Aptly the birthstone of August with sparkling, summery golden greens, Peridot is a sophisticated gem that has rightfully regained its position as one of the most popular gemstones around the world.
This gem is one of only a few available in just one colour. Its greens range from bottle green to an almost yellowish, olive oil colour. Its appearance often has an oily, greasy look and for that reason some say its name is derived from the French word for “unclear”, “peritot”, although others believe its name is derived from the Arabic word for a gem, “faridat”. The gem is pleochroic, meaning that it is possible to see different shades from different angles. It is also an idiochromatic gem, which means that its colour is derived from the basic chemical composition of the gem (in Peridot’s case, iron) and not from impurities within the gem, which is how most gems receive their distinctive colours.
Like its colour rival Emerald, Peridot often has inclusions which can be caused by the presence of small particles of Silica; occasionally you will find needle-like inclusions which are commonly referred to as Ludwig needles.
Cutting the gemstone can be quite tricky as it has high birefringence (meaning that the gem significantly bends light as it enters) making the angle of the facets on the pavilion crucial. It is also a brittle gemstone with strong cleavage; both of these qualities mean that the Lapidarist must be sure to take extra care while faceting this gem.
Peridot has been mined as a gemstone for over 4000 years and is mentioned in the Bible - although you may not recognise the name as it is referred to by its original title, Chrysolite (see Exodus 28:20, Song of Solomon 5:14, Ezekiel 28:13, Revelations 21:20). The name Chrysolite was taken from the Ancient Greek word “chrysolithos” meaning “golden stone”, as it often has flashes of gold seen within it. The gem is the only famous member of the Olivine mineral family, which is a species of magnesium rich silicate minerals.
Some of the first Peridots were mined by Egyptians on an island located in the Red Sea. Today this island is known as St John’s Island, but historically it was named Zagbargad after the Arabic word for Peridot and also Topazios, which was the Ancient Greek word for the gem. But before you go getting confused and start to research the relationship between Peridot and Topaz, there isn’t one; today the name is used to describe a totally different gem family!
3000 years ago, these early miners on Topazios Island did not work in the daytime as they believed the gem was invisible in daylight. As it could absorb the sun’s rays it had the ability to glow in the dark, therefore making it easier to discover.
Half way around the globe from Topazios is the small Hawaiian island of Oahu; here very small grains of Peridot colour the beaches green! Islanders here believe that the gems are the tears of the goddess Pele. As these grains are too small, there is no mining on the island, although mining has taken place in Hawaii for thousands of years. Even so, although the gem is today still sold to tourists as indigenous, most of it is actually sourced from Arizona!
Peridot is found in the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, where the U.S Bureau of Mining claim that approximately 80% of the world’s supply is currently being sourced. Luckily for the Apaches, many decades ago they were given sole rights to all mineral deposits in the region. Most of the mines are run by families and, similar to mining communities in Africa, every day they take their haul to local gem traders in Tupperware boxes, carrier bags, fruit bowls and buckets! There is very little sophisticated about family-run artisanal gem mining.
Although mining for the gem over the centuries has also taken place in China, Australia, Brazil, Norway and Burma, the most recent discovery was in Pakistan in 1994. Located some 15,000 feet above sea level in the ice-capped mountains of the western Himalayas lies the remote, and often inaccessible, Peridot mines. From the nearest town, you would first ride 10 hours on horseback, and then set off on a two to three day hike (or climb!), before you reach the first mines. What’s more, because of snow, the miners (some two thousand of them) can only make the trip in July, August and September. However, it all seems worthwhile as the quality of the Peridot is amongst the finest in the world.
In October 2003, possibly the most incredible gem find of all time happened, when a NASA spacecraft identified the gem on Mars!
Throughout history it has been mistaken and confused with other gemstones, including Emerald - which is surprising due to the yellow green colour of the stone. It has also been mistaken for Apatite, Green Garnets, Green Tourmaline, Moldavites and Green Zircon.
Having long been associated with luck, many cultures have celebrated this unusual and magical stone in their myths and legends due to its apparent power to ward off evil spirits! Historically, if the stone was then set in gold or any precious metal its capacity to bring the bearer luck and good fortune was intensified even more. In days gone by, goblets and sword handles of the rich and powerful land owners and aristocracy were encrusted with Peridots. It was thought that what you then drank from the goblet would become a potion to stimulate greatness - the same theory applied to the swords, as it was thought it would bring power on the battlefield and strength to the bearer’s legions.
This precious gemstone can often be seen in Egyptian jewellery from as early as 2000BC. Historians have said that they suspect that many of the Emeralds worn by Cleopatra were actually Peridot. The Romans were also big fans of this gem and named it the “evening Emerald”, due to its seeming ability to almost glow in the dark.
Today the stone is cherished by people more for its beauty than its powers, but the history of this stone still remains a great part of its mystery and fascination for all who wear it. In addition to being the birthstone for August, it is associated with the star sign of Capricorn and used to celebrate the 16th wedding anniversary.