Often known in Hawaii as the tears of the Goddess Pele, Peridot has a noble and ancient beginning. The name Peridot is derived from the old French word “peritot”, meaning gold. So let us see how far back in time we have to travel in order to trace the beginning of this golden green gem…
It is believed that peridot, originally called “Chysolite” before the advent of scientific gemology, was mined over 3500 years ago in Egypt. The mysterious St. John’s Island (a.k.a. Zeberget) produced what the Egyptians called ‘the gem of the sun’. The island was often shrouded in fog and its location was often a mystery.
Zeberget, photo courtesy of lms_namaste on flickr.com
The island of Zeberget is located 50 miles off the Egyptian coastal port of Berenica. The mines produced millions of dollars worth of Peridot over time and as late as the 1930’s. At this point the production began tapering off to practically nothing with almost no production by the late 1950s.
It is said that the Emeralds Cleopatra was so famous for wearing were indeed fine and exceptionally large Peridot. In order to be confused with emerald in the first place, these Peridot from Egypt had to be of the finest color and size. Indeed they would be.
Again Peridot was taken for emerald most notably in The Shrine of the Three Magi located in Cologne, Germany. Several 200 carat Peridots are among the 1000 stones that decorate carved images in a triple sarcophagus. Not until late in the last century were these large Peridots recognized as emerald impostors.
The Romans called Peridot ‘evening emerald”. This evening emerald still held its glow in the dark of night with its’ golden hue. Pliny the Elder instructed that Peridot be worn on the right arm for its magical powers to be at their strongest. If set in gold the Peridot was considered to be a talisman to ward off night fears and bad dreams for its wearer. Peridot is believed to attract lovers, bring happiness and good cheer and possibly strengthen the eyes. For those of you with a jealous streak, the August birthstone is said to free the mind of envious thoughts. The Romans also fashioned drinking vessels from Peridot as they felt medicinal liquids would benefit the patient and be more effective. Carved Peridot as talismans was also used in ancient times to ward off demonic spirits.
The Smithsonian National Gem Collection boasts a 311.8 carat Peridot from Zeberget, Egypt and one of the largest Peridots in existence. They also have a 103.20 carat, 122.70 carat and a 286.60 carat Peridot from Egypt or Burma. These amazingly large Peridots are indeed a national treasure.
An impressive Habsburg Peridot parure (photo at left) created in the 1820’s by the Imperial jewelers Kochert includes a tiara, necklace, earrings and corsage brooch. The parure was originally created for the Archduchess Henriette, wife of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. It passed to The Archduke Karl Ferdinand and then to his nephew, Archduke Fredrich. His wife Isabella wore it for the coronation of Emperor Karl I of Austria and King of Hungary. In 1937 it was sold after her death at auction by Count Johannes Coudenhove-Kalergi whose daughter inherited the parure. After her death the parure was found in a bank vault wrapped in tea towels. By 2001 the set was sold to Fred Leighton Jewelers. The amazingly large Peridot in this set along with the unbelievable green color make this historical piece one of the finest collections of cut Peridot in jewelry.
So if you walk on the olivine beaches of Oahu, Hawaii think about peridot, this special birthstone for August, and remember that its beauty was truly born of fire!