She shines with a bright green glow even at night. She was honoured as the “gem of the sun” by the ancient Egyptians, the “evening emerald” by the Romans, was the favourite gemstone of Cleopatra, and often mistaken for emerald in history. This is Peridot, revered in history for its mythical powers believed to be drawn from the Sun God Ra.
Associated with happiness and light, the birthstone of August is celebrated as a joyful stone said to ease anger and jealousy, encourage open heartedness, and invite abundance.
Ancient Royals adored peridot, but the only known source at the time was Zabargad Island, about 100 kilometres off the Egyptian coast in the Red Sea. Archaeologists believed peridot was mined here since 1500 BC at the behest of the Egyptian pharaohs: Mining was traditionally at night, when the gem’s natural glow made it easier to spot. The largest cut peridot, a 310-carat beauty in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, is believed to have come from this ancient source. However, the island was lost in the mists of history and a natural dense fog until its accidental rediscovery in the early 20th century by mariners. Sporadic mining restarted but halted in the late 1950s when the island was nationalized by Egypt.
Fortunately, over the past century, several discoveries of peridot deposits were made, among them the deposits in Arizona, as well as Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Vietnam. Unfortunately, all these sources produced smaller sizes – large peridot was mostly unheard of.
In 1992, miners working high up in the Himalayas of Kashmir, mining a magnesite vein for high-tech industrial purposes, stumbled upon bright green crystals. Hans Jurgen Henn from the world’s gemstone cutting centre of Idar Oberstein in Germany was hiking in the Himalayas when a gemstone agent showed him the crystals believing them to be emerald. Hans Jurgen suspected they were peridot, and his friend Dr. Hermann Bank scrutinised them in his laboratory and confirmed them as peridot.
Hans Jurgen confesses to his excitement: These peridots were formed at the same time as the Himalayas, his favourite hiking slopes. The serpentine mineral that is usually deep in the Earth probably got pushed up when the land mass that is India crashed into continental Asia, creating the Himalayas. “The crash created these extraordinary beauties,” he says recalling how thrilled he was not just with the quality of the material, but by the large size of the crystals. “This was an incredible moment for me and the entire gemstone world: Large dazzling green peridot.” He returned on several perilous journeys to the Himalayas just for the thrill of the climb and to support the miners. They were typical Kashmiri miners clothed in the long white robes and head-dress of local tribes people and used simple hand tools to dig out the peridot and magnesite.
PERIDOT COMES ALIVE
From 15,000 feet high, in the freezing Himalayas, these beauties found their way into the gemstone trade, firing the imagination of designers who embraced the stones’ unique energy and wonder in
Enthused by his father’s passion for Kashmiri peridot, Ingo Henn of Henn of London made jewels in celebration of them. “The green and yellow-green of peridot is a distinct standout – fresh, vibrant, and full of energy.” For a recent pendant/brooch design, he punctuated the base of a green and gold enameled wing pattern with a 20.2 carat oval peridot and captured the movement of the wing’s swirl edge with pave-set diamonds.
“Peridot is so underrated,” says Kirsty Stone, founder and designer of Retrouvaí in Los Angeles. “It’s such a happy gemstone and I love the way it pairs with yellow gold.” She captures this joy in her one-of-a-kind peridot charm pendant.
Similarly, Brent Neale placed an unusual peridot cabochon at the centre of her Daisy Chain ring from the Summer of Love collection and surrounded it in a delicate detail of imagined string, dotted with multi coloured sapphires.
Peridot is a favourite for Milan-based Italian designer Bea Bongiasca who enjoys contrasting the lively green with unusual enamel colours, such as the stack Vine Ring with purple enamel, marquise and drop shape peridot piece cradling a separate orange sapphire pavé ring.
Jane Taylor in Western Massachusetts salutes the stone in her designs and for her Cirque Chubby Huggies, she contrasted them with 14-karat yellow gold and ruthenium plating. “Peridot is magnificent – it is incredibly lively and verdant, like the colour of the grass and trees here in New England when summer first kicks in,” enthuses Jane’s daughter and marketing and sales director, Cleo Zancope Gnatek.
“Peridot doesn’t get the shine it deserves,” adds David Farrugia, designer and founder of Uniform
Object in New York. “I love the incredible neon quality of its colour, particularly the ‘radioactive’ green featured in the horn earrings.”
The Sun God is invoked in Lauren Harwell Godfrey’s peridot and diamond Sun Sign medallion: “The vivid green of peridot adds unexpected excitement to jewels, not unlike those dynamic Leos born in August,” she concludes.