If you were born in February, your birthstone is amethyst—the purple variety of quartz. Its lilac to deep purple hues can be cut into many shapes and sizes, and it can be manufactured in a lab as well as mined.
The name “amethyst” derives from the Greek amethystos, which means “a remedy against drunkenness,” a benefit long ascribed to the purple birthstone. Because of its wine-like color, early Greek mythology associated the gem with Bacchus, the god of wine. Amethyst was also believed to keep the wearer clear headed and quick witted in battle and business affairs. Amethyst lore includes several claims to mystical powers, including that it would convey strength and wit to those who wore it.
If you celebrate a February birthday, wearing an amethyst can be a symbol of personal empowerment and inner strength. Also, amethyst is the gem traditionally given for the sixth wedding anniversary. Wear it in celebration of your wedding nuptials or as your February birthstone and you’ll be in royal company--historically, royals have coveted the deep purple hue of the February birthstone since at least the days of Alexander the Great.
Russia was the major source of amethyst until the 19th century, when large deposits were found in Brazil. Once as rare as ruby or emerald, amethyst was suddenly in abundance. Today, the most important sources of amethyst are in Africa and South America. Brazil is still a major supplier, especially its southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Amethyst from Brazil sometimes forms in hollow, crystal-lined geodes so large you can stand in them. In Africa, Zambia’s Kariba mine is one of the largest amethyst producers in the world. Amethyst mined there tends to be of superb quality with richly saturated colors.
Amethyst is found in the United States, just 46 miles (74 km) outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The Four Peaks amethyst mine is located high in the most rugged part of the Mazatzal Mountains. A remote location, hot summer temperatures, and a lack of water and power at the mine make for challenging conditions. Yet this jagged, arid, rattlesnake-infested terrain produces some very fine dark purple and purplish red amethyst crystals.
Amethyst is a 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. This means that it is appropriate for daily use in rings and other jewelry, but over time it may show wear and require re-polishing. Amethyst birthstone jewelry can be cleaned with an ultrasonic cleaner, but steam cleaning is not recommended. A soft brush with mild soap is the safest option.
As you shop for the February birthstone, you’ll encounter lab-created amethyst. Having the same chemical and physical properties as its natural counterpart, synthetic amethyst has been known since the 1970s. In some cases, it is very difficult to distinguish natural from synthetic amethyst without access to advanced gemological testing, but many in the jewelry industry do not request testing because of the cost and time required to determine the origin of what is a comparatively inexpensive gem. Still, merchants are required to tell you if a gem is natural or synthetic.