The bewitching golden green of peridot makes it a desirable gemstone for fashion lovers. But it is not just the beautiful and colored association with summer and autumn; peridot has a lot more to be a prized part of any jewelry collection.
It is one of the twelve birthstones studded on High Priest Aaron’s breastplate represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The stone has a history as old as 3,500 years. The gem was first discovered in Egypt and was thought to be the emeralds of lighter shades. According to the ancient papyri records, the main source of peridots was Topazo Island (now St. John’s Island or Zabargard Island) in the Egyptian Red Sea. Legend says that the island was full of poisonous serpents and mining was not possible due to the vicious beings until a Pharaoh finally sent them to the sea, making the entire island safe for the mining. The island was guarded by jealous watchers who have orders to give death to any trespasser with an eye on the stones.
Peridots were used to make carved talismans for the pharaohs. The legend continues that the miners worked day and night to dig the gemstones. As peridots radiate during nighttime, miners search and mark the spot in night to retrieve it the next day. It was this reason why peridots were also called ‘The evening emerald’. In fact, the mines of Zabargard Island were completely in control of Kedhive of Egypt and there was a time when the exact whereabouts of the island became a mystery for many centuries until it was rediscovered in 1905. The mines in the island were producing millions of dollars worth of peridot during the 19th century until 1930’s. Later, by the 1958 when the mines were nationalized, the production was virtually stood still and now it is said that the island no more produce the peridots.
Always been associated with light, peridot was called ‘the gem of the sun’ by ancient Egyptians and is their national gem.
This member of Olivine family was also known as Chrysolith in the old days as any gem without accurate identification was usually called chrysolith in those days. Also, until its exact identification, peridot was thought to be another variety of topaz. It was even believed that the topaz in the breastplate of Aaron was actually a peridot. There is a split on where the gem has received it name – some thought the Arabic word ‘faridat’, meaning gem, was responsible for it while others believe the Greek word ‘peridona’, means ‘giving pleanty’ was the origin of the word peridot.
Romans and Hebrews also knew the stone. Found on the island of Hawaii, they were thought to be the tears of volcanic goddess Pele.
Peridots were also used in European cathedrals. In fact, there was a time when some fine and large peridots were the part of ecclesiastical treasures, but they were dispersed due to wars and pillage. It is thought that they still exist but would have been cut to smaller pieces to set in jewelry.
In medival times, people often confused peridots with emeralds. This was the reason why people, for centuries, thought that the magnificent 200-carat gemstones adorning the shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral of Germany were emeralds. But the gems were, in fact, peridots.