February is here. And she brings with her the amethyst, birthstone of the month.
Until the Nineteenth Century, amethysts were rare and very expensive. They were considered one of the five "Cardinal Gemstones"—alongside diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Initially, deep purple amethysts—the color of royalty—had only been discovered in Russia and Austria. Medieval monarchs loved amethysts. To this day, Anglican and some Roman Catholic bishops wear an amethyst in their episcopal rings.
According to Ancient Greek mythology, Dionysus—the god of wine—was in-pursuit of a beautiful virgin, Amethystos. Her prayers to remain chaste were answered: before he could catch her, she turned into a beautiful white stone. In his grief, Dionysus poured wine over the stone, turning it violet—the first amethyst.
The Ancient Greeks believed amethysts would prevent intoxication. Wine bowls, made of turned amethyst, were thought to counteract the effects of the alcohol drunk from them. And, even before the Ancient Greeks, the Egyptians used the purple stone for carved amulets, often embellishing them with hand-engraving.
In recent centuries, the range of amethyst mining has increased dramatically. The rarity—and price—of amethysts has plummeted. Huge deposits of the purple stone have been discovered in Brazil, now the world's largest source. The stone has also been mined in South Korea, South India, Canada and across the United States (from Arizona and Texas through Pennsylvania). Though (now) much less precious, the amethyst remains a handsome, sophisticated and regal gemstone.
The pair of late victorian cufflinks, shown above, are formed in the face of a "grotesque." In his mouth he holds a faceted amethyst. Click on the photo above to learn more about this interesting pair of cufflinks.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248