In the public eye, peridot has developed a bad rap as a commercial-grade gemstone you only find in cheap birthstone jewelry. Brownish yellows, watery, desaturated greens, or briny olive greens are what many people picture when they think of peridot. If you feel that way about peridot, I’d like help you perhaps reassess your opinion, especially if you have an August birthday. You shouldn’t shudder when you see your birthstone in a jewelry store window.
Fine peridot commands a unique corner of the colored gemstone palate. Not many gems can claim tropical, summery, minty green as their forte; in fact, you can probably count on one hand the number of minerals suitable for jewelry that get close to fine peridot’s specific shade of green. High-quality, well-cut peridot is really quite striking, even compared to many of its color counterparts. Flashes of yellow and orange are common in the dispersion return, giving peridot some unexpected charm when played in the light. The best stones are lime to mint green and eye-clean.
Peridot has an extensive history, rife with mistaken identity, lucky charms, and a long-standing relationship with an island in the Red Sea. Peridot has been known by many names and has been confused with everything from topaz to emerald. The probable first use of the word “peridot” (that’s pronounced per-i-doh) in English in reference to the gemstone we recognize today is a translation from a Latin text dated in 1245, so peridot flew under the radar for a long time before getting its own individual acclaim.
Labels aside, peridot has likely been recognized as a gemstone for longer than most others. It has a long tradition of being ascribed with fostering wealth and prosperity, breaking curses, curing asthma, and creating overall good fortune. With all of the lore surrounding peridot, and its chronic misidentification, some historians suggest peridot, under one name or another, has been mined since as early as the end of the 15th Century BC, especially from St. John’s Island off the coast of Egypt. Educated guesses suggest that this mine was worked continuously for close to four thousand years, all the way up to World War II. As a frame of reference, it’s not uncommon for a new gem mine to produce regularly for less than two decades before being considered tapped out. That’s a lot of peridot. Depending on who you ask, St. John’s Island is also known as “Zabargad” or “Zagarbad,” both of which are Latinized corruptions of the Arabic word for peridot.
An interesting point has been made regarding the product of the St. John’s mine, its proximity to Egypt, and peridot’s lingering problem with mistaken identity. Cleopatra was renowned for her adoration of emeralds, but Egypt’s emerald mines were very illusive to modern treasure seekers, and no surviving emerald has thus far been successfully attributed to Cleopatra’s collection. The peridot mines of St. John’s went missing from public attention for a few centuries, and when they were rediscovered at the turn of the 20th Century, many people began to cry out that “Cleopatra’s Emeralds” were, in fact, “Cleopatra’s Peridots,” especially considering the extraordinary greens of some of the confirmed peridots from the location. Egyptian emerald mines have since been discovered and proved to have been worked as early as the Ptolemaic Period (First Century BC). Back then, a green gem was a green gem, so it’s very likely that a few of Cleopatra’s emeralds were probably high quality peridots from St. John’s Island.
Peridot’s physical characteristics are well-suited to usage in jewelry. Its color palate joins well with either white or yellow metal, so it’s versatile. Peridot is decently hard, making it usable even for rings and bracelets, although it is brittle and prone to chipping and abrading if worn roughly. Any ring or bracelet hosting peridot should be protective of the stone because of this.
Once upon a time, Myanmar (Burma) had the corner on fine peridot, but after the Communist takeover, production declined. Nowadays, most commercial-grade peridot is mined in Arizona. Around the turn of the 21st Century, a discovery in Pakistan revolutionized the peridot market, and now “Kashmir Peridot” is the considered the elite.
When compared to the likes of emerald or demantoid garnet, peridot is not an expensive green gem. And its color is very much its own. I’d love the chance to show you what you’ve been missing in fine peridot, especially if your birthday is in August. Even if you’re not an August baby, the lustrous green of fine peridot looks wonderful on most skin tones and will hopefully grant you a new appreciation of this beautiful gem.