Peridot is the best known gem variety of olivine. It is a bright yellow-green to green gemstone that caught the fancy of many and has been documented as early as 300 B.C. Some historians even suspect that at least some of the “emeralds” worn by Cleopatra were actually peridot.
The United States was for many years the largest producer of peridot, the value of production in 1993 was estimated to be about $1.5 million. Much of its recent popularity is attributed to it being the birthstone for the month of August. Currently, the U.S. is getting competition from China and Pakistan for the title of world’s largest producer.
The earliest recorded production of peridot was in about 70 A.D. from St. Johns Island in the Red Sea, about 54 kilometers off the coast of Egypt. Most of the earliest known peridot gems came from this location and small amounts of material are still being produced from there today. Very large, fine quality peridot was produced in Myanmar (formerly Burma). These deposits were known for their 20 to 40 carat cut stones of superb color and clarity, but since the socialist government came to power, the supply of Burmese peridot has been diminished greatly.
Peridot is ideochromatic, meaning it receives its color from ferrous iron that is basic to its composition. The ideal color is a rich green-grass, but some peridot is yellowish green, greenish yellow or brown. It is not as light dependant as red and blue gems. It looks good under all lights. Since peridot is a particularly affordable stone, eye-clean clarity is the standard. There are no limitations to the cuts and shapes that can be fashioned from peridot. Because it is not terribly expensive, cutters can focus on beauty more than weight retention. This means that good cutting proportions, symmetry and finish can, and should, be expected.
Fashion has championed the increasing popularity of peridot and so has the fact that it is recognized as the birthstone for August. People wear it because it is supposed to bring the wearer success, peace and good luck. In the Middle Ages, the belief was that peridot would dissolve enchantments and put evil spirits to flight. Christian crusaders are known to have returned with large peridots as part of their loot and many of these remain today in a number of European sanctuaries including the Treasury of the Three Magi in Cologne and the Vatican. The precious gem and jewelry collection in the Tower of London also contains large peridot specimens.
Arizona is currently the basic supplier of gem quality peridot to the world. The stone is used both faceted in rings, pendants, earrings and bracelets and also tumbled to be used in baroque style jewelry as well as drilled for bead necklaces.
Written by Wendy Adeler Hall
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