August’s birthstone, the peridot, has been mined for over 3,000 years. The earliest known peridot mine was on the island that is now known as St. John’s Island, about fifty miles outside Egypt. The mine on the island was considered sacred, and trespassers were not tolerated. It’s said that many of Cleopatra’s emeralds were, in actuality, peridots mined on that island. In fact, peridots are often mistaken for emeralds, though the difference is easily seen by a trained eye. The color of a peridot is lighter and less refractive – but in ancient times, nearly any green stone was called an emerald. Modern historians believe that the spectacles worn by the Emperor Nero to ease his eyes during gladiatorial games were not emerald, but peridot.
Throughout history, peridot has been honored and revered as one of the twelve gemstones that ornamented the breastplate of the High Priest of Judah on ceremonial occasions. Representing the tribe of Asher, the peridot was in the bottom row on the Breastplate of Aaron. Over time, the breastplate stones have become the foundation of birthstones, and each has their own traditions and lore associated with them.
In healing traditions, peridot is considered to be a tonic for the entire body rather than being associated with any particular system of the body. Medicines are often served by traditional healers in cups of peridot because it is believed that peridot can enhance the healing properties of medicines. Wearing a peridot is believed to promote peace of mind and calmness and to heal depression and mental illness. Ground peridot has been dissolved in water and drunk as a cure for asthma, and it is believed in some traditions that placing a peridot under the tongue would reduce thirst in a feverish person.
To the native Hawaiians, the peridot has a special meaning. The glistening green gems are called Pele’s tears and are often combed out of the volcanic basalt sands at the foot of the volcanic mountains. The pale green glimmer of peridot is difficult to see in daylight – but it takes on a soft glow under the light of the moon or lantern light. From Egypt to the South Seas, peridot has been mined at night – or at least found by lantern light, and dug up in the day. This gave rise to the belief that peridot disappears in daylight. It also earned the peridot the name of the Evening Emerald.
Even pirates respected the peridot. They wore it as a protection from evil spirits – but to be effective against evil spirits the peridot had to be strung on donkey hair and worn on the left wrist. Peridot was also said to ward against nightmares and evil spirits in the night if one slept with it beneath the pillow.
Peridot is a clear, transparent green stone, ranging in hue from the vibrant green of spring grass to the muddy deep hues of an olive. The more clear and vibrant the green, the more valued the stone is considered. Because of the particular refractive properties of peridot, the stone has a velvety appearance rather than the fiery sparkle of an emerald. The green is believed to be soothing, and peridots are a token of happiness and good wishes, often presented to brides and as birthday gifts.
Unlike other gems like sapphire and rubies that gain their color from impurities in their composition, the green of peridot is an intrinsic part of its nature. This makes it an idiochromatic stone – colored by itself. The green color arises from iron in the olivine, the actual name of the mineral. Peridot measures 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, making it a relatively soft stone that is easy to cut. Unlike emerald, which easily fractures and cracks under the stress of cutting, peridot can be easily cut to nearly any shape imaginable.
Because the stone is said to promote openness in relationships, warmth, friendliness and love, it is an ideal stone to be exchanged between friends to promote a long and healthy friendship. It is also the official gemstone of the first wedding anniversary, when love is still young – green and growing like a spring plant.
Peridots have been used ornamentally for centuries. In fact, it’s believed that Cleopatra’s beloved emeralds were more likely this paler green stone often called the evening emerald. Peridots are found on just about every continent, but the bulk of gem quality peridots comes from Burma, China, Pakistan and the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in the US.
They are one of the less expensive gems, and are often found in large (over 10 carat) sizes. This means that it’s not unusual to find excellent quality peridots for low prices. Because it is inexpensive and readily available, peridot is a favorite material for some of the more fanciful cuts of gemstone.
Peridot buying guide
Sometimes referred to as the Evening Emerald, the most valuable peridots are the same rich green as high quality emeralds. An excellent quality peridot has a ‘velvety’ quality to the color, as opposed to the fire of emeralds, due to the difference in their refractive properties. Because the stone is so readily available, the gauge of quality is eye clean stones with no visible inclusions. The color of the most highly valued stones is a bright grass green with no yellow or olive tones – but that’s very much a matter of preference. If you like a richer, deeper, more earthy tone, you could get an excellent bargain in a peridot piece.
Like other gemstones, peridots should be protected from knocks and bangs that might chip the stone. In addition, regular cleaning will keep your peridot jewelry looking its best.
Remove peridot jewelry before doing housecleaning, yard work or other activities that might subject it to damaging blows or strikes. Put on your jewelry after applying makeup, lotions, hair spray and other cosmetics, and avoid using household chemicals while wearing peridot jewelry. In addition, avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight, which can fade color, and extreme temperature changes which might crack the stones.
Cleaning peridot jewelry
Clean peridot in warm water with dishwashing detergent, or a mild commercial solution. Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasives which can damage the surface and destroy the luster. You can use a small amount of ammonia in the water to help brighten the stone if it’s excessively dirty. Soak in dishwater solution for 10 to 20 minutes, then scrub thoroughly but gently with a soft brush. Rinse and dry well before storing. Have jewelry professionally cleaned every one to two years.
Storing peridot jewelry
Because the stone is relatively soft, peridot jewelry needs to be protected from harder jewelry and metals in your jewelry box. Store it in a soft pouch of its own to keep other gems from scratching or marring the surface.