An amethyst from Nova Scotia ended up in France’s crown jewels!

Nova Scotia does not have a history of commercial mining for gemstones but there are many that can be found, and there are many great places in the province for rockhounding.

For example, historical records contain many mentions of amethysts found in Nova Scotia, including amethysts from Partridge Island, Cumberland County, that Pierre Du Gua de Monts (aka Sieur de Monts) took back to King Henry IV of France as a gesture of his loyalty. King Henry had granted de Monts a monopoly on trading rights in Acadia and the governorship of much of North America, from Cape Breton to Philadelphia. He oversaw the founding of Port Royal (present-day Annapolis Royal), and Quebec City in the early 1600s – so de Monts had good reason to express his loyalty to the king.

The king and queen were reportedly delighted with the crystals and Nova Scotian geologist Abraham Gesner reported in 1836 that an amethyst from Blomidon was in the crown of the French king at that time.

(Samuel de Champlain was de Monts’ navigator but Champlain is better-known today because he wrote extensively about his travels, while de Monts wrote little.)

Records also mention rock surfaces “a foot square being covered with splendid purple crystals an inch across.”

Abraham Gesner ( mentioned a large geode (a rock with a cavity inside where amethysts form) that could have held about two gallons. This was found at Cape Sharp, opposite Blomidon. Gesner also said he found a band of amethyst several feet in length and perhaps two inches thick, about a mile east of Halls Harbour.

Another geode found at Sandy Cove, Digby County, weighed 40 pounds.

“More than a bushel” of amethysts were reportedly found by a Dr. Webster of Kentville while digging a well.

Gemstones that are usually considered “precious stones” are diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. All other gemstones are considered “semi-precious” (i.e. amethyst, agate, amber, jade, pearl, etc.) These definitions date from the 1800s and they are subjective, not scientific. There is not universal agreement with them, but we mention them to point out that there is usually a distinction made between precious and semi-precious stones.

The word gemstone is also not well-defined. Many stones are considered gems but the term does not have a technical definition.

Interestingly, some gemstones are not actually minerals. By definition, a mineral must be created inside the earth but a pearl’s coating is created in a mollusk and amber starts out as tree resin. Still, both pearl and amber are considered gemstones.

Why is amethyst purple?

Most amethyst forms when lava with gas bubbles in it hardens and creates rock with cavities (i.e. the lava crusts over before gasses in the lava can escape, leaving a hollow area inside the rock). The cavities fill with silica-rich liquid that contains trace amounts of iron.

Over time, this liquid forms crystals that line the cavity walls. After crystallization, gamma rays, emitted by radioactive materials in the host rock, irradiate the iron and produce the purple color.

The word amethyst comes from the ancient Greeks who thought it looked like wine and figured the gem prevented its wearer from getting drunk. “Amethystos” is Greek for "not intoxicated."