From the days of Cleopatra to the peak of the British empire, the colour of peridot made it a valued jewel. Fashions come and go, however, and the olive green gemstone declined in popularity from the mid 20th century. But this may be about to change, with China poised to exploit the largest known deposit.

In 2016, Beijing awarded a licence to mine the new source of peridot to Fuli Gemstones International Holdings. It has developed a mine-to-market strategy and initially set its sights on partnering with jewellers and building awareness in China and the UK.

Peridot has the distinction of being the only stone, apart from diamond, to have formed in the molten rock of the earth’s upper mantle, rather than the crust. Volcanic action then pushed it closer to the surface.

Nature worked this particular magic in the foothills of the Changbai mountains in Dunhua, 150km north of the Chinese border with North Korea. Fuli is currently in a pre-mechanised mining phase and expects to start the construction of its Yiqisong Nanshan mine operation later this year, which will take around two years.

The company plans to do for peridot what De Beers did for diamonds in terms of market positioning and education. Fuli’s peridots excel in colour and carat. “Rarely does one see such large peridots on the market of that hue, tone and saturation,” says Katherine Andrews, a gem and jewellery consultant. “The lime-green glow displayed in the Fuli stones is reminiscent of a demantoid garnet, commonly found in small sizes.”

Fuli intends to market its peridots in a gender-neutral fashion, making the most of the gem’s association with light and hope, and with August birthdays.

Inspecting rough peridot gems . . . 
. . . and sorting them afterwards

“The Egyptians referred to peridot as the ‘gem of the sun’,” says Haiyang Yu, chair of Fuli.

“More recently, the stone was a favourite with the Suffragettes in Britain who used it extensively in their jewellery because its colour was a symbol of hope.”

Yu, whose previous mining experience was in jade, points out that green is a significant colour in Chinese culture as it is associated with success. It is also a colour with an environmental meaning — which isn’t lost on Fuli’s boss.

“Today’s new jewellery consumer wants to know where their products come from, with a focus on sustainability and traceability. You can see how important it is for us to bring our peridot to the market in the correct manner, respecting the environment.

“We want to make Fuli Gemstones’ peridots something that Chinese consumers will associate with hope and, ultimately, will be proud to own.”

Two years ago, Pia Tonna, who lives in London, joined Fuli Gemstones to help to implement Yu’s strategy and she is now chief marketing officer and an executive director.

A lot rests on her shoulders — especially since Fuli filed its listing application with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in June.

She has experience in the sector, having worked for Gemfields as its director in Europe and Africa to raise the perception and value of coloured stones. “Fuli was looking for someone who knew the industry and knew mining,” Tonna says.

The Yiqisong Nanshan mine
Fuli Gemstones core samples

Yiqisong Nanshan is what is called a “room and pillar mine”, which is different to what Tonna is used to. “You go in about five feet and there’s the peridot in the wall,” she says. “You still have to do some drilling and blasting to get into the mountain, but it isn’t as visually or physically invasive as opencast mining [which is needed for] other coloured gemstones.”

Another of the mine’s eco-credentials is that all of the spoil can be repurposed. The basalt rock will help build railways and roads, while the sand is a natural abrasive and will be used for sandblasting.

As for the peridots, these are cut and polished at the mine by about 20 cutters. Fuli Gemstones aims to increase its in-house facility to employ more locals.

Surveys have identified that the mine has some rough peridots as big as 100ct which will give finished stones of 30 to 35ct — the stone’s yield is not as good as that for ruby or sapphire.

Before Fuli’s potential was realised, the largest peridot deposit was at San Carlos, Arizona. According to Tonna, this produces cut stones of two to three carats “which are ideal for small, gemstone-set jewellery or for accents”.

She points to the peridots used historically in high jewellery pieces by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, as well as more recently those by Fabio Salini and Taffin. These feature bigger gemstones with high clarity and colour. She says: “You need access to larger, high-quality, high-grade peridots and not all peridot mines produce that in a consistent supply.”

An Annoushka Fuli peridot ring
An Annoushka Fuli peridot ring

Fuli has also developed a grading system for its stones in collaboration with the Gems & Jewelry Trade Association of China and the National Gemstone Testing Center in Beijing. This is still being honed to suit Fuli’s peridot.

Tonna has focused her efforts on building awareness, participating in events and organising designer collaborations.

Fuli presented nine collaborations in Hainan in 2021 and last winter it exhibited at Bazaar Jewellery China Live in Shanghai, supplying the peridots for the trophies.

“China is the largest gem and jewellery consumer market in the world,” notes Tonna. “It has a voracious appetite for gemstones and a thirst for knowledge and understanding. For example, spinel and tourmaline were unheard of gems that now command high prices. The demand is there because they are looking for something new, something different.”

Fuli Gemstone is now focusing on Britain. Its newest high jewellery collaboration is with Stephen Webster, a designer who has created a $145,000 collar that features marquise cut peridots. Fuli’s first live event in Europe will be at Jewellery Cut Live in London this month. People will be able to see peridot in the rough as well as gemstones cut and polished by Martin Prinsloo, a UK master cutter, and to hear Joanna Hardy, a lecturer in jewellery, talk about the history of the stone.

“It is a brand awareness and education sponsorship push, to make people understand who we are and what we can offer them,” explains Tonna.

Pieces by Liu Sun and Huang Xiang Min, designers in China, will be unveiled, as will an art deco-inspired high jewellery suite by Annoushka, which combines Fuli peridot with malachite and pink sapphire, priced at £140,900.

The final word on Fuli’s chances in the market goes to Andrews. “Fashion tastes are often driven by marketing campaigns from gemstone brands such as Tanzanite, De Beers and Gemfields,” she says. “The more I look at Fuli peridot, the more I like it. Strong campaigns will increase demand.”

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