Peridot is one of the few gemstones that occur in only one colour, an olive-green. The intensity and tint of the green, however, depends on how much iron is contained in the crystal structure. Therefore, the colour of individual gems can vary from yellow to olive to brownish-green. The most valued colour is a dark olive-green.
The word peridot comes from the Arabic “faridat,” which means “gem.”
Most peridot were formed deep inside the earth. They were delivered to the surface by volcanoes. Some also came to earth in meteorites, but this extraterrestrial gemstone is extremely rare. You’re not likely to find this in a retail jewellery store.
It also appears in Hawaiian folklore as originating from the tears of the goddess Pele who is associated with fire and volcanoes.
Peridot and Cleopatra
Cleopatra’s favourite jewel was reputedly Peridot, perhaps linked to the fact that the ancient Egyptians mined peridot on the Red Sea island of Zabargad. This is the source for many large fine peridots in the world’s museums.
The Egyptians called it the “gem of the sun”. Today this gem is still prized for its restful yellowish green hues and long history. Large strongly-coloured, examples can be spectacular, and attractive smaller gems are available for jewellery at all price points.
This stone has always been associated with light. In fact, the Egyptians called it the “gem of the sun.” Some believed that it protected its owner from “terrors of the night,” especially when it was set in gold. Others strung the gems on donkey hair and tied them around their left arms to ward off evil spirits.
Early records indicate that the ancient Egyptians mined a beautiful green gem on an island in the Red Sea called Topazios, now known as St. John’s Island or Zabargad. Legend has it that the island was infested with snakes, making mining unpleasant until an enterprising Pharaoh drove them into the sea. From the earliest times, people confused this stone with other gems. It was one of many gems labelled as “topaz”.
Some historians believe that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collection might actually have been peridot. People in medieval times continued to confuse peridot with emerald. For centuries, people believed the fabulous 200-ct. gems adorning the shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral were emeralds. They are, in fact, peridots.