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Amethyst is a purple variety of quartz that owes its brilliant color to natural irradiation, iron impurities, and the presence of trace minerals. It can range from a little purple/pink in color to deep purple, with darker colored crystals typically considered more rare and valuable. It is a semi-precious gemstone, and just a couple centuries ago it was considered as valuable as diamonds, sapphires and rubies.
Where Is Amethyst Found?
Amethyst is found worldwide in nearly any location where iron was present during the formation of quartz, prior to some amount of natural gamma radiation. Because quartz is in such high abundance in igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock, it can be assumed that amethyst is quite widespread as well.
The volcanic deposits in Southern Brazil and Uruguay are famous for producing spectacular purple crystal filled geodes, sometimes up to gigantic sizes. Several companies mine these geodes from the hard basalt in the region. Uruguay tends to produce darker colored material that is more valuable than much of the Brazilian material that is available in larger quantities. Elongated geodes from this area are often referred to as amethyst cathedrals.
Another locality that is famous for its beautiful, purple, amethyst crystals is the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Amethyst that comes out of this region is often referred to as Veracruz amethyst or Las Vigas amethyst. There are multiple mines in this mountainous area, each of which produces different qualities of amethyst and other minerals. Elongated crystals with deep purple color are considered to be of the highest quality. Some of these crystals have even been known to measure over 4.5' long, however amethyst crystals of this length are relatively uncommon from Veracruz. Much of the mining in these mountains is done by the locals, acting as a main source of income.
A cluster of beautiful amethyst from Las Vigas, Mexico. View Vera Cruz/Las Vigas Amethyst For Sale
Southern South Africa produces a unique formation of amethyst where aggregations of small quartz and/or amethyst crystals formed over stubby and elongated amethyst or quartz crystals. This phenomenal crystal formation is known by many as 'cactus quartz', for it resembles a spiny cactus, though it was originally (and still to this day) referred to as 'spirit quartz'. Most of these crystals are found in beautiful clusters, some of which contain only a little purple (sometimes none), while other clusters display a vibrant purple color. Cactus amethyst that displays the most prominent color comes from Magelisburg, South Africa There have been claims that the purple coloration is artificial, which in some rare cases could be a legitimate claim, however based on the even distribution of color and remnants of iron oxidation on many of these crystals, in most cases these claims are false.
A cluster of cactus amethyst from South Africa. View Cactus Amethyst For Sale
How Does Amethyst Form?
Amethyst forms when iron impurities make their way into silicon-rich solutions during the formation of quartz, which can occur through hydrothermal processes or the precipitation of mineral rich waters. Often, these iron impurities are modified by natural irradiation from the surrounding rocks or host rock, giving the amethyst (quartz) its purple color. Though to truly understand this, we have to first understand how quartz forms.
Quartz is primarily made up of two elemental components, silicon (Si) and Oxygen (O), both of which are in high abundance on our plant. This combination typically occurs when water that's high in silicon content (often gained through the break down of the surrounding rock) seeps through cracks in rocks and ends up exposed to oxygen within cavities. In this environment, the silicon atoms will bond to oxygen and begin building layers that overtime result in cavities lined with thousands of crystals. These cavities most often occur by means of tectonic activity, hollow tubes formed by lava, dissolution (break down of rock resulting in cavities) or even as solidified bubbles of gas within the earth(geodes).
Amethyst formation within a vug/cavity - Silicon and iron-rich fluids will deposit themselves along the walls of the rock cavities. Long crystals, also known as spears, can form in these cavities when the solution drips more from one location of the rock than the other, explaining why vugs often form a wide variety of crystals sizes in close proximity. The crystals will continue to grow as long as they're provided with the environment necessary for formation. In some instances, a surplus of these minerals will result in a solid vein of quartz or amethyst, where individual crystals can no longer be identified.
Amethyst formation within a geode - While there is yet to be a conclusion as to how geodes form, it's widely accepted that they form by means of solidification of gas bubbles (vesicles) within basaltic lava during igneous rock formation and in round cavities within sedimentary rock. The necessary minerals for amethyst formation precipitate into these cavities, depositing crystals (most often in an even layer) along the inner wall of the geode.
How Does Amethyst Acquire Phantoms (Zoning)?
Some crystals will display concentric zoning, which can also be referred to as phantoms. This can give a single crystal the appearance of having layers of amethyst within. This occurrence is caused by varied chemical composition during the growth process of the quartz crystal.
Crystal Rock Bookends
What Causes The Purple Color Of Amethyst?
The color of amethyst is due to trace amounts of iron within the quartz being exposed to low levels of natural radiation with the earth. The more radiation it's been exposed to the darker the color will be. This is not a rapid process, and is due to exposure to low levels or radiation over millions of years.
Will Amethyst Fade In Sunlight?
Yes, over time amethyst will fade in direct exposure to UV rays (sunlight). How rapidly this happens depends on the individual crystals. This is not a rapid process, often taking years of direct exposure. So, taking a crystal out in the sun occasionally won't have any effect. This fading is a permanent change to the crystal.
Is Amethyst Radioactive?
Some people falsely believe that because the color of amethyst was produced by radiation that it is itself radioactive. The irradiation does not make the crystals themselves radioactive. The surrounding rocks may be very mildly radioactive, but the levels of radiations are less than the background radiation in a typical city so it poses no health risk.
Is Amethyst Treated Or Artificially Colored?
The color of most amethyst is natural. Rarely gemstones will be artificially irradiated to darken their color. Brazilian amethyst is often heat treated to change it to an orangish-brown color and marketed as 'citrine' Real citrine is very rare, only found in small crystals and has a yellowish color. I'm not aware of any real citrine coming from Brazil.
A piece of Brazilian amethyst. One side has been heat-treated to create 'citrine'.
Amethyst Crystal Necklace
Where Does The Name Come From?
Amethyst Crystal Bookends Images
The name refers to its alleged ability to counteract the effects of alcohol consumption. 'methy' is the greek expression for being drunk and 'a-methy-stos' would translate to 'one that does not get drunk' The idea that amethyst might protect from drunkenness may have something to do with it's color sometimes being similar to some red wines.