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The Majestic Isle of Gems

A sun-kissed haven separated from peninsular India by the Palk Strait. Rests a little mystical island nestled between latitudes 5°55′ and 9°51′ N and longitudes 79°41′ and 81°53′ E. Formerly known as ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ by many Sri Lanka is renowned for its bizarre natural beauty, pristine waves, fine terrains, historical landmarks and hospitable people.

Sri Lanka also boasts of some of the world’s finest gemstones such as Rubies, Orange -Pink Sapphires, Yellow and White Sapphires, Star Sapphires, Star Rubies, Blue Sapphires, Chrysoberyl, Beryl, Spinel, Tourmaline, Alexandrite, Amethyst and Moonstones, of which the Blue Sapphires is most renowned for. A precious gemstone, a variety of the mineral conundrum consisting of aluminum oxide, iron, titanium, chromium, vanadium and magnesium are available in a multitude of colours.

This rare breath-taking gemstone in its natural form has managed to end up in the coronation process, where it currently lies on the crown.

Originally emanated in Alluvial gem mines in Ratnapura, these precious stones are available for sale as single stones or in wearable jewellery.  The Corn Flower Blue Sapphire is currently the most sought after colour at present, which attracts dealers from all over the world.

Sri Lankan Sapphire Mines

Mining in Sri Lanka is done traditionally in four ways, ‘Traditional mining, Open cut, Excavator or heavy machinery used and Riverbed mining’ as explained by Ashan Gamage, a gem businessman and a mine owner of a 3rd generation family based in Kahawatta, Ratnapura

Traditional mining: The oldest form of mining which has been practiced for over 1000 years required a network of systems to execute. “This labour oriented method is known to be eco-friendly and requires a network of systems using logs organized in an intricate pattern to reach the gem barring levels.” Says Ashan.

Open cut: “This process that is similar to large scale mining carried out in western countries is extremely regulated and a labour oriented process that is scaled down to 1: 100 the size and since the country’s mining regulations are much stricter and closely observed now by government officials. It is difficult to obtain a license” Says Ashan

Excavator used or heavy machinery used mining: This process, which is similar to Open cut mining but conducted at a much larger scale has come under fire for its destructive mining nature which, has been proven to have detrimental ecological impacts. According to the expert, this type deals with a vacuum system which subsequently sucks up the debris.

Riverbed mining: “Usually the same as Traditional mining, which primarily involves mining river bottoms with long polls that manually or mechanically pull up gravel to be inspected for minerals are placed at a designated location.”

Gem Cutting

The subsequent process of cutting rough stones into various sizes and shapes is generally conducted under strict supervision at a lapidary. This process generally reduces the mass of the stone by 50 percent or so. The process of cutting is tedious and could be done either by machine or by hand with the latter being the more complexed process. There currently are 36 cuts in the market today and below is an illustration of them.

Jewellery production in Sri Lanka which adheres to international guidelines has evolved over the years, catering towards a much younger audience while maintaining its standard style for the senior audience with a more acquired taste.

Classification of gemstones

“One of the frequently used tests in classifying gems is the measuring of the refractive index, which can be measured to the second decimal point and estimated to the third decimal point,” said K. L. D. Dayasagara, the Director of the Gem Testing Laboratory of the National Gem and Jewellery Authority.

The refractive index (RI), is a measure of the amount of light refracted by a particular stone. The change in direction of light is dependent upon the density of the stone.

The higher the density of the stone, the higher the refractive index and, therefore, the price of the gem. For example, stones of the corundum family have a higher refractive index when compared to the stones belonging to the quartz family because they have a higher density than quartz.

Density and hardness of the stones play a pivotal part as the rating of the stones depends on the outcome. According to Dayasagara, sapphires and other stones of the corundum family are given a rating of nine on the mohs scale, making them the hardest varieties of gems found in Sri Lanka. Moonstones and stones belonging to the quartz family are rated at six and seven respectively.

“Any stone which has a rating of six or more on the mohs scale is suitable to be used in jewellery because it will not be easily abraded or damaged, and can be being worn on a daily basis,” Dayasagara said. “Stones which have a lower rating—like apatite and gypsum which are rated at four on the mohs scale—need to be cut in the cabochon style, to be used in jewellery at least for a few months.”

World Wide Sales, Distribution & Pricing

The lucrative Sri Lankan Gem industry which is known to be a foreign revenue stream in the country recorded 1004.90 USD Million in January from 999.90 USD Million in December of 2019.

An impressive feature, especially given the fact that the country was in turmoil during the latter part of the year due to the Easter bombing attacks which were carried out in April.

“Each stone is priced based on factors such as the family, cut, size & colour. Other factors such as the state of the stone whether its heat-treated or natural or whether the stone carries bubbles, needles, cracks or any other form of inclusion all are taken into consideration when fixing a price” says Ashan

Sri Lankan blue sapphire came into the limelight once again during the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Image courtesy

Sri Lanka’s gemstone and jewelry industry blends traditional practices and experience with the needs of the modern global market. Photo by Andrew Lucas


Gemstone deposits in Sri Lanka contain gem-bearing gravels called illam. Photo by Andrew Lucas

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