August’s Birthstone: Peridot, the Evening Emerald
August's birthstone is peridot, a yellow-green gemstone that glows like a firefly on a hot, lazy night. In color, peridot can range from olive to cat-eye green. And unlike cool emerald, with its pine-forest overtones, peridot calls to mind warmer climes. Reminiscent of lemon wedges, watermelon rinds and pistachio ice cream, peridot seems to capture all the memories of summer as of it fades.
Though peridot is one of the more obscure birthstone gems and hasn’t recently been in favor with fashionistas and gem connoisseurs, it was once one of the most prized gemstones in the world. A very old gemstone, peridot is one of the twelve on the breastplate of Aaron in the Bible. But somewhere along the way, peridot became so rare and unfamiliar that it was confused with other gemstones like emerald and green tourmaline. Only since modern science has been applied to gemology have some of the great gemstones in royal collections turned out to be peridot.
In spite of its exile from public consciousness, peridot has a rich history. Isiacs in Egypt believed that they could commune with their goddess by drinking out of peridot cups. The Egyptians also fashioned elaborate peridot beaded jewelry and called peridot the “stone of the sun.” Hawaiians believed that peridots they found on sandy beaches were the teardrops of their volcano goddess.
In terms of lore, peridot is strongly associated with nighttime, dreams and eloquence. Ancients believed it warded off anxiety and orators wore peridot beaded jewelry to grace their speeches with luck. Ancient mariners wore the stone to ward off nightmares.
Peridot clocks in at a respectable 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale, making it harder than obsidian but not as hard as aquamarine. Still, it doesn’t scratch easily and requires next to no care, which makes it ideal for birthstone jewelry and everyday wear. As for the valuation of peridot, it depends upon the color. The purer and more vibrant the stone, the higher its value. Peridots tinged with brown, however, are considered less valuable.
The actual, as opposed to commercial, rarity of peridot is in some dispute. For many years, peridot was found only on a desolate isle near Egypt, so rare as to make it fall out of fashion. However, lower quality peridot discoveries in Pakistan and even Arizona have flooded the market and put this gemstone into an accessible price range.
During August, at summer’s close, the nights are short and the darkness held at bay. So too did our ancestors believe peridot kept away night terrors with its cheerful glow. As such, August’s birthstone is a sentimental favorite--like catching a lightning bug in a jar and wearing it in remembrance all year.