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Posted by Erica Jago on 2016 Jul 27th
Peridot is an attractive transparent gem variety of olivine, a magnesium iron silicate mineral which is found in basalts and peridotite rocks. The gem has a distinctive oily lustre and can range in colour depending on the amount of iron within it. The peridots are a pale golden green with higher amounts of iron, while the most valuable deep green peridots contain smaller amounts of iron.
Peridot was mined as a gem stone for thousands of years from a deposit on the island of St. John’s (also known as Zabargad) in the Red Sea, about 35 miles off the Egyptian coastal port of Berenica. It is the national gem of Egypt and was known as the “gem of the sun” in the country. In fact, for centuries the rulers of Egypt had a monopoly over the mines.
The island was often shrouded in fog, making it difficult for ancient navigators to find. This was perfect for the Egyptians, whose Pharaohs wanted to keep the larger, more beautiful gems for their treasury. The location was lost for centuries and was rediscovered in about 1905 which was when production for the peridot reached its peak. But by the late 1930’s it had tapered off and reached a virtual standstill in 1958 when the mines were nationalised, and very few gems come onto the market today from this source.
Some historians are now convinced that the emeralds that Cleopatra was famous for wearing were in fact peridots from Egypt. The beautiful emerald shade of green is almost never found in gems less than 10 carats in weight and these are of course very rare and extremely expensive. The Mogok region of Burma was also a major producer of gem quality stones, but the political instability there has led to a huge reduction in mining and is today strictly controlled by the government in what is now called Myanmar. Today Arizona in the USA is a major source of this gem as is China, and new deposits have been found in Mexico, Oregon, Norway, Pakistan, Russia and Sri Lanka, but the stones that are found are generally under 3 carats. Iron-nickel meteorites are probably the most unusual source of peridot, and some of these have been faceted and mounted into jewellery very successfully.
Peridot is a relatively soft stone rating 6.5-7 on the hardness scale (diamond being 10), because of their softness they do warrant special care, particularly in rings and bracelets. The stone should not be subjected to sudden and extreme temperature changes and should be gently cleaned using warm soapy water, but not in an ultrasonic cleaning machine. Contact with chemicals should be avoided and scratches and sharp blows will damage the stone. For more tips on looking after your jewellery, read our blog on simple tips for caring for your jewellery.
Traditionally peridot was worn as a talisman to protect the wearer from evil when set in gold, and throughout history there have been many legends about its strong magical powers which range from anger management to raising one’s self- esteem and assisting with depression and bipolar disorders.
This striking gemstone with its brilliant acid green colour has been cherished for centuries, even though demand has waned from time to time. It is also the stone given to celebrate the 15th year of marriage as well as being the birthstone for the month of August.