About two thousand years ago, under the light of a full moon, a small group of sailors landed on the shore of the tiny Island of the Serpents in the Red Sea. Their attentionwas caught by glowing olive green crystals in the volcanic earth. At dawn’s first light, the glow turned to a sparkle. In the capital city of Thebes, Egyptian royalty immediately fell for the mysterious gem: Pliny tells of the first specimen presented to Queen Berenice around 300 BC in his Naturales Historia, and many historians have speculated that at least some of the “emeralds” worn by Cleopatra were actually peridots.
Greek historian Agatharchides noted in De Mare Erthraeo (On the Erythraean Sea) that Egyptian kings ordered anyone who found these green stones to deliver them to the royal gem cutters for polishing. The peridot later came to symbolize the sun; the ancient Jews called it “pitdah”, and its use in the fabled breastplate of Aaron is recorded in Exodus 28, 15-30. The breastplate, a ceremonial religious garment, was set with twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and corresponding with the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the twelve months of the year.
Aaron, Berenice and Cleopatra have been consigned to history but the peridot is still with us. Indeed, the largest cut peridot – weighing 310 carats and on display in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC – was found on Serpent Isle, later known as St-John Island.
The Turkish sultans of the Ottoman Empire (1300-1918) amassed the world’s largest collection of peridots, while a few lucky Crusaders from the west managed to return home with large peridots as part of their loot. Fine gems from this area can still be found in Europe today, including in the Vatican, and in the Cologne Cathedral Treasury’s Shrine of the Three Kings. The precious stones and jewelry collection of the Tower of London also contains large peridot gems.
The origins of the name peridot are murky: It could be derived from the Greek “peridona”, which means “giving plenty”; or from Arabic’s “faridat”, although the peridot is known today as “zabargad” in Arabic. To add to the confusion, in ancient Farsi, “zamroot” refers to an emerald, which is “izmargad” in ancient Hebrew. Later, the stone was known as “topazian” and, finally, the stone received its modern name in 18th-century France, where it was christened “péridot”.
Peridot belongs to the forsterite-fayalite (attributed to German naturalist John Forester) mineral series, which is part of the Olivine group. It is an idiochromatic gem, meaning its color comes from the basic chemical composition of the mineral itself, and not from the minor impurities. Therefore, it will only be found in shades of green. Its chemical formula is (Mg,Fe) 25104.
The peridot is found across the world, and in some cases, beyond the world: some stones have arrived on earth in meteorites. In Russia, a meteorite that fell in Eastern Siberia in 1749 contained peridots. However, many of these gorgeous extra-terrestrial stones – although they contain olivine crystals and have been set into jewelry – are not strictly peridots. For instance, moldavite discovered in the Czech Republic descended to earth from space in a meteor about 14.8 million years ago, while another unusual live green gem, also found in meteorites, is called a pallasite.The peridot, conversely, is created by volcanic activity, and thus green crystals are occasionally found on the black sands of Hawaii.
The United States has been for many years the largest producer of this green stone. In 1993, the value of production was estimated to be around US $1.5 million. Peridot Mesa, located on the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation, is east of Globe in Gila County, and known as the most productive locality for peridot in the world. Gem- quality peridots can be found in deposits at different locations in New Mexico, including the Buell Park area of McKinley County in the northwest part of the state, Kilbourne Hole and the Potrillo Mar depression.
Very large super-fine quality peridot is produced from the renowned gemstone deposits of Mogok, in Burma. These deposits were well known for their 20- to 80-carat cut stones of superb color and clarity. However, since the socialist government came to power supply has dwindled and the Burmese peridot has become a rare collector’s item. In the early 1990s the rugged mountainsides of Nanga Perbat, stretching far west of the Himalayas, started producing fine crystals of a deep and breathtakingly beautiful green.Unique stones of over 100 carats have been found. These stones are referred to as Kashmir peridots.
Since the late 90s more commercial peridot has been mined, cut and sold out of China. Although on the yellowish side, and mostly in the one- to three-carat size range. With China’s low labor cost and aggressive marketing, the Chinese peridot has an excellent price point. It is taking an increasingly larger share in the commercial peridot market.
The ancient Romans were quite fond of the gemstone and coveted the brilliant green sparkle which remains unchanged even in artificial light. They named the stone “the Evening Emerald”. Today, the peridot’s ethereal bright gold-tinged green has not escaped the attention of contemporary jewelry and fashion designers; its fine pistachio green or olive green adorns and enhances many summer collections. No wonder the peridot is assigned the summer month of August as its birthstone.
If you still need convincing, consider the peridot’s reputation in New Age circles. The stone protects against nervousness, helps banish fear, soothes and calms a distressed mind, and enhances physical vitality in particular liver and adrenal functions. If you are married, don’t forget that the peridot is the anniversary stone for the sixteenth year of marriage. Above all, it allegedly brings the wearer success, peace of mind and good luck and – most important – helps dreams become a reality.