Purple is royal, purple is elaborate, and purple is replete with the trappings of majesty and ceremony. It’s the colour of fantasy and magic. It’s half-blue, half-red, and lies somewhere in between the serenity of blue and the passion of red. It’s also the favourite colour of both Paul and Denise, our founders of Charming Beads!

Amethyst BeadsAmethyst Beads
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The History Of Purple

Purple has long been associated with royalty, originally because Tyrian purple dye was extremely expensive during antiquity. Made from a species of sea snail, that’s now known as Bolinus Brandaris, it was harvested by cracking open the shell to extract a purple-producing mucus which had to be exposed to sunlight for a precise amount of time. As many as 250,000 molluscs were needed to yield just a single ounce of usable dye. Expensive doesn’t begin to cover the cost of clothes made from this valuable commodity. A pound of purple wool would have cost you more than most people earned in a year!

Purple was the colour worn by Roman magistrates and therefore became the imperial colour worn by the rulers of the Roman Empire, and later by Roman Catholic bishops. Similarly in Japan, the colour purple is traditionally associated with the emperor and aristocracy. Rulers of the Byzantine Empire wore flowing purple robes, signed their edicts in purple ink and their children were described as being “born in the purple” to separate them from those who seized or won their title.

In Britain purple was a colour only royalty was allowed to wear during the Tudor period. Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, was tried for high treason against Henry VIII in 1546. One of the charges against him in his trial was he’d been seen wearing a doublet and hose of purple silk which only royalty could wear. Elizabeth I followed in her father’s footsteps with Sumptuary Laws dictating what people could wear which banned everyone but members of the royal family and their close relatives from wearing purple. The British Royal Family and other European royalty still use purple as a ceremonial colour on special occasions.

Purple also played an important part in the religious paintings of the Renaissance. Angels and the Virgin Mary were often portrayed wearing purple or violet robes. Our earliest records of purple’s appearance in art is during the Neolithic era in works dated between 16,000 and 25,000BC. Prehistoric artists in what is now France used sticks of hematite and manganese powder to draw animals and outlines on their cave walls.

It was only when the first synthetic dyes hit the market that purple became more widely available. In 1856 William Henry Perkin, an 18-year-old English chemist, accidentally created a synthetic purple compound when he was trying to synthesise the anti-malaria drug quintine. He realised it could be used to dye fabrics and so synthetic purple dye became available to the public.

Contrasting Colours

Purple works well with earthy tones such as beige and grey.  These colours help purple stand out and become the focal point of your jewellery piece. Another way to choose contrasting colours is to use colour wheel theory.  Did you know the colour wheel was invented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666!?  He mapped the colour spectrum onto a circle and came up with a set of rules.  Complimentary is the colour bang opposite on the wheel, so in this case green.  You could also go with combinations such as Analogous, which is similar colours either side of your chosen colour, e.g., magenta, purple and crimson.  Or if you are feeling adventurous you could go with a Tetradic selection, which is top, bottom, left and right (with purple being at the top), giving you purple, orange, green and cyan.

Symbolism And Mythology

It is written that Hercules’s dog bit into a murex shell, whilst walking along the shore with the nymph Tyrus, causing its mouth to turn purple. Tyrus subsequently requested that Heracles create a garment for her of that same colour, with Heracles obliging her demands, thus giving birth to Tyrian purple. Purple is often a statement of independence as it’s not a basic primary colour and is seen as a symbol of fusing the mundane with the innovative. Purple is also associated with bravery, the Purple Heart is awarded to members of the US armed forces who are injured in the line of duty. Professionals often use purple to convey high value and lofty goals.

Purple Grey Charoite Chip BeadsPurple Grey Charoite Chip Beads

Associations

In the early 20th century, the colour scheme for the suffragette movement in Britain and Ireland was designed with purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. During the 1960s and early 1970s, purple was associated with counterculture, psychedelics, and musicians like Jimi Hendrix with his 1967 song "Purple Haze", or the English rock band of Deep Purple. Cadbury’s chocolates chose to use purple since it was Queen Victoria’s favourite colour. Purple is the colour used to represent Alzheimer’s Disease by organisations across the world, to the extent that Scotland has a free dementia-related app that’s called Purple Alert. Its main function is helping to find a person with dementia who’s lost.

Purple In Nature

Purple is quite a rarity in nature, whether it be flowers such as lavender (which you can see in our Very Peri Colour Inspiration), plants like the purple-leafed Cotinus 'Royal Purple', animals such as the violet backed starling or gemstones.  The most popular purple gemstone by far is Amethyst but there are some other stunning stones provided by nature, such as Lepidolite, Charoite, Fluorite, Sugilite and Cacoxenite.

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