Olivine was the first name given to this lighthearted gem, a sunny green suggesting early Spring buds on the the trees, or perhaps crystalline waters in some impossibly sublime beach. But why olivine? The ideal color was supposed to be a rich “oily” green, though its color ranges from brownish green to the pale golden green we see here. Like many gems, this unassuming stone has a longer history that we imagine.
Early Mediterranean civilizations mined the stone from St. John’s Island or Zerbirget, in the Red Sea. In Greek and Roman times, the island was known as Torpazios and the gem as Topaz. But Peridot is a French word from the Arabic “faridat,” meaning simply, “gem.” If we’re looking for Peridot today, we might find it in mines in Myanmar, Norway, and in Arizona, U.S.
The color of peridot comes from iron found in the magnesium silicate mineral, olivine, occurring in in basalts and peridotite rocks. A lot of iron means darker green-brown, and less means the deep green– more like forest green perhaps, but without the bluish quality of emerald, and even less iron means the pale golden-green so popular in jewelry today.
In terms of hardness, Peridot ranges from 6.5 to 7 in the Moh Scale of hardness for gems; it can be faceted in myriad ways and is still affordable, and because it doesn’t have many inclusions it is easy to work with and less likely to break. Another beautiful gem that I like very much, is Apatite, pictured here in these peridot and apatite earrings. Apatite is more delicate, tending to break along cleavage and therefore no a favorite with the more costly jewelry industry. I make sure to wrap Apatite gently with thin gold wire and the base, so the stone is strengthened and works just fine in earrings and necklaces. The combination makes me think of cool water.
Since my birthday is in August, you would think that I adore Peridot, but I had to grow into my appreciation of the stones. I love green, especially in the transition of green to blue, which I find alluring to the senses, perhaps attracted to its watery quality (since I was born the year of the Water Dragon!). But Peridot failed to impress me. I preferred emeralds, aquamarine, green tourmaline, and imagined myself to be much more of a sapphire person. (I was born on August 31, so I thought I could easily claim blue sapphire as my birthstone!) In the 1980s, Peridot experienced a revival in jewelry interest that it had not seen since the 1890s to the 1920s (let’s call that the Victorian to Deco Period). Jewelry that resembled pieces from that time, using black Jet, garnet, peridot, or amber became popular once more. Soon– and the rise of “jewelry television” can attest to this– the combination of semi-precious stones, peridot, garnet, blue topaz, and citrine was all the rage. Often, Amethyst was included, being of the same quartz origin as Citrine, and this group of 5 gems almost made a rainbow. I remember going shopping for jewelry supplies with my mother in the very early 80s, in lower Manhattan. My mother was a painter and artist who never stopped creating, and her knowledge of ancient and modern art was fantastic. In bead and stone shops, strands of garnet, amethyst, and jade– probably the last untinted jade we would see– were commonplace. Slightly more expensive citrine, topaz, and peridot chips or beads would cover the walls in a profusion that will never be seen again.
The interest in gems and natural materials perhaps hastened our awareness of over mining and senseless over-production. Soon, coral and ivory would be protected and that’s a very good thing. But we digress.
According to Thelma Isaacs, the healing properties of olivine through the ages have been used for protection, setting the stones in gold to enhance their influence. Olivine is not a particularly intense gemstone. Its aura suggests lightness, and as Isaacs writes, “is useful mainly to treat the spirit rather than the body… It affects the upper three chakras.” She also writes that the stone should be worn preferable by clear minded people who can take a long view of life. (72)
So, I don’t know whether that would include August natives, or those born under the sign of Virgo. Don’t we tend to be rather intense and take life very seriously? Perhaps too seriously, and a talisman may remind us to do just the opposite. This alone sounds like it would be healing, doesn’t it? Through the ages, it has been Carnelian that has been associated with the month of August, for Jews, Romans, and Spaniards; later Sardonyx, another reddish stone (in the agate family) makes its appearance for Arabs and the Poles, jumping to Alexandrite, for Russians and returning to Carnelian with the Italians. In her chart of birthstones (104-5), Isaacs lists Sardonyx, Carnelian, Moonstone, and Topaz as belonging to August from the 15th to the 20th Century. If Peridot was at one point known as Topaz, then it makes sense that it would eventually reemerge.
Either way, using just the example of August, what I find interesting is that in considering our attraction to gemstones depending on our natures, some people identify the particular essence of the person’s nature and relate it to the color and emanation of the stone. For August, related to an earthy and intense personality, as Virgos tend to be defined, the color would be in the red to orange spectrum (Carnelian, Sardonyx, Pink Alexandrite). But since the hidden nature of Virgo is its opposite, a spiritual individual who prefers solitude, another approach would be to recommend a complementary color such as green, turquoise, or aqua that would help to balance body and soul.
In that case, I would joyfully recommend two birthstones instead of just one for everyone! Here’s to enjoying your gems and colors in the limitless spectrum of life, and happy birthday to August and Virgo! ❤