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Rose de France Amethyst: French Twist

My friends Jude and Sarah have a parrot that tells lies. Of course, it doesn’t know that its earfuls are for the birds. The bird just repeats what it hears. Recently that was Sarah at her worst telling Jude he was a jerk—which just isn't so. But the parrot hasn’t stopped hurling this false accusation at him. Thankfully, their friends know better. Or they should.

Why, pray tell, do I bring up a parrot? Glad you asked. For better or worse, the Internet behaves like a parrot. It picks up bits and pieces of bad information and repeats them ad infinitum. Through sheer repetition, they soon become sanctified as absolute truths. Rarely, if ever, are these facts downgraded to misstatements or mistakes.

Take Rose de France, that wonderfully poetic trade name for light amethyst. According to just about every web site Google lists for this gem—and currently there are hundreds—the name has been a common coinage for dainty mauve quartz dating as far back as the Victorian era.

Yet no book on gem and jewelry that we consulted on this variety corroborates use of this term. Indeed, most books don’t even mention the name. Rose de France, says the JCK Jewelers’ Dictionary, published in 1977, is a “Brazilian term for amethyst of pale lilac hue.” Okay, now I know where it originated. But when?

I took this historical query to Jeanenne Bell, an expert on antique jewelry who has published seven books in the last decade, one of them from Krause Publishing on Victorian jewelry. If anyone could help me set the facts about Rose de France straight, it is she.

“Sorry, David,” Bell begins, “I’ve never heard of the term. And what’s more I’ve never seen it in any advertisement from the Victorian period nor heard it used by a fellow expert.” Since Bell clips more ads out of past publications than any ten rabid coupon clippers from their daily newspaper, I suspect my inquiry has hit a brick wall.

Sensing my despair, Bell asks me for time to consult her archives. A day later, she tells me she has found nothing to make her doubt her initial opinion. “It just wouldn’t make sense for a pale amethyst to have been a popular Victorian gem,” Bell explains. “The colors, fabrics, and styles of the period were too heavy. Fabric colors and the dress code would have had to lighten considerably for something called ‘Rose de France’ to become fashionable. And that didn’t begin to happen until the late 1880s. Could the term be a misnomer for the light pink topaz that was popular in the 1830s and 1840s?” No, I insist, it is associated strictly with amethyst. After a pause, I make one last effort to strike gold. Well, then, was pastel-purple amethyst ever the rage?

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