Peridots have been used in jewellery for centuries. The ancient Egyptians called them the gem of the sun and the Romans described peridots as ‘evening emeralds’. The superficial similarity between the two green gemstones, peridots and emeralds, has led inexperienced eyes to confuse the two. Some historians even believe that Cleopatra’s famous emerald collection was composed of peridots. A similar mistake had been made over the identification of stones adorning the magnificent shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral, Germany. The large green stones, often described as emeralds, covering the large gold structure, have in recent years been authenticated by gemologists as peridots.
The name peridot, is derived from the Arabic word ‘Faridat’ meaning simply ‘Gem’ and an adaption of the old French word, ‘Peritot’ meaning ‘gold’. It is a form of Olivine, and can range in colour from pale green with a touch of yellow, to a cloudier brownish green. Brown peridots are extremely rare and are very rarely found in Fine Jewellery due to their less attractive colouring. The different shades of peridot are not as broad as other gemstones, but clear green examples create beautiful jewels that encapsulate the essence of spring. The Habsburg Parure is an exceptional example of the use of peridots. The parure was made in the 1820s for the Archduchess Henriette.
In folklore, Peridots were believed to contain healing powers, particularly the ability to ward off the ‘terrors of the night’, jealous thoughts and depression. In the medieval period, peridots were often strung on donkey hair and worn around the left arm to keep evil saints at bay.
Peridots were mined by the Ancient Egyptians from Zabargad or the island of St John in the Red Sea, until the 1950s when the deposits were almost completely depleted. Other sources of peridot include Arizona in the United States, Pakistan, Finland, Vietnam and China. Despite their rating of 6.5-7 on the Mohs hardness scale, Peridots are brittle and ill-suited to everyday wear in a ring setting. Earrings or necklaces are the more suitable settings to protect the stones.