Learning Library

Peridot Gemstone

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.

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An adorable ring from the Annabella Collection,

featuring over 2 carats of Peridot