Amethyst. Unless you’re a February baby, your first encounter with this glorious purple-hued stone may have been a geode in a museum gift shop. Nothing wrong with that! We’ve all got our origin stories.
And the particular origin story of this gem is pretty saucy: The amethyst’s name is derived from the Greek word amethystos, which translates, loosely, to “not intoxicated.” The rich mulberry hues of the amethyst led the ancient Greeks to associate it with wine, thereby linking it to Dionysus a.k.a. the god of wine, partying, and ritual madness. (Some liberties may have been taken with that translation, but… not as many as you think.) Understandably, the Greeks then assumed that if you wore an amethyst whilst imbibing, or drank from a cup carved from the gem, you’d be protected from the alcohol’s ill effects. Listen: can’t hurt, right?
A variety of quartz, amethyst comes primarily in shades of purple that arise from the presence of iron within. The colors range from reddish bursts amongst boundless violet to the palest wash of lavender. Historically, the darker colors were considered more desirable, and thus, more valuable. In an ingenious marketing move, the pastel shade was rebranded as “Rose de France” — an infinitely more appealing moniker than “really light purple amethyst.” This was extremely effective: Beginning in the late 19th century, the lilac stone was commonly used in ladies rings, often carved with a surface image and embossed in gold.
The stone was once so scarce it was on par with rubies and diamonds, and reserved solely for royalty and clergy. Third century religious figure Saint Valentine (yep, that Saint Valentine) famously wore an amethyst intaglio; he was known to promote the idea of courtly and chaste love, so the stone’s reputation for clarity and calm, which endures to this day, was presumably more appealing than one that stood for passion.
But a surprise discovery of an enormous amethyst mine in Brazil in the 18th century meant more than queens and priests had access to the precious plum stone; it suddenly became accessible. What a lucky time to be alive: to be able to adorn ourselves in the regal riot of purples that amethyst brings, and know that wearing it will absolutely, undoubtedly, 100% prevent drunkenness.