Peridot Hits the Spot
Affordable and requiring no treatment, this olive-hued stone is gaining appeal in the eyes of buyers who seek natural beauty.
Jewelry buyers have long struggled to ascertain how much colored gemstones are worth, especially the ones outside the established trifecta of ruby, emerald and sapphire. Each type has different criteria for determining its beauty and value. Today, with gem lovers increasingly educating themselves, many discerning clients are gravitating toward natural goods that, among other things, have not undergone any enhancement. As such, stones like peridot, which don’t require treatment, have increased in popularity — though they still have a lot of catching up to do in terms of demand, prices and value perception, especially compared to spinels, tourmalines and garnets.
From Egypt to Edwardian jewels
Peridot is the gem variety of the mineral olivine. Many believe the word peridot hails from the Arabic “faridat,” which means “gem.” It measures 6.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness, which makes it softer than emeralds. Because peridots mostly come in an olive-green color with yellow as a secondary hue, many consider that shade representative of the stone. However, top-quality peridots display a pure green color with a medium-dark tone. Experienced buyers avoid specimens that display a grey or brownish mask, which can dull the gem’s luster.
Any exploration of peridot’s history must begin with Egypt, as there is mining evidence from 1,500 BCE on the island of Zabargad. Egyptians referred to peridots as the gems of the sun, according to historians. What’s unclear is whether the green gem that people valued and mined during the time of Queen Cleopatra was emerald or peridot. Given the exotic connection, there are arguments supporting both.
Indian astrology associates both peridots and emeralds with the planet Mercury, implying more of a focus on the stones’ color than on the material itself. In the past, certain gemstones’ similarity to the hues of profitable spices and fruits added to their appeal as good-luck charms, and peridot’s likeness to the green shade of olives therefore made it a popular talisman for merchants in the Mediterranean.
“The peridot reached the height of fashionability during the Edwardian or Belle Époque period,” relates jewelry historian Vivienne Becker. “One reason for this was King Edward VII’s fondness for the stone, and for green gemstones in general; he was renowned as an aesthete and dandy, taking a huge interest in the jewels worn by his queen, Alexandra, and generally at court. The peridot made a perfect partner to intricate, hand-worked, all-white gowns and the soft, pastel colors that were in vogue at the time, and it was particularly popular for the fashionable lavallière necklaces, with their two drops of uneven lengths, as well as for drop earrings.”
The love of peridot during the Edwardian period extended into the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the romantic Art Nouveau jewels. “Jewelry artists chose their gemstones and materials purely for their artistic merit, not for value,” explains Becker. “The peridot, with its subtle, often indefinable olive-tinged hues possessed a moody beauty that also corresponded to the overarching theme of nature in all aspects of its cycle: birth, decadence, death and rebirth.
The peridot’s ancient association with rebirth [due to its green color] added extra potency.”
Although peridot is considered an extraterrestrial gem because small quantities of it have turned up in meteorites, most peridots form in the earth’s mantle like diamonds do, and emerge geographically in areas of volcanic activity. The best-known sources of top-quality stones are Burma (Myanmar) and Afghanistan, but conflict and political isolation have caused supply to dwindle. As a result, wholesale pricing for peridot from these two historic origins has jumped from $80 per carat 10 years ago to more than $300 to $400 per carat today. Exceptional peridot from Myanmar and Afghanistan that used to sell for $200 to $250 now only shows up at international auctions.
“Peridots from Burma offer our customers a blend of history, intrinsic beauty, exoticism, and the most important ingredient: rarity,” says Joseph Belmont, cofounder of gemstone dealer KV Gems, discussing his preference for Myanmar material. “Additionally, Burmese peridots are said to have the best color and tone, as they have this fine, silk-like feel.”
Peridot supply from the south Asian country had already started dropping significantly before the country’s political problems began, according to Josh Saltzman of artisanal gem-cutting company Nomad’s. “Almost all our collection now is material from Sapat, Pakistan. A decade ago, it used to be Myanmar, and while Burmese material was more well-known, in our experience, it contained more inclusions, such as the signature ‘lily pads’ [that are common in this stone]. We find peridot from Pakistan to be cleaner and of a fine hue.”
Most of his material falls in the $200- to $300-per-carat range for nice, clean stones, though larger sizes of exceptional color or clarity can run as high as $400 to $600 per carat.
Other peridot producers include Vietnam, Hawaii, Madagascar and Tanzania. However, the quantities there are not enough to make a mark on the global stage. In the US, Arizona is an important source of commercial-quality peridot. And in recent years, China has emerged as a prolific source of both rough and cut specimens, with prices there remaining stable.
Fuli in charge?
“Peridot is not only benefiting from the current trends for natural, sustainably sourced gemstones, but also [from] its affordability,” observes Stuart Robertson, research director of gemstone-pricing provider Gemworld International. “Although peridot prices are rising on increased demand in the global market, they are still well below those of other green gems like emerald and tsavorite.”
But one company may change the fate of this stone. Following in the footsteps of mine-to-market companies like Muzo Mining Corporation in Colombia, Fuli Gemstones owns a mining license for a peridot deposit in the foothills of China’s spectacular Changbai mountains. Established in 2015, the company has based its business model on complete vertical integration. Its operations encompass mining, cutting, faceting, marketing and selling.
Although the Fuli peridot mine is currently under construction, the firm has made some sales using material it recovered during the initial geological surveys, says chief marketing officer Pia Tonna. The company aims to commence mining in this year’s fourth quarter. In preparation, it has launched collaborations with designers including Zeemou Zeng, Stephen Webster, Aurelia & Pierre, and Finlay Greenaway. Fuli was also a principal patron of the 2022 Goldsmiths’ Craft & Design Council Awards, where it presented a prize to designer Stasia Parker. Once its mine is operational, Fuli believes it will be a dominant player in the worldwide peridot market.
Cuts that shine
With colored gemstones, the best material is always faceted; the more included rough gets cut into domed cabochons or beads. The accessible price points of most peridot in the quintessential lighter-yellowish-green hue has made it a popular choice for gold-plated or silver arts-and-crafts jewelry. Because of their light-dispersion properties, tumbled peridots — rough stones that are hand-polished but not cut — are also becoming popular amid a resurgence of chunkier vintage styles.
But contemporary designers looking to create distinctive pieces are gravitating toward unusual shapes and cuts. Fuli is adapting to this growing market demand, says Tonna. “We are looking to develop a specific ‘Fuli cut’ for our peridot, playing with its natural properties — [specifically its] strong birefringence, where the breakdown of a ray of light is split into two rays. This double refraction is clear when the viewer looks through the table of the gemstone and sees the back facets doubled. We are working on a hexagon cut for the Goldsmiths’ [award] winner’s bespoke pieces, combining a brilliant cut on the crown with a princess cut on the pavilion in the same stone. This should bring out the true beauty…of our peridot.”
Since the advent of modern gemology, the primary factors that decide a gem’s value have been durability, beauty and rarity. But these are no longer enough. Consistent supply from a reliable, responsible source that will invest in marketing a gemstone has become vital not only to generating demand, but to preserving value as well. With this in mind, peridot is poised to take its rightful place in the spotlight.
Image: Aurelia & Pierre