This historical piece looks like glass, but was carved and engraved from a huge quartz crystal. The original vase is Islamic, created in the Fatimid caliphate of Egypt in the late 10th century CE. The goldwork is Italian and dates from the 11th century CE. It was given by Roger 2 of Sicily (where there were many centuries of co-existence between Christians and Muslims) to Theobald 2 (Count of Champagne). It was later donated by the count to the abbey treasury at St Denis, and moved to the Louvre when the monastic treasures were confiscated during the revolution in 1793.
A carved crystal vessel with loop handles and palmette detailing; with later, probably 17th-18th century AD silver-gilt lid and chain. 256 grams, 12.5cm (5").
Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, mentions a number of sources for rock crystal, such as Asia Minor, Cyprus, Portugal and the Alps, though he states the best came from India. The stone was fashioned into vessels in Bronze Age Greece as well as Cyprus, Asia Minor, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The use of rock crystal for vessels fell out of fashion in Classical Greece but was revived in the Hellenistic period where it was associated with the wealthy elite in such cities as Alexandria and Antioch.
In the Roman Empire rock crystal was highly valued and according to Pliny, Livia, the wife of Augustus, dedicated a block weighing one hundred and fifty pounds on the Capitol; he also mentions a wealthy Roman woman paying one hundred and fifty thousand sestertii for a single rock crystal dipper. Suetonius mentions that Nero had two crystal cups carved with Homeric scenes that he broke when he received the news that the Senate had called for his execution. The high value placed by the Romans on rock crystal can be seen in the high degree of carving that the surviving pieces have, and their relative rarity compared to other stone vessels.
Color: Purple, light lavender, almost colorless, sometimes crystals have darker tips.
Hardness: HARD (7)
Crystal system: Hexagonal
Occurrence: Uncommon (found in only a few localities)
Health risks: None
- Very unusual behavior of amethyst which normally grows tight clusters within geodes and the crystals are squat and pyramid-shaped.
- Prismatic specimens are primarily found only in Mexico. Nowhere else on earth does Amethyst behave this way!
- Specimens are very unique and beautiful. Often very expensive, but make for a great unique addition to collections.
- Quartz of any kind is very strong, but prismatic amethyst forms in tall, singular crystals that are typically quite small and can break off the matrix. Handle with care. Some specimens are too brittle to handle very often.
- Like all colored quartz, do not place in direct sunlight. Crystals can lose their color to sun fading over time. Lighter-colored specimens are more vulnerable to this.
- Quartz specimens are easy to clean. Use warm soapy water to soak and wash, then rinse thoroughly with distilled water to avoid water spots. Let air dry.
Locality of this piece: Piedra Parada, Veracruz, Mexico. Again, amethyst is found globally, but prismatic amethyst is located only in a few areas in Mexico.
Price range: Prismatic amethyst can be quite expensive depending on size and clarity of the crystals. Ones with consistent color, water-clear crystals, and great faceting are quite valuable and cabinet size pieces can go for $50-150+! Individual crystals can also be found for sale and they are much more affordable. However, be wary of fakes that could be carved from larger standard crystals or colored glass. A hardness test would distinguish between glass and quartz.