Peridot is a gem-quality transparent variety of olivine. The color of olivine ranges from olive to lime green, some with a brownish tinge.
On a small desolate island in the Red Sea named Zabargad (which means olivine in Arabic), peridot has been mined since ancient times. Here nothing grows, there is no fresh water and it is scorching hot all year except for winter. In some locations, fissures are lined with gem crystals and beaches have a greenish hue due to tiny crystals.
The stone is also found in Burma, Norway, Brazil, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Australia and Mexico. The U.S. has small stones mined in Arizona.
Among the oldest known gemstones, the “topaz” on the breastplate of Aaron, High Priest of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, was believed to actually be peridot. Ancient Egyptians, around 1580 B.C. to 1350 B.C., created beads from peridot. For Greek and Romans, peridot was in popular use as intaglios, rings, inlays and pendants.
A prized gem late in the Ottoman Empire (1300-1918), Turkish Sultans collected the world’s largest collection. The gold throne in Istanbul’s Topkapi museum is decorated with 955 peridot cabochons, also used on turbans and boxes. The largest stone is believed to be a 310-carat gem that is in the Smithsonian. A fine 192-carat stone is part of the Russian crown jewels in the Kremlin.
Cos Altobelli is a third generation jeweler and president of Altobelli Jewelers in Burbank, previously located in North Hollywood for 60 years. His specialty is appraising for all functions and acting as an expert witness. He holds a graduate degree from the Gemological Institute of America and the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser from the American Gem Society. He is the author of three appraisal books and has appeared on ABC-TV’s “Prime Time Live.” Altobelli can be reached at (818) 763-5151.