Peridot is one of the most visually striking gemstones, with its mix of bright summery greens and gorgeous glowing golden tones. Unlike many gemstones, which are colored by impurities and known as allochromatic, Peridot is idiochromatic, which means its color comes from the chemical composition of the gem. It has a fascinating history stretching back over 4,000 years, and has been found in meteorites, on Mars, and on the Moon! There’s a lot to talk about with ‘the gem of the sun’ so let’s get started.
THE HISTORY OF PERIDOT
Peridot is one of the oldest known gemstones and has been mined as a gem for over 4,000 years. It is actually mentioned several times in the Bible, although you may not recognize the name as it is referred to by its original title, Chrysolite. The name Chrysolite was taken from the Ancient Greek word ‘chrysolithos’ meaning ‘golden stone’, as there are often flashes of golden brilliance seen within the gem. There are several possibilities for the origin of the word ‘Peridot’, though nobody seems certain which one led to the modern name. It could have come from the old French word ‘peritot’ meaning ‘unclear’ because the gem once had a reputation for being quite oily in appearance. The Arabic word ‘faridat’ meaning ‘gemstone’ has also been cited as a possible source, as has the old Latin word ‘paederot’ which referred to a kind of Opal. Wherever the word originated, it’s been around for a long time – an English bishop used the word Peridot in his will in 1245 when he left the stone to St Albans Abbey.
Some of the first Peridots were mined by the Ancient Egyptians on an island located in the Red Sea. Many of these were carved into talismans and as beads. Today this island is known as St John’s Island (or Zabargad Island locally), but historically it was named Topazios Island, which was also the Ancient Greek word for the gem. Some 3,500 years ago, the early miners on Topazios did not work in the daytime as they believed this golden green treasure was invisible in sunlight. They thought the gem would absorb the sun’s rays and then release them at night, essentially believing it could glow in the dark. They, therefore, mined the gemstone at night, when the unmistakable sparkle of the gem probably did help them in their search. Gemologically speaking though, Peridot is neither fluorescent or phosphorescent, though it has been referred to as ‘the gem of the sun’ throughout history. Incidentally, there is no relationship between Peridot and Topaz. Over time, the word Topazios developed into the word Topaz and came to represent an entirely different gemstone family.
Peridot has been mistaken and confused with many other gemstones throughout history. This includes Emerald, which is somewhat surprising due to the yellow-green color of the stone. However, we must remember the complete lack of scientific identification methods thousands of years ago, and the lack of understanding of the subtleties of gemstone color. You may have heard that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra had an enviable collection of Emerald and that it was by far her favorite gemstone. Well, some modern historians are now saying that her Emeralds may have been Peridots! The gem has also been mistaken for Apatite, Demantoid Garnet, Chrome Diopside, Chrome Tourmaline, Moldavite and Green Zircon over the centuries. The Romans were also big fans of this gem and nicknamed it the ‘Evening Emerald’, once again because of its perceived ability to almost glowing in the dark.
Peridot has long been associated with luck, and many cultures have celebrated the unusual and mystical elements of the stone in their myths and legends. Historically, there was an apparent belief that Peridot could ward off evil spirits and that if the stone was then set in gold (and other precious metals) its capacity to bring the bearer good luck and fortune was intensified even more. In days gone by, goblets and sword handle of the wealthy and powerful landowners and aristocracy were encrusted with Peridots. They believed that anything they drank from these encrusted goblets would become a potion to stimulate greatness. The same theory applied to the swords, as it was thought Peridot would bring power on the battlefield and strength to the bearer’s legions.
There’s a big gap in the history of Peridot that may well be down to the gem being grouped together with other green gemstones, mainly Emerald, for significant periods of time. Peridot was first brought to Europe in large quantities in the Middle Ages and was a very popular gemstone during the 18th and 19th centuries. As time marched on, the mines of St. John’s Island were forgotten about for many centuries. Indeed the location of the island itself was lost for a considerable amount of time, only being rediscovered in 1900. Tiny amounts of gem-quality material are still occasionally discovered here, but most meaningful attempts at further commercial mining had been abandoned by the start of World War II.
The most substantial Peridot of all time was discovered at this original source and now resides in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. It weighs in at a phenomenal 311 carats, which is all the more incredible when you consider that most gemologists would be very excited to see a stone above five carats come out of the ground, with many of them weighing one carat or less. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, significant deposits of jewelry grade Peridot were found in China, and the country continues to provide a large number of stones to the market. In 1994, Peridot was discovered in Pakistan, which has remained a significant source of the gem ever since. Larger Peridots of between 25 and 100 carats were reasonably common from the Pakistan deposit in the early years of production, though barring the discovery of new deposits these are now mined out.
PERIDOT GEMSTONE INFORMATION
Peridot is the birthstone for August and the gem for the 16th anniversary. It can also be given as an alternative choice for the 1st anniversary. It has an orthorhombic crystal system. As the gem of the sun, Peridot is a perfect birthstone choice for the summer month of August (in the northern hemisphere at least) with its bright natural greens and golden flashes of brilliance. Peridot is the only famous member of the Olivine mineral family, which is a magnesium iron silicate composition. Peridot and Olivine are essentially the same minerals, with the word Peridot only being applied to gem-quality specimens. Non-gem quality Olivine is actually relatively common in the Earth’s crust, but the magical golden glowing green with sufficient clarity and sparkle to be set into jewelry is much, much rarer. Peridot is a sophisticated gem that has rightfully regained its position as one of the most popular gemstones around the world in recent years.
Today the stone is cherished by people more for its beauty than its perceived powers (see history section, above), but the history of this stone still remains a significant part of its mystery and is a fascination for many who wear it. This gem is one of only a few available in just one color. This makes it an idiochromatic gem that, in simple terms, means the color of the gemstone is caused by its basic chemical composition. In Peridot’s case, it is colored by the iron in its structure. Other gemstones such as Sapphire, Tourmaline, Zircon and many more are colored by impurities in their compositions and are known as allochromatic. Take the impurities out of Sapphire, and it’s still Sapphire, albeit a different color. Remove the iron from Peridot, and it’s no longer Peridot.
Its greens range from bottle green to an almost yellowish, olive color, and its surface appearance can often have an oily, greasy look. The gem is also mildly pleochroic, meaning that it is possible to see different shades from different angles. Natural green gemstones are rare, but Peridot bucks the trend and is almost never treated. Like its color 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 sometimes referred to as Ludwig needles. Very rarely, it is possible to discover Cat’s Eye Peridot (a phenomena known as chatoyancy) and Star Peridot (known as asterism). Other quirks of the stone include that it can shatter under pressure (which is why you seldom see it in tension set designs) and also that it is not resistant to acid.
Almost all gemstones form in the Earth’s crust, the top layer of the planet which is about 20 miles deep. Only two gems form in the next layer down, the mantle. These two stones are Diamond and Peridot. Diamonds form around 90 to 120 miles deep, while Peridot forms a little nearer the surface at between 20 and 55 miles down – the upper mantle. Peridot forms in magma and is brought to the surface by volcanic activity – something that was actually happening in Hawaii at the time this article was being written in 2018. Peridot is also an extraterrestrial gemstone. It has been found in meteorites that have crashed down onto the surface of the planet over the centuries, and we can only assume these crystals either formed far, far away or were thrown out by the formation of the Earth and eventually crashed back down here billions of years later. Though you’re unlikely to see Space Peridot set into jewelry, go to the Natural History Museum in London and view the 4.5 billion-year-old Imilac Meteorite, which is partially made up of Olivine. The gem has also been found on the Moon in rocks that were brought back to Earth during the iconic Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s, and in 2003 NASA also found the gemstone on Mars!
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 is found in the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, where the US Bureau of Mining claims 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 plastic boxes, carrier bags, fruit bowls, and buckets! There is very little sophistication in family-run artisanal gem mining.
Although mining for the gem over the centuries has also taken place in China, Australia, Brazil, Norway and Myanmar, 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 lie the remote, and often inaccessible, Peridot mines. From the nearest town, you would first have to ride ten 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 the snow, the miners (often up to 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 among the finest in the world.
PERIDOT CRYSTAL HEALING
Gemstones are as old as time and in the years since their first discovery they’ve picked up a lot more than adoring collectors and fascinated mineralogists. Many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties, and whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that any of these properties are real, it’s still interesting to explore the esoteric side of Mother Nature’s miracles. It’s worth asking ourselves, “If you truly believe in something, does that mean it’s true”? Scientifically, the answer is no, but what about on a more personal, spiritual level? If you really truly believe that an item in your house is having an effect on you, are you more likely to feel that effect? It’s really not for us to say, but it’s a very interesting concept that deserves further research. Once again though, we must point out though that no studies have ever found any therapeutic effects or properties in gemstones, and the following is for your information only.
A gemstone with such a long and storied history comes with many a tale of legend and lore. Peridot has long been associated with the sun and as such has been seen as a gemstone to drive away from the darkness. It has been said to relieve feelings of guilt and lessen obsession, along with helping to calm feelings of fear and anger. It has been thought to open up one’s ability to learn new things by increasing focus and cognitive ability, and with giving one the strength to persevere in challenging situations and times. Thought to increase motivation and self-worth, the stone has also been thought to decrease feelings of envy in the wearer. Peridot is the zodiac gemstone for the sign Libra.
WHERE IS PERIDOT MINED?
VARIETIES OF PERIDOT
- Changbai Peridot
- Pakistan Peridot
- Chinese Peridot
HOW TO CLEAN PERIDOT
To keep this beautiful stone looking fantastic, here’s how to best clean Peridot. The warm soapy water and a soft cloth method is a perfectly safe method for this gem. Don’t go too hot or cold with the water – keep it room temperature or thereabouts – as Peridot doesn’t like sudden temperature changes. For this reason, it should never be steam cleaned, and you should never put Peridot in an ultrasonic cleaner either. Most dirt will come loose with a gentle rubbing motion, don’t forget to clean underneath the stone too as this can affect the brilliance and brightness of your stone.
WHERE TO BUY PERIDOT
Peridot is an often overlooked stone full of the beautiful colors of summer that is just waiting to join your jewelry collection. We sell a number of stunning varieties in a range of designs and at a range of prices. It can be owned for relatively little when set in sterling silver, and really comes alive when set into yellow gold. chek out our store and browse our designs to finding your perfect Period piece.