Ancient Egyptians Weren't Far Off When They Celebrated Peridot as the 'Gem of the Sun'

August 4, 2021

The Ancient Egyptians mined peridot on the Red Sea island of Zabargad and celebrated the vibrant green stone as the “gem of the sun.” Thousands of years later, modern scientists have proven that August’s official birthstone is truly extraterrestrial, as it has been found embedded within meteorites and scattered across the surface of Mars.

While nearly all of the peridot that you see in your jeweler’s showcase was born deep within the Earth’s mantel, some very special specimens originated in deep space.

Did you know that translucent gem-quality peridot is a prominent part of a stony-iron meteorite called a pallasite? The formation contains large gem crystals in a silvery honeycomb of nickel-iron.

A beautiful example of this phenomenon is seen in the Fukang meteorite, which was discovered near Fukang, China, in 2000. The 2,200 lb (1,003 kg) mass was obtained by a Chinese dealer, who removed a 44 lb chunk from the main mass and exhibited the specimen at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in 2005.

The photo, above, shows a slice from the Fukang pallasite. The greenish-yellow areas are gem-quality peridot in various shapes, from rounded to angular. They range in size from 5 mm to several centimeters.

The main mass of the Fukang pallasite reportedly contains peridot clusters up to 11 cm (4.3 in) in diameter.

Peridot is also credited with being the first gem to be discovered on another planet. The Mars landing of 2003 revealed that green peridot crystals — in the form of the gem’s less-precious cousin, olivine — cover about 19,000 square miles of the Red Planet’s surface.

In addition to being the official birthstone of August, peridot is also the 16th anniversary gemstone. Colors range from pure green to yellowish-green to greenish-yellow, but the finest hue is green without any hint of yellow or brown, according to the Gemological Institute of America.

The world’s largest faceted peridot weighs 310 carats and is part of the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection.

Credits: Pallasite slice by Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Peridot grouping by Chip Clark/National Gem and Mineral Collection, Smithsonian.