The enchanting verdant tones of the peridot have long been recognized as the eighth month’s birthstone. But little do people know that the alluring green gem shares its limelight with a darker, more mysterious counterpart–the sardonyx.
A form of onyx from the mineral family of chalcedony, sardonyx differs in appearance from its more famous jet-black cousin. Since ancient times, sardonyx has enchanted with its reddish brown coloring caressed with delicate white bands. The smooth face of the gem has made it a popular choice for cameo jewelry. In fact, Greeks and Romans were so taken with it, that they used sardonyx as talismans. Warriors carved the raised, cameo style emblems of godly heroes like Mars and Hercules in the stones, believing these tokens would protect them, and give them an advantage in battle.
Perhaps gemstones are one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given in this world. For thousands of years, they have brought beauty and joy into our lives, and most have interesting folklore and legends associated with them. The August gemstone, Peridot, is often given to celebrate the 16th wedding anniversary, and is not lacking in either beauty or folklore.
Peridot is a variation of olivine, a mineral composed of magnesium and iron silicate. It is found in many shades of yellow-green. A gemstone of many names, it was originally called topaz. In the 18th century, the French renamed it peridot, meaning gold, because of its often yellowish-gold color.
The Egyptians called peridot “the gem of the sun.” Legend says it was Cleopatra’s favorite gemstone, and historians now believe that many of the “emeralds” she wore were actually peridot because Egypt and Burma were main providers of this gem during ancient times.
Cleopatra’s peridot was not the only example from history when it was mistaken for emeralds. The Cathedral at Cologne holds within its walls a famous shrine known as the Three Holy Kings. It is adorned with beautiful jewels of all sorts. For centuries, one large gemstone that was thought to have been an emerald was recently identified as peridot. In both of these examples, it’s easy to see how it was mistaken for the emerald because they bear a strong likeness to one another, but peridot is softer in intensity.
Gem quality peridot in the United States comes from Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii. Other sources are Norway, Burma, and islands in the Red Sea. In 1994, a new deposit was found in Pakistan containing some of the most beautiful and highly valued peridots ever seen. Finally, one of the most unusual sources of this stone are those found in meteorites. They are called pallasites, and are the only gems known to come from space.
As with many gems, part of its value is based on clarity; the clearer it is, the more its worth. A peridot of two to three carats is quite expensive, and an eight carat stone is very rare. One of the most beautiful and famous peridots in the world is located in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC—it is 310 carats!
Because Peridot has been around for thousands of years it is steeped in legend and folklore. Perhaps it has been known best throughout history for its healing properties. In ancient times, goblets made of peridot were used for curing maladies because it was thought that medicinal liquids drunk from them were more effective. Other conditions peridot is known to cure are insomnia, digestive distress, and soothing an upset nervous system.
Not only is peridot known to heal, but it’s also known for protection. When worn as jewelry it was thought to protect its wearer from evil spirits and if set in gold, its powers were considered even more intense.
Peridot is symbolic of vitality and strength, associated with stress reduction and relaxation, and is known to enhance emotional well being by bringing happiness and good cheer to those who wear it. Clearly, this gemstone is valued not only for its beauty, but also for the rich history it contains within the very facets of its existence.