simple fringe necklaces, inexpensive brooches, and pendants with seed pearl decoration.
The stone dwindled in demand through the 1920s and 1930s but saw a revival in post-war ‘Retro’ jewellery in which larger, emerald-cut, and pear-shaped specimens were often set in angular or three-dimensional combinations with other bold coloured gems including turquoise and ruby. These are very much jewellery for the purist but certainly made a dramatic impact, a good example being the amethyst, turquoise, and diamond Bib Collar made by Cartier for the Duchess of Windsor in 1947. (
Modernist jewellers of the 1950s such as Art Smith also made use of amethysts, pairing them with sodalite and turquoise stones set amid space-age swirls of sterling silver. Also popular in the post-war period were amethyst pins, brooches, and cuff bracelets produced by Mexican silversmiths working out of Taxco.
In 2018, violet was Pantone's colour of the year and it spark, many high jewellery pieces including Bulgari's high jewellery necklace (picture above) in pink gold with 19 amethysts, that weigh an impressive 425.43 carats, are combined with green jadeite, mandarine garnets, and almost 12 carats of diamonds Learn more by visiting The Jewellery Editor.
In the year 2021, as we are coming out of a worldwide pandemic, you may want to surround yourself with amethysts for their spiritual or protective factor, or just because they are so beautiful they bring joy to your heart and soul.