Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is simply a treasure trove. And yes, it was one of the main reasons for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to act as a trade hub for the sailors to travel between the Mediterranean Sea and the East Indies. However, when talking about the miraculous treasures that this land owns, gems can never be ignored. Hence, we thought of enlightening you about the wonderful gems in Sri Lanka through this read. So, why not? Let us begin our colorful exploration of the vivid gems from this splendid island!
The Colourful History of Gems in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka possesses a delightful history of more than 20 centuries related to gemstones. In fact, back in the days, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) had won a name in the world for its legendary and continuous source of diverse vital colored gemstones. Besides, many classical writers and travelers had mentioned the incidents regarding the gems in Sri Lanka in ancient writings.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka is also called “Rathnadeepa”, with the meaning ‘land of gems’ as a result of the gemstones and other valuable assets on the island. Moreover, records reveal that Sri Lanka exported gems, both as business products and as gifts, even before colonization.
In 334 BC, Nearchus mentioned that he found translucent gemstones from an island not far from Persia. It is certain that he was talking about Sri Lanka. The Portuguese discovered Sri Lanka much later in the 16th century and brought back beautiful and valuable gemstones to their country. Another hundred years later, Holland sailors did the same. Similarly, the British who colonized Sri Lanka in 1815, conducted the same procedure.
Thus, it is no secret that Sri Lankan mines provided many valuable and uncommon gemstones for centuries. Almost all types of gemstones, whether common or rare, normal or unusual, average or extraordinary, happened to be found in the deposits of Sri Lanka. Hence, this has made Sri Lanka one of the single most important sources of quality gemstone providers in the world.
Types of Gems in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has become the home of nearly 75 varieties of colored and colorless gemstones which belong to 10 different main species. The majority of the gemstone deposits in Sri Lanka are sedimented in nature. Moreover, they provide gemstones of corundum (the gemstone family which consists of some of the most valuable and popular gemstones including rubies and sapphires).
However, you can find below the main types of gems found in Sri Lanka.
Excited to know more about these tiny miracles? We are sure you are. Keep calm! Let us get to know in detail about these wonderful gems in Sri Lanka. Continue reading!
“Ratna Raja”, another name for ruby meaning “The king of gemstones” is one of the most precious four gemstones. Besides, the most valuable gemstone variety in the corundum mineral species is the ruby.
Of course, it is one of the most attractive! The presence of chromium in the rubies causes a distinct red color. However, the color spectrum of rubies across the globe varies from orange-red to purplish red. And something of note! The greatest factor which determines the value of a ruby is its color. Apart from that, clarity, transparency, cut, size, and facet critically determine the value of a ruby. Thus, the rubies with pure vibrant red to slightly purplish red have the highest value in the gemstone market.
Most of the ruby varieties in Sri Lanka have pinkish-red and display a tint of purple. The composition of iron in addition to the chromium oxide causes this color range in Sri Lankan rubies. In the same way, this adds a certain uniqueness to the rubies found in Sri Lanka. However, the distinctive locating of ruby deposits in Sri Lanka has not been done properly. Yet, the rubies are common in the same mine as other gemstones of the corundum family. Furthermore, the deposits in the Udawalawa and Embilipitiya area often give ruby gemstones of higher quality and value.
Even though the most popular color of sapphires is blue, it changes in a wide range from blue to violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and other intermediate hues. Similarly, fancy sapphires have intermediate hues. People around the world consider Sri Lanka as a top source to provide the finest sapphires to the global market. Hence, Sri Lanka exports Ceylon blue sapphire, Padparadscha, star sapphires, and a wide range of fancy sapphires to the global gemstone market.
Besides, the sapphires have purposes other than their ornamental value. The uses of sapphires in some of the industries are as follows.
- Manufacturing infrared optical components
- For the high durability of windows
- Producing wrist watch crystals and movement bearings
- For the production of Electronic wafers
In the same way, the world’s first, second, and third-largest blue sapphires come under the name of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the following are the top reasons for favoring Ceylon blue sapphires around the globe.
- Naturally forming vivid color
- The Purity in sapphires
- Best translucent abilities
- The presence of standard density
Hence, the blue sapphires from other countries could not replicate the above features, leading the Ceylon blue sapphires to protect their uniqueness.
Besides, the Gemology Institute of Sri Lanka confirms that the largest blue sapphire ever found in Sri Lanka is “The Star of Adam”. Similarly, Padparadscha sapphire is claimed as the most valuable, rarest, and most beautiful sapphire of all the sapphires found from Sri Lanka so far.
The name aquamarine is derived from the color of the sea. Thus, this gemstone has a color similar to ocean blue. Thus, the aquamarine gemstone belongs to the beryl family. Similarly, aquamarine gemstones come under semi-precious gemstones found in Sri Lanka. Aquamarines have Mohs hardness from 7.5 to 8 and people consider them as one of the harder gemstones.
Furthermore, the two oxidation states of iron, Fe 2+ (Ferrous) and Fe 3+ (Ferric) cause the colors blue and yellow of the aquamarines respectively. These colors form greenish-blue, the color of natural aquamarines. Aquamarines are available in granite pegmatite and hexagonal in shape. In addition, people appraise the aquamarines of flawless deep blue or greenish-blue color as a true beauty of gemstone for certain. However, the depth of the color in larger gemstones has more intensity in comparison to the depth of color in smaller gemstones. Similarly, quality aquamarines should have deep color and perfect transparency.
Moreover, Sri Lankans believe the aquamarines as the gemstone of youth and happiness. Besides, the following places in Sri Lanka are famous for finding aquamarine gemstones.
Alexandrite gemstones are the scarcest and most loved of colored gemstones among the collectors because of their exclusive nature of evincing green in natural light and reddish-purple in incandescent light. Moreover, people call this “Emerald by day and ruby by night” due to the specific color change under different lighting conditions. Indeed, this feature of alexandrite makes it a sought-after gemstone in the global market.
Besides, Alexandrite is a type of rarest chrysoberyl, although it is available abundantly in Sri Lanka. This gemstone also has pleochroic quality, which shows various colors when viewed from various directions or angles. In fact, Alexandrite has three pleochroic colors like green, orange, and purple-red. This color change does not happen due to the pleochroic properties of the gemstone but the unusual light-absorbing properties of the minerals contained in it.
Basically, it contains chromium and beryllium as the main composition. Though the alexandrite found in Sri Lanka is faceted, occasionally a color-changing cat’s eye is also found. Sri Lanka has established a name in the global gemstone market for producing larger alexandrite with fair color change. However, the price of the gemstone depends on the percentage of color change shown in the stone. The Balangoda area of Sri Lanka has alexandrite mines commonly.
Spinel contains Magnesium, Aluminum, and Oxygen in particular ratios and they are organized in a cubic mineral system. This is a semi-precious and oxide mineral gemstone. Most of the time people tend to confuse spinels with rubies and blue sapphires due to their color. Spinel occurs to have the blue color of sapphires and red color of rubies. This gemstone has a wide variety of colors such as black, pink, green, purple, white, and brown although the dark red and blue color spinels are the real aspectual specimens. Moreover, the spinel has an octahedral crystal, and the crystal system isometric. Their hardness scales from Mohs 7.5 to 8 which says that they have higher hardness compared to normal gemstones.
Furthermore, spinel gemstones have high resistance to chemical and physical weathering. The reason is the composition in them of the following broad group of minerals.
This variety in a broad group of minerals enhances the hardness and durability of spinels. Similarly, spinel has a greater abundance than either corundum or chrysoberyl in Sri Lanka. This very reason makes Sri Lanka the largest spinel producer in the world, next to Myanmar.
Sri Lankan spinel ranges its color between the following.
- Ruby red
- Shades of reddish-brown
Other than the common spinel varieties, Ceylonite, Gahnite, and Ghanospinel are considered other identified types of spaniel. Besides, cobalt spinel spreads around Balangoda, Okkampitiya, and Embilipitiya areas in Sri Lanka.
Gemstones of the garnet family consist of a multitude of colors except for blue. Garnets have a history of 5000 years and they were the most popular gemstone in ancient Rome. Moreover, several varieties of garnets such as almandine, grossular, pyrope, and spessartine are accessible in Sri Lanka except for andradite and uvarovite. Some of these display asterism, chatoyancy, and color change under different lighting. All types of garnets have essentially the same crystal structure but different chemical compositions. Garnets have more than twenty categories, also called species, although five of them seem to have the same value as gemstones. In the same way, the following garnet species are available in Sri Lanka with high commercial values.
Just like other gemstones, garnets too happen to exist in different degrees of transparency. The ones with the full transparency and fine color happen to be the most beautiful. These different species of garnets have separate properties of their own. Pyrope and almandine series have garnets of red and its diverse shades as the most common type of gemstones. An intermediate variety between pyrope and almandine has a gorgeous purplish-tinted garnet and they are abundant in the Matale Elahara region in Sri Lanka. People call these garnets “Elahara Garnets” because of their super quality and larger size to make this variety more specific. Similarly, they have properties like clearness and transparency along with extremely fine colors.
Topaz has the chemical composition of Aluminum, Silicon, and Oxygen and it is a rare silicate mineral. These have a couple of main significant features which support them to be well known as one of the world’s favorite colored gemstones and as a number one mineral gemstone. Moreover, it has 8.0 on the Mohs scale which proves that it has a higher hardness. Besides, the Topaz gemstone has a crystal structure called orthorhombic and it often forms prismatic crystals. Topaz’s specific gravity ranges between 3.4 and 3.6. This amount of gravity seems pretty high for a mineral made up of Silicon, Aluminum, and gaseous elements.
Furthermore, topaz gemstones have a range of colors that vary widely in both natural and treated colors. However, a versatile species of gemstone is found in Sri Lanka with the following set of color varieties.
- Pale green
Anyone can usually find Topaz by their hue name. The topaz with greater value in the gemstone market and rare to find have given their own unique names. In fact, Imperial topaz is one out of them. It is a variety with a higher value that can be found in Sri Lanka and they are red and pink in color. Similarly, the topaz with rich yellow to a medium peachy orange color is referred to as Precious topaz or Sherry topaz. Besides, most Europeans believe the topaz has the power to improve vision and enhance mental power.
Zircon happens to be very famous as an alternative for diamonds all over the globe. Chemically pure zircons stay colorless. This type of Zircon is popular as “Matara Zircon” or “Matara Diamond”. Colorless zircons from Sri Lanka hold popularity for their brilliance and flashes of multicolored light known as “Fire”. Besides, zircons have an array of colors from brown, red, blue, purple, and rarely green.
Zircons frequently get confused with cubic zirconia though zircon has high brilliance and dispersion when compared to cubic zirconia. The Matara area of Sri Lanka has a high density of zircon. The types of zircons that belong to the low type have the green color. People recognize this green color of zircons as a unique feature of zircons found in Sri Lanka. The hardness of zircon is 7.5 in Mohs.
Amethyst is one of the world’s most popular purple gemstones. Further, a variety of this quartz has been used for personal adornments for over 2000 years. The attractive purple color of these gemstones leads them to extreme popularity around the globe. However, Amethysts exist in different purple colors like reddish-purple, purple, or violet. Besides, they have a hardness of 7 lower impurities in Mohs. In addition, they have a crystal system of hexagonal (trigonal) and chemical composition of Silicon and Oxygen.
Moreover, Amethyst is a semi-precious gemstone that people use to make jewels more frequently. The qualities like higher durability, good affordability, and a combination of attractive colors have made the amethysts very popular among jewelers and consumers as well. In fact, the high durability of amethysts has motivated people to use them in rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets, and other types of pieces of jewelry.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka has the best varieties of amethysts. Just like the other gemstones, the quality of these also depends on their source. Finest amethysts have a color ranging from strong reddish-purple to purple with no visible color zoning. The Iron contained in the gemstone takes the responsibility of color. Similarly, the shades of amethysts differ from transparent pastel roses to deep purples.
The floating light of the gemstone resembles the glow of the moon through a thin cover of clouds. And yes, this happens to be that reason to name this gemstone the moonstone. However, this gem belongs to the feldspar group and its beautiful and intriguing adularescence makes it the most famous gemstone in this group. Still, people have to handle this gemstone carefully as it is not extremely hard and cleaves easily. The probability of getting scratched by external objects goes high as it has a hardness of 6.5 in Mohs.
Furthermore, moonstone contains elements like Aluminium, Sodium, Calcium, Silicon, and Oxygen and it belongs to the Orthoclase mineral class. Besides, moonstones happen to exist in a broader variety of colors as follows.
Thus, Sri Lanka provides fine quality moonstones that make Sri Lanka the world’s most important source of fine moonstones. The Meetiyagoda area in Sri Lanka holds the popularity of widespread moonstones.
Indeed, many cultures consider moonstone as the stone of fertility. The moonstones are cut as cabochons. But, these can be cut as artistic cameos or engraved with designs too. Besides, some of the moonstones display features of cat’s eye effect and four spoked stars in addition to the typical undulating shimmer of light.
Sri Lanka Gemstone Market
Sri Lanka has won a name as the gem island since ancient times. Besides, the beautiful town of Ratnapura can never be ignored when talking about the gems in Sri Lanka. The world’s famous Ratnapura gem market has raw and uncut gemstones along with cut and polished gemstones. Thus, anyone can sell and buy them. Besides, these gemstones are extracted from the gem mines in the Ratnapura area.
Furthermore, the Chinafort market has been popular among people for centuries. It works as a trade hub for gems where the sellers and buyers from different parts of the world connect together.
Gemstone Mining in Sri Lanka
The gem mining process in Sri Lanka is in its primitive state. Normally, the pits need to dig until the gem-bearing gravel layer is met. The method of drainage depends on the level of groundwater and dry or wet climate in the area. To avoid caving, the pits should be strengthened with bulwarks. Hence, some of the deeper pits extend a shorter tunnel from the bottom of the pit. And yes, that makes it highly dangerous to do so in wet areas such as Ratnapura. Thus, experts in the field practice severe methods with gem mining.
Basically, Sri Lankans have identified the following 5 types of methods to conduct gemstone mining in a way that benefits them the most.
- Placer mining
- Shallow pit mining
- Open-pit deep mining
- Tunnel mining (Donava)
- River workings
When excavating a mine, the workers have to follow a certain procedure in order to ensure safety. As the first and foremost step, the miners remove the non-gemstone bearing materials, most often soil, sand, and gravel dug out from the wet clay illama using mattocks. These materials will pile up into small wicker baskets and toss them out of the mine to the outer surface. The materials which have been taken out of the pit will be sorted out and stored for future use to fill the pit once the digging is done.
However, the gemstone mining industry in Sri Lanka provides a considerable amount of income to the country along with a considerable amount of job opportunities to people. But, to proceed with gem mining in Sri Lanka, anyone needs to grant permission from the central government. Thus, gemstone mining is done both in private and state lands once permission from owners and the state authorities are obtained.
Gemstone Factories in Sri Lanka
Gemstone factories play a vital role in the gem and jewelry industry of Sri Lanka. That is simply because only the cut and polished gems get permission to export to other countries. Besides, they act as pillars of holding the name of Sri Lanka at the top of the global gemstone market for providing gemstones of exceptional quality. In the same way, gemstone factories in Sri Lanka have extended job opportunities for a considerable number of Sri Lankans. Similarly, they do not fail to support the economy of Sri Lanka too through the foreign exchange process.
At the very early stage, Sri Lankans used a traditional machine called “Hana Poruwa” to perform gemstone cutting and polishing. But, after the early 1970s, modern machinery replaced the hanaporuwa and that helped to supply the gemstones according to their demand. In addition, the machinery for calibrating, sawing, and performance efficiency has been introduced to the gemstone factories and they support the modern requirements of the gemstone industry.
Furthermore, new job roles and opportunities such as the professional gem cutter have come up and the demand for them also went up accordingly along with the training opportunities. Besides, Sri Lanka has earned a reputation for the low cost of labor during the last three decades and that led to the increasing demand for service cutting of calibrated stones. Thus, the estimated number of total manufacturers in Sri Lanka is around 3000.
People can export the gems purchased in Sri Lanka mainly by two means as air freight and hand-carried by the owner. Someone who chose the first mode should submit the gemstones to be exported to the National Gem and Jewelry Authority (NGJA) with a normal Customs Declaration (CUSDEC). Then the valuer at NGJA and the customs gem appraiser examine the gemstone and release the gemstones for sealed shipment to be transferred to the air cargo terminal by a bonded carrier. In the same way, anyone can go with the shipment process via Express Mail Service (EMS) or FEDEX courier service. However, if someone chooses the latter mode to export the gems, they have to submit them to the NGJA and then the NGJA will release the gemstones to the duty officer at the departure terminal of the airport after doing the necessary examinations.
Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has provided assistance and trade facilitation for gemstone exportation by enacting laws and regulations to ensure the copyright protection of the design. Similarly, the international buyers have been secured by the simplified import-export procedures and that makes it easy to operate while conducting business with the Sri Lankan exporters. The convention membership of Sri Lanka at the Admission Temporaire / Temporary Admission (ATA) Carnet also supports the export of gems. Besides, the Import-Export Gem Office at the Cargo Village at Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake performs the expedition of rough gemstones and export of cut and polished gems, jewelry, and diamonds.
FAQs about the Gems in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka being the country with the highest density of gems in the world, its affiliation with the global gem and jewelry market is giant. Thus, you will be wondering about numerous matters to be clarified regarding the gems and their market in Sri Lanka. So, we thought of answering a few of the frequently answered questions related to this industry. Let us now have a look at them!
1. Where are Gems Found in Sri Lanka?
Ratnapura region of Sri Lanka is popular as the first locality to mine sapphire on the island. Further, a significant number of gemstone mines are spread all over the country at present. However, you can find below a few areas in Sri Lanka and some of the relevant gemstone types these areas are famous for.
- Bibile (Central) – Sapphire mines
- Elahera gemstone fields (Near Ratnapura)
- Meetiyagoda (Southwest coastal) – Moonstone mines
- Morawaka (South central)
- Nuwara Eliya mines (Mountainous tea plantation area)
- Pelmadulla (15 km Southeast to Ratnapura) – Sapphire mines
2. What is the National Gemstone of Sri Lanka?
The national gemstone of Sri Lanka is the Blue Sapphire. In October 2003, the government declared this. The government issued a postage stamp worth LKR 4.50 on the 2nd of October 2003 as a commemoration of this event. The reason to choose the blue sapphire as the national gemstone is because it brought a remarkable reputation to the country as Sri Lanka has the capability of providing excellent quality blue sapphires of larger sizes.
3. Which are the 9 Gems?
Sri Lankans introduce 9 gems as “Nawaratna” in the Sinhala language, and they consider these nine gemstones special among the others. You can find below the 9 gems that belong to this “Nawaratna” group.
- Red coral
- Blue sapphire
- Yellow sapphire
- Cat’s eye
Accordingly, people believe that these nine gems have specific energy and power to protect them from the malefic influence of the nine planets of the solar system and bring positive energy to their lives while blocking the negative impacts. Thus, many choose to wear a ring that has these 9 gems embedded in it.
4. Are Gems Cheap in Sri Lanka?
Yes, of course! People have the best chance to buy gems from Sri Lanka itself for a cheaper price in comparison to buying the Sri Lankan gemstones from European countries. Owing to this reason, many tourists at present tend to buy gems from the local market itself while traveling around the country. However, the paler-colored gems tend to go at a cheaper price than the darker-colored gems.
5. Are Sri Lankan Sapphires Good?
Yes, of course! Sri Lankan sapphires are popular as good gems all over the world. Usually, the sapphires fresh from the mines are worthless and they have to be treated before being sent to the market to sell for a good price. The fine quality sapphires above 2 cts are scarce although they are widely spread in Sri Lanka. In addition, because of the magnificent cutting and polishing skills of Sri Lankan cutters, the sapphires from the island shine brighter than the others. Thus, the world’s largest blue sapphire is also found in Sri Lanka.
6. Where are Sapphires Found in Sri Lanka?
Mostly the Ceylon blue sapphires can be found in primarily alluvial deposits located in the highland complex of Sri Lanka. Moreover, the Elahara region holds a reputation for producing rough sapphires of the best quality. Furthermore, fresh rich sapphire deposits are commonly visible in Kataragama klippe in the Thammannawa Kataragama area.
7. How Can I Export Gems from Sri Lanka?
An export invoice should address the following few requirements before submitting it to the NGJA, in order to export gems from Sri Lanka.
- The export invoice should have an original letterhead of the export organization.
- The handwritten export invoices should not be sent to the NGJA because of the issue regarding the clearness and all of them should have to be typed clearly for easy reading and official inspection.
- Invoices should be free of alterations.
- All invoices must include the NGJA registration number (also known as file number) along with the name of the exporter and license number. Yet, the invoices without NGJA RDG will be rejected.
8. Where Can I Purchase Gems in Sri Lanka?
Street markets in Sri Lanka provide opportunities to buy gems inside the island. Thus, the Chinafort market stands as one of the leading street gemstone markets in Sri Lanka situated in the Beruwala area. Besides, this is nearly 50kms away from Colombo, which is close to the Colombo trade center. However, most of the dealing happens within a single block and the dealers’ activity happens constantly in the street. Usually, the market is open from 0600 hours to 1430 hours every Saturday. Closing hours can be varied according to the activity of the market.
Another leading gemstone market in Sri Lanka is the Ratnapura gemstone market, which is nearly 100kms away from Colombo. One can find extremely polite dealers there. Hence, they are easy to work with. Moreover, one can find both rough and finely cut stones at the Ratnapura gemstone market. Usually, this is a bustling market filled with thousands of dealers from 0600 hours in the early morning till 1600 hours in the evening.
The Bottom Line
It is no secret that Sri Lanka is one of the world’s prominent gemstone exporters and jewelry manufacturers. In fact, Sri Lanka exports thousands of different gems per year. However, with all these things, Sri Lanka stands its ground in the global gem market as the top producer of finer untreated stones in the world. So, if you ever plan to backpack on this splendid island, visiting a gem mine, or a gem factory would certainly magnify the delight of your visit. And why not? The brilliant and valuable gem varieties in Sri Lanka will surely be great souvenirs from Sri Lanka as well. So, here we are inviting you to color your life, with the brilliance of gems in Sri Lanka. Happy and Safe Travelling!