Peridot, the August birthstone, has an amazing story. Some journeyed to earth on meteorites. Some are found in exotic locales like Peridot Beach, Hawaii, where the sands shimmer a luminous green. And that’s just the beginning of our tale…
The word peridot comes from the Arabic “faridat,” meaning gem. A yellow-green, gem quality variety of the mineral olivine, peridot gets its attractive yellowish green hues from the presence of iron. Volcanic rocks (called basalt) are rich in iron and magnesium – two essential elements needed to create the gem. Hardened lava flows can be rich sources for peridot.
If you want to see the August birthstone at its finest, The Green Goddess peridot, a pear-shaped 154 carat (ct) gem, is a spectacular example. Jewelry designer Lester Lampert carved an image of a goddess into the gold behind the peridot, and set it with 3.24 carats of yellow diamonds.
Ready to learn where peridot comes from? Let’s zip around the world to find out!
Peridot from Zabargad
Jutting out of the Red Sea in southern Egypt, the rocky island of Zabargad (now St. John’s Island) cuts a dramatic sight: it is a barren and arid place of lonely shrubs, a few birds and giant turtles. Zabargad may have been nothing more than a geographic footnote if it were not for Peridot Hill: the highest point on the island that for centuries was a prolific source for the August birthstone.
Mining may have begun somewhere between 340-279 BCE Ancient Egyptians found peridot here, and some historians believe that Cleopatra’s emerald collection might actually have been peridot. Although the island produced beautiful peridot, its harsh conditions earned it ominous names like Island of Death and Ophiodes or snake island.
Peridot from Zabargad has been prized for centuries, and is still highly desirable. The finest specimens impress visitors to prestigious museums around the world.
Peridot from Mogok
Mogok, a city in Upper Myanmar (formerly Burma), is a treasure chest of gems: golden pagodas and Buddhist temples rise over single-story wooden homes, while flower-covered hillsides and a man-made lake are the terrain for this mineral-rich land. For eight centuries, the region has produced some of the world’s most exquisite rubies, sapphires and spinel. Peridot also belongs on the list: some of the most coveted rough has been unearthed in Mogok, but such discoveries are rare.
To find the August birthstone, we head to the northern slope of Kyaukpon, a mountainous region near Mogok. Loose peridot crystals can sometimes be found in crevices on the slopes. The finest quality peridot from this locality tends to have deep color and superb transparency. And some rough peridot can weigh hundreds of carats!
Peridot from Arizona
Massive volcanic eruptions tens of thousands of years ago sent rivers of lava spilling across the desert landscape of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, U.S. Peridot formed in this cauldron. Apaches eventually began mining, and some families on the reservation continue to work the mines today.
Getting to the mine is a bit of an excursion: a two-lane road from San Carlos cuts across the desert for 18 miles, and Peridot Mesa looms over a flat landscape. A dirt road winds its way up the Mesa, and forks to a number of mining sites. Traditionally, families used picks, pry bars, chisels and hammers to dislodge nodules in the basalt that may contain peridot but today, drilling and blasting techniques are used when the peridot is in basalt.
The peridot unearthed here tends to be very dark brown, brownish green and lime green in color. The increased presence of iron is responsible for the darker color. The gem material recovered from the San Carlos Apache Reservation tends to be small in size, making it suitable for finished gems of one carat or smaller.
Peridot from Other Locales, Beaches, and Meteorites
Peridot is also found in the mountains of Pakistan, the Ahangjikou-Xuanhua area of Hebei province in China, Norway and Antarctica.
For the beachcombers among us, searching for the August birthstone will take us to the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. Be forewarned: our ultimate destination is remote. You either need to be experienced with off road vehicles or commit to a long hike. Either way, the destination is unforgettable. Papakolea Beach is the remnant of an ancient volcanic cinder cone, with three sides remaining and the fourth open to the sea; peridot was deposited by past volcanic eruptions.
What you’ll mostly find, though, is olivine, the mineral family to which peridot belongs. The olivine here is too small to be of any value and can’t be used in jewelry, but it colors the sand green. There are a few other beaches around the world that share this trait: Talofofo Beach, Guam; Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island in the Galápogos; Hornindalsvatnet in Norway; and the Cape Verde islands.
Peridot also came to earth via pallasite meteorites (meteorites made of nickel-iron and olivine). Thousands of meteorites have hit the earth. Many of them had olivine, but only a few had gem-quality peridot. You can see pieces of pallasite meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Natural History Museum in London, the Royal Ontario Museum and other fine museums.
Now that you know a little about where peridot comes from, you just might be inspired to add this leafy green gemstone to your collection! But before you go shopping for the August birthstone, be sure to review our Peridot Buying Guide for tips to help you pick a beautiful one.