When a torch lights up the walls and roof at the Yiqisong Nanshan mine in north-east China, it reveals a galaxy of twinkling peridot, resembling stars fixed to a child’s bedroom ceiling. The mine is home to the largest known exploitable rough peridot resource in the world and, with tracks to help transport the ore out still being laid, production is only just about to begin. Once in operation, this particularly bright grass-green peridot deposit will increasingly see the light of day.

Last month, Fuli Gemstones, the company behind the mine’s revival, unveiled the brand’s special custom cut at the Jewellery & Gem World trade event in Hong Kong as an example of how the company is ramping up its activities.

In July, a group of international industry specialists was invited by Fuli to see the mine for themselves. “Being a geologist, it was what I expected, because that is how the basalt is formed,” says Dallas-based consultant, coloured gemstone gemologist and geologist Robert Gessner, on his first mine visit in China. “However, Fuli’s peridot has a very green, saturated colour as opposed to what you typically see, which is more of a yellowish green.”

Gessner has 21 years of coloured gemstone mining experience including a role as senior geologist with Gemfields’ Kagem Emerald Mine, in Zambia, and Tanzanite One mine, in Tanzania. “I have visited many mines in South Africa, in east Africa,” he recalls. “But this one, with its commitment to the environment and a pledge to keep every tree standing that it doesn’t need to take down, there’s a very deliberate effort here to make it symbiotic — mining with consideration for the environment. And I’ve not seen that anywhere else.”

Peridot gemstone
Fuli recently unveiled their special custom cut peridot at the Jewellery & Gem World trade event in Hong Kong

Fuli is currently licensed to operate the mine until 2026, with a possible further extension of 10 years. “That Fuli has exclusive rights and access to an identified deposit is also unique,” adds Gessner.

The company expects to complete its overall mine site construction by the third quarter of 2024 and commence commercial production by the last quarter of that year. It aims to reach full capacity of processing 300,000 tonnes of ore with 58.3mn carats of rough extracted per year by 2030.

Compared with the mining operations of other gemstones, Fuli’s processes are quite condensed due to everything being in close proximity. Its headquarters are in the city of Dunhua and, while staff are about to move to larger purpose-built premises soon, all processing, cutting and polishing of gemstones is undertaken in-house, with the mine only 31 miles away.

Miners walking inside a mineshaft
Fuli is currently licensed to operate the Yiqisong Nanshan site until 2026

Such integration can be valuable for both investors and end consumers alike. Pia Tonna, Fuli’s chief marketing officer and executive director, says the company is seeking to list on SGX’s Catalist, the Asian rival to London’s Alternative Investment Market, with the aim “to complete by the end of this year”.

“I’ve never encountered this scale of gemstone mining taken to such a professional level in China,” says Andy Shen, a Gemmological Institute professor at China University of Geosciences in Wuhan.

“What impressed me particularly is that Fuli has hired some very capable and trustworthy partners, such as SRK Consulting [which specialises in earth and water industries and mining exploration] to do the evaluations and mining prospecting. To do a survey on this scale, you need to dump money basically and invest.”

The report, he says, is the most comprehensive piece of mining literature on peridot he has ever seen.

Shen is an expert on peridot, having written academic papers that explore the subtleties and difference in quality from the world’s key deposits in Myanmar, Pakistan, North Korea, and the San Carlos mine in Arizona.

“You don’t get a lot of gem quality materials coming out of those other deposits,” he says. “The supply is not stable and suddenly you might not get the output anymore.”

Basalt rock
Basalt rock

For Shen, the Fuli mine’s peridot quality and quantity are unprecedented. So far, the largest chunk of peridot extracted is a 301-carat gemstone found during the geological survey three years ago. “This mine seems to have fewer perturbations or influences from the surroundings, so you don’t have natural geological processes that can squeeze, heat disrupt larger stones into fragments,” he says.

As a result, Shen expects some “really nice sized stones” to be uncovered and, as a reliable source, Fuli could be of interest to high jewellery companies.

Leanne Kemp, chief executive and founder of Australia-based supply chain group Everledger, says: “To me, the mine signified the convergence of a rare opportunity delving beyond the realm of precious gems into a world where zero waste, ecological equilibrium and sustainable economics become the driving forces, forging a path towards responsible mining practices.” Everledger provides digital technology solutions that can increase transparency in supply chains.

Most recently, the company has worked on mid-market UK jewellery chain Ernest Jones’s responsible and traceable Origin initiative, and partnered with retailers such as New Zealand’s Diamonds.co.nz and ethical jewellery company Brilliant Earth. “Fuli is undoubtedly thinking in a future fit way with the chance to make a significant paradigm shift from the norm.”

If Everledger takes up Fuli’s environmental, social, and corporate governance efforts, Kemp estimates it will involve two to three additional mine visits and 12 months of dedicated work to establish full end-to-end frameworks, including rigorous scientific peer reviews.

Peridot has often been compared with diamond, as both originate in the earth’s mantle. But, having recently been involved with PearlPoints — helping pearl farmers commit to sustainability and reduce ecological impact — Kemp is more inclined to compare peridot with pearls. “Pearls clean the ocean, companion with mangroves and reduce carbon. Peridot, in its very nature, companions with basalt and olivine that have unique environmental properties.”

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