In Piedra Parada, amethysts are everywhere.
Piedra Parada is a somewhat obscure mountain town in the Mexican state of Veracruz that has carved out its own special corner of an international market. The region is known for its amethysts, a type of quartz crystal with color ranging from light to deep shades of purple, formed in sometimes impressive geometric shapes.
The men of Piedra Parada (“Standing Rock”) have mined these crystals for the past 70 years for buyers all over the world who covet them for both their beauty and purported metaphysical qualities. The stones from the town’s numerous mines and small excavations can be found at gem shows and in New Age stores around the world.
“Veracruz amethyst is very distinctive, the way the crystals form—you really can’t mistake it from being from any other place,” says Terry “Skip” Szenics, a longtime collector and dealer, and a fixture on the gem show circuit. “It’s special in a way that when you see a specimen and ask where it’s from, I say, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course it’s from Veracruz.’”
Piedra Parada, population 468, is about an hour drive northwest of Xalapa, Veracruz’s capital city, high in the Sierra Madres. The route takes you through the countryside and small towns, and then onto steep, winding mountain roads that switch from paved to dirt and back again and shoot rocks noisily into the undercarriage of vehicles.
The view grows increasingly spectacular with the elevation, and is truly astonishing at Piedra Parada—a wide-angle view of the horizon, overlooking farms, grazing animals, and homes with smoke curling out of chimneys.
“You can see for probably 10,000 kilometers,” says Jose Trujillo Hernandez, a crystal miner and lifelong resident of Piedra Parada, as he stands on a hill on his property at the edge of town. Hernandez sweeps his arm out in front of him as he explains that most of the mines are in an arc across the north side of the mountain. He is uncertain how many are in the area, as mines close and open as needed.
Hernandez and his brother Juan Abram share the property, which extends up and down a steep hillside and eventually back up a distant hill, with their families. The brothers, who are in their early 40s, are two of 16 children, most of whom still live nearby. There is no mining corporation dominating the area—all of the work here is done by locals to earn a living or augment their other vocations.
Like most men in town, the brothers are miners and crystal vendors but also do construction, raise animals and crops, and work on local infrastructure upkeep. And like other homes in the area, theirs have tables laid out with tablecloths and crystals of different shapes, sizes, and shades for any visitor who passes through, as well as crates already packed up for wholesale.
Amethysts from the Veracruz region are “classics in the marketplace because of their aesthetics. They are highly lustrous, have a wide range of color, often have a lot of the matrix rock, and have microcrystal epidote [a greenish mineral that grows alongside the amethyst],” says Steve Behling, a broker with Collector’s Edge Minerals Inc.
The purple coloration is due to irradiation and the presence of iron and other elements as the crystal formed, with many crystals growing together in sprouting or artichoke formations. (More specifically, “These crystals are formed in vesicular andesite, volcanic vugs [cavities] with amethyst quartz, calcite, epidote, and various zeolites,” according to another dealer.)
“People say they’re not flowers because they grow from stone, but they are,” Hernandez says.
Amethysts are said to have mild curative properties; in fact, the name comes from the Byzantine Greek amethystos, or “non-intoxicant,” referencing a belief that drinking wine from an amethyst vessel won’t get you drunk. The water that pools in the small chasms where crystals form is likewise thought to be beneficial. Hernandez credits this water with helping cure his asthma. They’re also said to have pronounced metaphysical benefits, from opening chakras to curbing temptation.