Amorous amethysts

February’s gem stone is amethyst

The world’s most popular purple gemstone, it’s been used in personal adornment for over 2,000 years. It’s made of quartz, a hard crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, with the purple colour deriving from traces of iron in its structure.

How amethyst is formed
As well as coming in a variety of beautiful different colours, garnets are also one of the more Normally it’s found in fractures and cavities of igneous rocks, made by the solidification of molten rock. As the magma cools, silicon dioxide in water begins to turn to crystals, with the slower the cooling the larger the crystal.

The composition of the water changes over time too, with varying amount of iron incorporated into the surface of the crystal. Radiation emitted by surrounding rocks cause the iron to change the colour of the crystal to purple, in varying degrees of intensity.

The ingredients for amethyst success
Amethysts can also be created in metamorphosed rocks (formed when rocks are subjected to high heat, high pressure, hot mineral-rich fluids or some combination of all these factors) hydrothermal veins, rocks deposited by hot springs and some sedimentary rocks. All that’s needed are the basic ingredients of pockets or cavities for deposits to form, silica-enriched water of around 50-250 °C, ferric iron impurities, and gamma radiation.

Natural radiation helps determine the colour
By the way, don’t be put off by the radiation. Depending on the type of rock, it emits varying amounts of natural gamma radiation with higher levels associated with igneous rocks.

Just wait a few million years. Or more
The quartz can take millions of years to form – typically between 40 to 400 million years.
It’s estimated that a two centimetre crystal will form in ten million years, with the growth rate determined by the conditions of heat and pressure, as well as the availability of silicon nutrients and water. Because of its stability, and resistance to weathering, billion-year-old quartz crystals can look just as recent as Alpine rock crystals formed a mere 10 million years ago.

The cure for alcoholics
The name amethyst comes from the rather unusual Greek word, that means “not intoxicated” – amethystos or amethustos. Alcohol and its consequences presumably played an important part in the life of ancients, and there’s several legends linked to the mineral, wine drinking and sobriety.

Tainted by the God of Wine
According to one, Amethyst was a young virgin who upset the ancient Greek God of wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus in the Roman version) when he became intoxicated with red wine. Fearing the anger of a God, Amethyst cried out to the Goddess of chastity Artemis (or Diana in Roman civilisation) for help, who came somewhat dubiously to her rescue by turning her into stone.  Dionysus seeing what had happened was full of drunken remorse, crying into his goblet which overturned and saturated the white stone, turning it purple.

Me? Drunk? (hic)
Perhaps it’s simply because the rock is a similar colour to red wine that the ancients decided it could help ward off drunkenness. Goblets carved from amethyst were meant to nullify the negative effects of drinking wine, although it’s more likely that the purple crystal was actually giving water the appearance of wine.

It wasn’t only the ancient Greeks and Romans who believed amethysts to have sobering properties. The ancient Egyptians used the stone as the representative of the zodiac sign of the goat – and enemy of vines and vineyards, and hence the antidote of wine.

Keep calm, don’t panic!
Whether it’s a clear head even after a few glasses of wine, the serenity of prayer, or the ability to focus in the face of battle, Amethysts are associated with calmness of mind, purity of spirit and soberness of thought in many different cultures. 

The Christian gemstone
The first mention of amethyst in literature is in the Bible. It’s one of the gemstones present in the High Priest Aaron’s breastplate in the Book of Exodus, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s maintained a place in Christian culture ever since, featuring in the Episcopal rings of Bishops, once again for its supposed properties of sobriety, representing abstinence from alcohol at Pentecost.

Loved by St Valentine
Amethyst’s royal purple colour is also used to symbolize Christ, and Saint Valentine was said to wear a ring set with an antique Amethyst carved with an image of Cupid. The stone is a symbol of Saint Matthias the disciple who, according to the biblical Acts of the Apostles 1:21–26, was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot after Judas betrayed Jesus. And the twelfth foundation of the Holy City of Jerusalem was built of amethyst.

Buddha is a fan too
Buddhism is another faith that holds this gem in esteem. Tibetans consider amethyst sacred to the Buddha and Buddhist prayer beads are often carved in amethyst.

A sign of wealth and power
Amethyst’s appeal isn’t just to religious faiths. Its rich purple colour is connected to wealth and power.

Until the development of synthetic fibres, purple was the most expensive colour for clothing, and the dye was created from a species of marine snail. Its use was extremely restricted in ancient times and the amount of purple on a person’s toga was used as an indication of rank. It’s likely that amethyst was similarly worn as a symbol to display a person’s high status.

Cleopatra, Caesar and Mark Antony had a thing for amethyst
Cleopatra famously wore an amethyst ring throughout her relationship Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony is also said to have helped make amethyst gems a popular fashion item among Roman noblewomen.

Popular with royalty
Just like purple dye, amethyst was rare before the 18th century, and one of the most valuable gemstones alongside diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

Perhaps that’s why you’ll find it in many royal collections across the globe.
For example a large cabochon amethyst sits above the Cullinan diamond (incidentally the second largest cut diamond in the world) in the Imperial Sceptre of the British Crown Jewels.

Napoleonic amethysts, passed down from mother to daughter
The British and Swedish royal families boast amethyst suites in their jewellery collections The British pieces were owned originally by the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria’s mother, and the Swedish pieces are known as ‘Napoleonic amethysts’. These were originally a gift by Empress Josephine to her daughter-in-law Augusta of Bavaria, who in turn gave them to her daughter when she married into the Swedish royal family.

Most precious in the Americas, until Brazilian stones flooded the market
It’s ironic that in the Old World, amethyst was considered one of the Cardinal gems, which meant that it was one of the five gemstones considered more precious than any other until massive deposits were found in Brazil during the early 19th century. Then prices plummeted.

Amethysts were popular among everyday folk as well as royalty
The Victorians loved large, impressive jewellery, and as the price fell with more and more of the semi-precious gems being unearthed, amethysts were the only affordable stone possible to create extravagant suites of jewels. But to a Victorian well-to-do, there was no better way to display one’s wealth and success than with amethysts.

More supply, less demand
The discovery of massive amethyst deposits in Brazil caused the first decline in the price of these beautiful purple stones, but it was a glut of another stone that cause the next decline in popularity.

Diamonds versus amethysts
The discovery of South African diamond mines in 1867 meant that a stone that once only the wealthiest could afford, was now within the price range of many more. Some believe electric lighting may have been a contributory factor in the rise of diamonds and decline of amethyst too, as it made colourful jewellery appear gaudy, and added to the fashion for ‘white’ jewels.

Amethysts take temporary back stage
Fast forward to the 20th century, and De Beer’s advertising slogan accelerates the process, with their famous line “diamonds are forever”. But while diamonds became the symbol for love and marriage, amethyst was no longer in the limelight.

The comeback of a beautiful stone
A retro revival in the mid-20th century created a return to popularity.
But although its fortunes – and its value – have ebbed and waned, there’s always been a strong following and interest in old mine amethysts, with the main attraction the deep and luxurious purple colour.

Big is beautiful
So what else determines the value of amethysts? Unlike diamonds and rubies they don’t increase exponentially in value the larger they are. That’s because unlike those other gemstones, amethyst is normally found as larger crystals, so the size of the raw material doesn’t constrain it. That means one of the most important factors in its price is the skill with which the stone has been cut.  

Turn to the dark side
Colour plays a significant role is determining the value of amethyst too. And the darker the better, with dark purple stones selling between 3 to 5 times more than lighter material. That’s why, for example, amethyst from Uruguay tends to be significantly more expensive that amethyst from Brazil – it’s also significantly darker.

No shade is a shade better
The colour should also ideally be uniform throughout, rather than, as is often the case with amethyst crystal, formed of lighter and darker purple areas.

Clarity needs to be taken into consideration too
You shouldn’t be able to see any inclusions or flaws with your naked eye.  And beware chipping or damage that may have been caused by extraction or preparation of the stone.  

Today amethysts are back in favour
They offer people the opportunity to buy larger and more dramatic stones at a price that won’t break the bank. And although its popularity wanes and ebbs, this stunning and beautiful purple gem will never go permanently out of fashion. 

Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in amethysts, diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.

The cinnamon stone

January’s birthstone is garnet

Do you think of a rich, red gemstone when you think of a garnet? You’re not alone.
Over 2,000 years ago Aristotle the Greek Philosopher wrote “The garnet is a red gem, but not like the ruby, its red is much more like that of a flame
Indeed the name garnet comes from the 14
th century Middle English word “gernet” that means dark red.

But don’t be misled. It’s a misnomer, as garnet is actually a name used for a larger group of minerals that share similar physical properties and crystal form, but have a different chemical composition. And that different chemical mixture means garnets occur in multiple colours, including green, yellow orange, peach, green, purple, brown and pink.

Not rare, but beautiful
As well as coming in a variety of beautiful different colours, garnets are also one of the more numerous gem stones. However that doesn’t distract from their beauty, and people have been attracted and fascinated by them since the dawn of civilisation. Which is why you’ll find examples of garnets throughout human history, in everything from ancient gold rings to modern bijouterie.

Garnets features in folklore throughout the ages
Garnets are considered to be traveller’s stones, and Noah’s Ark is said to have a Garnet lantern to help navigate during the night. The Romans also believed the gem protected travellers, and if it sparkled it meant approaching danger.

The ancient Chinese said red garnet gems represented the soul of a tiger that had been transformed to the stone after death. And Navajo Indians in Utah, USA, believe the gems bring luck and protection to the wearer.

Garnet in ancient civilisations
Garnet has been valued as a beautiful and precious stone from the very beginnings of human civilisation. In Egypt, for example, garnet amulets have been unearthed by archaeologists in the tombs of the pharaohs.

While in ancient Persia, garnets were deemed so precious, that only kings were allowed to own or wear them. The patriarchs of Rome had carved signet rings made from garnet. With red garnets the most commonly used gemstones in the late antique Roman world and after them the “barbarian” peoples who took over the territory of the Western Roman Empire

A popular gem stone in the 16th and 17th century too
Because of its widespread availability in later times, it’s also often found set into medieval rings and ornaments. And by the late 16th and 17th century it was used throughout Europe in everything from rings and earrings to pendants, frequently accompanied by colourful, polychrome enamel and gold mounts.

Many of these Renaissance and later garnets were polished into large and irregular-shaped hollow-back shaped and polished gems known as ‘carbuncles’. If you’re interested, today you can see many of these garnets on display at the Museum of London.

Still in great demand today
The affordability and abundance of garnets has meant that they have never fallen out of fashion. And today they are still as popular as they have ever been.

For example, before she got engaged to Prince William, Catherine Middleton often wore a pearl and garnet gold ring. The press frequently speculated whether it was a gift from Prince William.  And a garnet cabochon set into a flower brooch from Jackie Onassis’s estate sold for over $100,000 at auction.

How garnets are formed
Garnet is a dense and hard silicate mineral which occurs in many rock types.
But like many other gems, it’s typically created by immense heat and high pressure within the earth’s crust that, over millions of years, transforms original igneous or sedimentary stone into denser, more compact metamorphic rocks.

Heat and pressure and aeons of time
Most garnet forms where the earth’s plates combine and shale is impacted by regional metamorphism. The heat and pressure of metamorphism breaks chemical bonds and causes minerals to recrystallize into new structures.

It creates gemstones made up of silica and oxygen with an assortment of elements and minerals creating numerous variations.

Many different varieties
These are broken into six different varieties, Almandine, Pyrope, Spessartite, Grossular, Andradite and Uvarovite. These are then divided further into group depending on factors like colours, sources or and blends of type. In other words, there’s a lot of choice of garnet

Hessonite garnet
However we’re going to focus on hessonite garnet, one of the most affordable and popular types. It was highly regarded in the 1960s and 70s, and a recent demand for earth tone jewellery has seen a resurgence in popularity.

The cinnamon stone
It’s also known as the “cinnamon stone” not only because of its colour, but because it originated in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, the land of spices. Typically, it’s a yellow-orange to reddish orange variety of grossular garnet, although it can also be found in other colours like pink and orange.

Softer but not lesser
It’s less transparent than other gemstones of the same colour like topaz and citrine, and it also has a lower manganese content and specific gravity than other varieties of garnet.
Hessonite has a lower density and hardness than other garnets too – indeed the name Hessonite comes from the Greek word ‘hesson’ which means inferior, although in this instance it does not imply that the stone itself is inferior to other garnet, merely that it is formed of softer material.

Look for the swirl
Hessonite is an easy stone to identify, because of a visual effect that resembles disturbed water within the stone. This roiled appearance has also been referred to as a “heat wave” or “swirl” effect with liquid currents. As a detail, they are visible only under the lens, but give the gem an overall treacly glowing character.

Close-up-images reveal swirls that can range from thick and heavy to delicate and barely perceptible.

Hessonite stones, perennially in fashion
Garnets made from hessonite have been popular for hundreds of years.
From the 16th to the 18th century hessonite (known in those days as ‘Jacinth’ or ‘Hyacinth’) was in great demand as a stone for fashioning into cameos or setting into bracelet clasps.
And it’s still as loved today as ever.

Which is why you’ll find celebrities like Cate Blanchett, Jessica Lowndes, Kelly Osbourne, Amy Adams, and Christie Brinkley all wearing hessonite jewellery.

Found all over the world
Today the best-known hessonite deposits are in Sri Lanka but hessonite is also mined in Brazil, India, Canada, Madagascar, Tanzania and the United States.
And hessonite garnet is valued the same way as many other gem stones – by the four Cs.

Hessonite colour
Traces of manganese are responsible for the colour of hessonite garnet can range from deep yellow or golden orange to cinnamon brown. It also often contains tiny honey-coloured inclusions, although these inclusions don’t detract from the value of the stone.
The most sought-after colour is bright golden orange and lighter stones tend to be more brilliant too.

The clarity
Inclusions won’t normally detract from the value of hessonite, but the stone should be transparent or translucent. If the garnet is opaque it will be worth less.

Does it make the cut?
Hessonite garnet should be cut to enhance the stone’s colour.
If it’s not well cut the colour will be too dark and decrease value. The most common shapes are oval and cushion, then pear and emerald.

Carats add to value too
Like all other gemstones, carat weight adds to price too.
Garnet crystals are usually small, from microscopic up to about 6 inches in the case of grossular. Many deposits are small grains of crystals in or on their host rock. A typical garnet crystal is about half an inch to an inch in diameter.

Turn to a traditional jeweller
January’s gemstone is beautiful and affordable, whether it’s in a bracelet, a ring, necklace, pendant or other jewellery.

If you’re interested in hessonite garnet or any other kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.