Gemstones and Birthstones: Peridot–History and Lore

Peridot, the birthstone for August, is another stone that suffers by sharing a hue with a more famous gemstone. The greenish-yellow to yellowish-green of peridot is nothing like the blue-green intensity of emerald. But still, when many people think “green gemstone” they immediately think “emerald.” Just shows you what a bunch of conquistadors can do to create PR buzz.

ABOVE: 9.90 ct. cushion-cut Burmese peridot. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy Palagems.

Peridot has a pedigree of Biblical proportions. It was mentioned in the book of Exodus as one of the stones in the high-priest’s breast plate. Of course, it was mistakenly called “topaz.” (Did I mention that this gemstone has a rough time getting recognition?) But gemstone sleuths discovered the real story. The name was given to it by, among others, the ancient Greek, Pliny, whose curiosity got him killed while he was covering the explosion of Vesuvius at Pompeii. Pliny wrote that the stone came from an island in the Red Sea, the only known source of peridot for many centuries, and not a source of topaz or emeralds. Voilá, mystery solved.

Shrine Of Three Kings In Cologne Cathedral. Photo: Getty Images

The sacred connection continues at Cologne (Germany) Cathedral which houses the reliquary said to contain the remains of the magi—Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the three wise men who attended Jesus’ birth. Constructed of wood with an overlay of gilded silver in about 1200, it is embellished with gemstones, including peridots (not emeralds as originally reported), according to GIA’s gem information website. It is a truly breathtaking creation. For magnificent photos of the shrine, go to the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) website.

Egyptians believed that peridot had the power to dissolve enchantments and send evil spirits packing. The full power of peridot was only unleashed when set in gold, however, so you can see that this was a charm for the wealthy, as were so many charms. Today, beautiful peridots are available at most gem shows for reasonable prices. So just about anyone can take advantage of their magic.

Be sure to read all the other posts in this 5 part series:
Peridot — Just the Facts

Peridots in Space

Designing with Peridot

Peridot of the American Southwest

Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.

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