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Gemstone Facts: What Does Peridot Symbolize?

By Antonia Čirjak February 01 2020

Gem quality olivine crystals called peridot.
Gem quality olivine crystals called peridot.

Peridot is the name for the gem-quality olivine, used to differentiate from lesser grade stones. Due to its color, Peridot is associated with beauty and eternal youth. St. John island in the Red Sea was an essential source of peridots ever since Ancient Egypt. It has been long suspected that many of Cleopatra’s favorite stones were peridots.

What Does Peridot Mean or Symbolize?

Their distinctive characteristic among all other green gems is the ability to display the same color in any light conditions, including night. This gained them appreciation among Egyptian nobility.

There was a lot of confusion revolving the names of the gems coming from the island. For example, Greeks called the same island Topazios as they sourced the yellow-green gem (even though the actual modern Topazes do not occur there). By the 19th century, the gems from the same island were called chrysolite, a shared term for chrysoberyl, prehnite, and peridot (all green to yellow-green gems). Only in the 20th century, when methods for precise identification of each stone developed, peridots got their modern name - separate from all other gems. 

What Are The Qualities Of Peridot?

Peridots belong to the forsterite-fayalite group, which belongs to a wider family of olivines. Forsterite is green to zesty yellow; fayalite can be green, yellowish, amber brown, brown, olive green. The most important color defining element in peridots is iron, and minuscule traces of chromium can sometimes enhance its brightness. They rarely have unusual optical effects, although there are a few cabochons with cat-eye or cross (four-rayed star) effects. Most valuable gems are those of vibrant, vivid, beautiful green.

Peridot mineral.
Peridot mineral.

Olivines vary in hardness between 6.5 to 7, approximately the same as quartz of gem quality. But they still can be eroded by the household dust and can be damaged by perfumes and sprays. 

Where To Get The Best Peridot? 

Peridot is usually found in lava beds because it is formed in the Earth’s mantle and gets up to the surface via volcanic eruptions. Occasionally, it can also come from outer space in pallasite meteorites.

Zabargad (Zebirget) in Egypt is still the most famous source of peridots, shrouded in mystery. It was lost for hundreds of years until it was found in 1905. Myanmar is the world’s only massive source of large peridots. The country produces dark green, oily, transparent gems of fine color, some several hundred carats in size. Other sources of this exquisite gem are Pakistan and Arizona, USA.

The largest known specimen in the world currently belongs to the collection of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and is 310 carats in size.

How To Tell If A Peridot Is Real?

Scientists have synthesized both forsterite and sing melt techniques. It takes a professional to distinguish them from natural stones as it requires measuring the refractive index and other gemological characteristics. Synthetic peridots are seldom produced for trade purposes as it is not commercially viable. 

At times, synthetic corundum and spinel gems, as well as cubic zirconia, may be passed off as peridots. From time to time, demantoid garnets can be confused with peridots as well. Gemologists can differentiate the properties of these gems fairly easily.  

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