Peridot: August’s Birthstone and “Gem of the Sun”

So, you say it’s your birthday, or your 15th anniversary, or you simply adore a bright spring green—peridot offers a clean, fresh color in lots of different shapes and sizes.

What is peridot?

Recognized for its yellowish green color. Peridot is a gem quality variety of the mineral olivine. Unlike many gemstones whose color results from trace impurities, peridot’s signature green color comes from the composition of the mineral itself—iron and magnesium. It is one of the few gemstones that comes in only one color, although in many hues and shades from brown green to yellow-green to pure green. The gem occurs in volcanic rocks, called basalts, which are rich in these two elements.

What is the history of the peridot stone?

The national gem of Egypt, peridot is one of the oldest gemstones recognized by ancient civilizations. Papyrus scroll sources note that ancient Egyptians mined peridot on the island of Topazios (now St. John’s) in the Red Sea as early as 1500 B.C. The Egyptians called it the “gem of the sun.” These early stones were referred to as topazion, a name that remained in use in Europe until the 18th century when the British began to refer to the gem as peridot.

In Hawaii, peridot is spewed to the surface by active volcanoes. The molten crystals fall to the earth in the shape of a tear drop. Ancient Hawaiians believed that these stones were the tears of the volcano goddess they named Pele.

Scholars of the medieval period believed that, like other gems, peridot offered special powers to the wearer. According to De Lapidibus (Of Gemstones), written by Bishop Marbode in the late 11th century, peridot dispelled the terrors of the night if it were set in gold. “If it were to be used as a protection from the wiles of evil spirits, the stone had to be pierced and strung on the hair of an ass and then attached to the left arm.”

Throughout history, peridot has been confused with other stones. Some historians suggest that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collections might have been peridot. In the medieval and early modern eras, the gems adorning the shrine of the Three Holy Kings, completed in 1225, in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral were thought to be emeralds. They have since been demonstrated to be peridots, brought back from the Near East by crusaders. The same is true for the peridots in St. Edward’s Crown, made for the coronation of England’s Charles II in 1661.

St Edward Crown with Peridot
St. Edward’s Crown, commissioned for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661 from the Crown Jeweler, Robert Viner. Because of its weight (4.8 pounds), it is not worn now but carried in the coronation procession. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust
“Adoration of the Magi,” detail of the Shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral. Common domain

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago began its gem collection in 1893 with the purchase of a Tiffany collection of jewels that included a 154-carat peridot (almost 2.5 inches long), named “The Green Goddess.” In 2008, the museum selected the Chicago jewelry design firm Lester Lampert to create a setting for the gemstone. Lester did not carve the back of the stone but rather carved a goddess figure of gold to mount behind the peridot and through which it can be seen.

The Green Goddess peridot in a setting by Lester Lambert jewelers. Courtesy Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

What determines the value of a peridot?

As with all gem-quality minerals, the value of a peridot is determined by color, cut, size, and clarity. In looking for a pretty peridot, better-quality stones have no inclusions visible to the naked eye. Tiny black spots, which are minute mineral crystals, can be visible, however, under magnification. The best peridot is pure grass green—and rare—but most gemstones are yellowish green, with higher quality stones having more intense color. No matter the hue, look for evenly distributed color.

18k two tone pretty peridot ring
18k Yellow and White Gold Peridot and Diamond Ring (Sold)
18k yellow gold Peridot Stud Earrings
18k Yellow Gold Peridot Stud Earrings

Where is peridot found?

The finest large peridots come from Myanmar and more recently from the Himalayas of Pakistan. More standard sizes and qualities are mined in Arizona and China. Shapes and cutting styles are well represented in peridot. They include round, oval, pear, cushion, triangle, and marquise. Also popular are brilliant cuts with triangular and kite-shapes facets, step cuts, and mixed cuts. Cabochons and beads are also produced.

How do you take care of peridot jewelry?

With a Mohs hardness of 6.5-7, peridot should be treated carefully if mounted for a ring. It is sensitive to heat and hot water, acids, and ammonia. Salt water is harsh to peridot so avoid wearing it if you are boating or going to the beach. Put on peridot jewelry only after using a blow dryer, hairspray, or perfume because these also can be harmful to the stone. When not being worn, store your peridot jewelry separately from other items and away from any heat source.

Visit llyn strong fine art jewelry and speak with llyn and her talented team of artists about creating a fresh jewelry approach with peridot that will carry you from daytime casual to a crisp evening style

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