When visiting a museum, you will probably find yourself drawn to a particular object. It may be its arresting appearance or perhaps it resonates with you on a personal level. Sometimes we ask members of the museum staff about their favourite object and it’s the turn of museum attendant Fay Fallows:
I have chosen to write about amethyst, as there is something about it I like. Maybe this is its striking colour, which ranges from a pale lilac to deep purple, or maybe there is more to it than this. My fondness of amethyst led me to buy a piece in its raw state around 20 years ago, which I have kept on display ever since, and to become the owner of several items of jewellery made from this semi-precious gem stone.
Amethyst is a type of Quartz Crystal or Silicon Dioxide (a mineral with the formula of SiO2 ). Its colour is derived from the effect of naturally occurring radiation on the traces of iron present in it. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will slowly fade the colour and heat treatment will result in a yellow/orange/brown colour (Burnt Amethyst). It may be transparent or opaque and is pleochroic, which means that it can appear to change colour according to the direction of view. This quality is due to the absorption of the different wavelengths of light in different ways.
Amethyst is found during the extraction of minerals from rock, which are used to produce metals such as lead and copper. It is found in many areas of the world, being particularly abundant in parts of Brazil. We have a piece of amethyst on display in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery which was actually extracted locally, from Water Swallows Quarry in Buxton:
It is believed that gemstones have particular powers. Amethyst is attributed to creative thinking, spiritual awareness, and preventing intoxication. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore amethyst jewellery and also incorporated it into their goblets, in the belief that drinking wine from these would prevent alcoholic intoxication. Catholic Bishops wore amethyst rings (Bishop’s Stones), in the belief that this would prevent spiritual intoxication. It is therefore not surprising that the name amethyst is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘amethystos’, which translates as ‘not intoxicated’.
Bearing all these qualities in mind, I have decided to keep my collection of amethyst for a while longer!
You can see the specimen along with the rest of Buxton Museum’s mineral collection and hundreds of other objects in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery. Admission is free. Plan your visit here.