February birthstone: Amethyst

Amethyst carved by Michael Dyber (photo Jeff Scovil)

January’s birthstone is among the most popular gems in American jewelry.

A form of quartz found mainly in Brazil, Bolivia and Russia, amethyst has long been one of the gem world’s greatest bargains. But the finest deep purple variety is becoming scarce and getting more expensive.

Amethyst was used in France for decorative purposes as far back as 25,000 B.C. In medieval times, the purple gem was set in the crowns and scepters of European royalty and soldiers wore it as a protective amulet in battle.

Brazilian amethysts first appeared in Europe in the early 1700s and quickly became the height of fashion, very desirable – and very expensive. But prices dropped after amethyst was discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1799 and Brazil increased its suupply.

Cabochon amethyst set in hammered 18kt gold (Karen Bandy Studio)

According to Greek mythology, an angry Bacchus declared that the first person he met would be devoured by tigers. When the lovely Amethyst came along, the goddess Diana turned her to crystal just as the tigers pounced. A repentant Bacchus poured wine over her – figuring, I suppose, that if she had to be a rock for all eternity, she might as well be beautiful and drunk.

As a result, amethysts were believed to possess wine-related magic.

Long before Alcoholics Anonymous, amethysts was worn to prevent intoxication. Like a glass of wine at the end of a rough day, this gem was believed to calm calm stress and relieve frustrated passion.

Amethyst offers an affordable way to get big, colorful looks, they lend themselves to dramatic drop earrings, like the ones we’ve been seeing on the red carpet lately. Courtney Cox, Julianne Moore and Sandra Bullock all wore long, danglers to the Golden Globes in black sapphire, emerald and diamond respectively.

Some amethyst versions of that look, at a fraction of the price those stars paid (or would have paid if they actually bought their jewels):

Earrings by Petra Class of cushion- and pear-shaped amethysts set in 18kt gold ($2,090, Aaron Faber Gallery)

Chandelier earrings by Petra Class feature 16 carats of amethyst set in 22kt gold ($2,530, Aaron Faber Gallery)

Amethyst in 14kt gold ($59, Amazon.com)

These earrings by Petra Class (above) resemble the shoulder-brushing diamond pair Bullock was sporting at the Golden Globes, only in delicious shades of violet.

Amazon offers a much smaller pair (total carat weight: 1.07) but with good color and, at $59, a very nice price (right).

For a look at some of the finest antique amethyst jewels on the market, visit the website of A La Vieille Russie.

Among other beauties, you’ll find this beautiful rare, antique amethyst brooch made in England in the mid-19th century:

Sugarloaf cabochon amethyst and pavéd old-mine diamonds set in silver and gold. English, ca. 1850 ($10,500, A La Vieille Russie, alvr.com)

Here, from Aaron Faber Gallery, is one set in the “ballerina” style popular in the 1960s:

Cushion-cut amethyst in platinum and diamond baguette setting ($4,275, AaronFaber.com)