In conjunction with the dazzling collection of unmounted and strung gemstones on The Story, Everything that Glitters, Manjari Sihare of Saffronart traces the origins of the Peridot
New York: This week, Saffronart launched a collection of fine quality gemstones on The Story. On sale over the next three weeks is a beautiful selection of unmounted and strung stones including peridots, emeralds, tanzanites, rubies, amber, yellow beryls, sapphires in different colors and tourmalines. My personal favorite of these are the peridots, vivid green stones, with a slight tinge of gold, which I find to be the ideal gemstone hue to go with a light summer wardrobe.
Peridot or the ‘golden stone’, originally known as topazion, is a variety of the mineral olivine and is transparent. The earliest reference to the gem is in the Historia Naturalis written by the Roman historian Pliny in the 1st century. Pliny gives a detailed account of a gem named ‘topazion’ and dates its discovery to approximately 300 BCE. He writes: “Juba says that there is an island in the Red Sea called ‘Topazion,’ at a distance of three hundred stadia from the main land; that it is surrounded by fogs, and is often sought by navigators in consequence; and that, owing to this, it received its present name, the word ‘Topazion’ meaning ‘to seek’.”
Pliny’s island of ‘Topazion’ later known as Zabargad, was the largest of a group of islands off the south-eastern coast of Egypt in the Red Sea. Zabargad was once an oceanic volcano, which became visible above sea level after Africa and Asia’s tectonic plates collided. As a result of its unique mineral forming conditions, the island of Zabargad once possessed large deposits of the gem forsterite-olivine or Peridot. The ancient Egyptians treasured this beautiful green-gold gem and some of Cleopatra’s famed emeralds are now believed to have actually been peridots.
The origin of the word peridot itself is unclear. In fact, fascinated by its radiant green color, the Romans nicknamed it ‘the evening emerald’. The gem assumed the name peridot sometime in the 13th century, a term perhaps derived from the Arabic word ‘faridat’ meaning ‘gem’ or the French word ‘peritot’ meaning ‘unclear’. From the 18th century onward, the name peridot alone was used.
Considered to be a sacred gem, the peridot was often treated as a symbol of purity and virtue. The stone was believed to have magical properties, and was worn as protection against evil. Peridot is said to protect the body’s aura and bring its wearer success, peace and good luck.
Other ancient sources of the stone include Burma, South Africa and Brazil. In recent times, the United States, Pakistan and Kashmir are the largest producers of peridot. Most American peridots are 3 carats or less. Larger stones are mostly from Pakistan or China. A gem associated with success, power and good luck, peridots featured prominently in the collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad. Mahboob Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam, was particularly fond of the gem, and had them set into belt buckles, rings and coat buttons.
The largest cut peridot weighs around 310 carats, and is on display in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution. Similarly, in Moscow’s Diamond Treasury there is a 192.75 carat peridot that belonged to the Czars. A 146 carat peridot is on display in the Geological Museum, London. Smaller peridots are relatively less expensive, but their value considerably increases if they are over 5 carats, like one of those featured on The Story. Peridots with a weight of 10-15 carats or more are rare, making them quite valuable.