As full mining operations get set to commence in the world’s largest peridot deposit in China by UK-based Fuli Gemstones Ltd., in 2024, Shilpa Dhamija speaks to the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, PIA TONNA, to understand the prospects of the rare semi-precious stone, in the jewellery world as its consistent supply becomes achievable.
Peridot is the gem variety of the mineral olivine, known to be found as early as the 1500 BC in Egypt. The peridot is one of the very few stones, other than the diamond that is formed in the earth’s upper mantle. And yet, the beautiful olive-green stone has rarely featured in the jewellery world because of its irregular supply, limited to small mines located in Myanmar and Pakistan and few larger deposits in the USA.
In the 1960s, some peridot deposits were discovered in China in the Yiqisong Nanshan region of the Jilin Province. With an interest to mine the semi-precious stone (fine gemstone), Fuli Gemstones Ltd, a UK-based Chinese mining company acquired the mining rights for this deposit in 2016 and discovered that the region contained the largest deposit of peridot known to man. In 2024, Fuli will commence full mining operations at the site and plans to give the elusive green stone an enviable status.
Why and how did you choose to mine this deposit of peridot in China?
In 2016-17, we did extensive geological survey here and realised the potential of the deposit is huge, so we started to develop the mine. The collaborations that you have seen us do with jewellery designers was with peridots that we sourced during the geological survey. So far, we have been mainly building the mining operations and in March 2024 we will start regular mining operations.
The actual mining region is 3 square kilometres but the tunnel from where we extract the stone is about 1.5 kms in length and 4×4 metres wide. Walking inside it is like walking into a tunnel of peridots.
This mine requires very little movement of rocks to get to the gem-bearing ore. We don’t need to move much of the land as we are creating the tunnel on the side of the mountain.
How much peridot can be mined from this deposit?
At full operation, the mine has the ability to provide 60 million carats of peridot per year, which equates to around 64% of market share. Having said that, we are the guardians, and we want to nurture peridot’s position, working with like-minded companies in our industry.
How do you plan to carry out the mining functions in an eco-friendly manner?
We repurpose everything that we pull out from inside the tunnel. In the deposit there is olivine mineral and basalt rock. Both can be used to enrich agricultural lands. The smaller peridot materials that cannot be used in jewellery can be used for hot-fixing. Olivine sand has other purposes too; it can absorb carbon dioxide equal to its body weight. The idea is to work with everything we bring out of the mine or find partners who can use these materials.
Will Fuli Gemstones cut and polish the gems in house? Do you plan to use the expertise of Indian craftsmen who cut and polish the majority share of world’s gems and diamonds?
We will cut and polish the peridot on our own but also have some cutting partners as the mine is scalable. Currently, we have a small facility with around 20 cutters and will expand with a cutting facility at the site of the mine.
As for partnering with Indian gem cutters, we are already in talks with Indian cutters from Jaipur, who we met in Hong Kong recently at the gem and jewellery show.
How do you plan to use the Blockchain system to track the provenance and the journey of the stones?
Most mining companies have a sightholder system in which they auction the rough stones. It becomes difficult to trace the gems thereafter. Our business model will be different. We will not have the sightholder system.
We would rather cut the stones in house because we want to maintain the beauty of the stone which is in its cutting. It is going to be a challenge, but we will do it. The beauty of the peridot is that 80% of the material that comes out of the mine is eye-clean, which is unusual for a gemstone.
Most designers that we are working with want the information on how the stone was mined, where it comes from, etc.
We aim to have a vertically integrated supply chain, registered on our blockchain so that it is easy for consumers to trace the stone to the mine and every aspect in between. We are working with Everledger company to build the blockchain and record our ESG.
What is the biggest peridot you have extracted so far from the mine?
During the geological survey, the largest stone extracted was 301 carats. It was very clean.
We found out during the survey that 9-10% of the gems that come out from the mine will be significant ones, which will allow us to cut stones that are collection-worthy and for big box retail production.
Which are the biggest markets for the peridot? Have any of the high-jewellery makers like Harry Winston or Tiffany shown any interest in the peridot from your mine?
From the Hong Kong show we have had some interest shown from buyers, and from India.
We are not in competition with anyone which is a good place to be in. We have had interest from high-jewellery makers, but we are not at liberty to name them.
We have made quite a bit of collaborations with local designers in the UK. We have also taken some people to our mine in China to educate them about the gemstone and the mine. We are trying to get the peridot back on the map and are collaborating with jewellery historians for educational seminars. It is a significant gemstone that just got forgotten about because of lack of consistent supply.