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Gem trade in Sri Lanka

History of the Gem trade in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its gems. The history of the gems ofSri Lanka can be traced back some 3,000 years or so. They are part of many legends, folk lore and literary works. In the chronicles, reference is made to gems being brought fromCeylon to the court of Solomon. The “Mahawansa ” the great historical record of the Island refers to the singular reputation of theIsland for its gems. Sri Lanka’s gems are much written about by early travellers from Europe, Arabia and Asia.  They have adorned many a Crown, Sceptre and Throne.  These gems are the prized possessions of royalty and the rich and famous through the ages right up to this day.

Several Greek writers of the first and second centuries refer to the reputation of Sri Lanka for its precious gems. From about the fourth century to the eleventh century the Arab and the Persians exercised a great influence over the trade of Island. The Venetian traveller Marco Polo in the thirteenth century visited Sri Lanka on his homeward journey from China and his book he mentions the gems of the Island. He also records that he found the Moors, the descendants of the Arabs, in undisputed possession of the gem trade of Sri Lanka. It is also believed that Sinbad’s Valley of gems in the Arabian Nights is probably the Ratnapura gem fields. Sri Lanka has therefore been famous for its gems since early historic times.  

The main gem bearing area of Sri Lanka which has been known for centuries comprises a serious of parallel hill ranges separated by longitudinal valleys and situated in the Sabaragamuwa province. To date, the main gemming field in theIslandare confined to this area which covers nearly 1500 sq. km. The neighbourhood Avissawella, Ratnapura, Rakwana and Balangoda has undoubtedly supported the most actively worked gem pits in the Island for a number of decades.

The gem and jewellery industry has been an important part of Sri Lanka’s economy for well over two centuries and remains so even today, and is likely to remain so into the foreseeable future. The majority of economic activity in the industry falls within 3 main sectors, mining, manufacturing and trading. There are four main trading oriented activities which are gem dealing (wholesale), importing, exporting and retailing.

Galle is the ancient port city of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), with a history dating back to probably two millennia. Sir Emerson Tennent thought that the city ofGalleinSri Lankawas the Biblical Tarshish from which King Solomon obtained Ivory, Apes and Peacoks. Arabian Travellers called the city Kalah which was a seaport lying between China and Persia, and was a great emporium of trade in the East. Ships of all nations met there and exchanged commodities. The Arab traders exchanged cotton, silk, gold and silver for ivory, precious and semi-precious stones (Gems) and spices, which were abundantly found in Sri Lanka. Arab traders settled in Sri Lanka in the 8th century-AD.

 The port of Galle was much frequented in the middle ages too. It was the chief landmark of eastern navigators. There is an area called China Garden in Galle where Chinese traders once resided, and a Chinese inscription was discovered in Galle which recorded the dealings of the Chinese in Sri Lanka .Ibn Batuta the famous Arab traveller visited Sri Lanka in 1344, and in Galle he found a well established Moor Community engaged in the trading of spices, ivory, gems and jewelry. It is from the port city of Galle that Ibn Batuta embarked on an ancient ship that took him to the Maldives a group of atolls situated about 500km South West from Sri Lanka

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New Gem Varieties Discovered in Sri Lanka

 Sri Lanka ranks with Myanmar, Brazil, South Africa and Thailand as one of the world’s most important gem bearing nations.  The story of Sri Lanka’s gems is as old as civilization itself.   Legends, myths and the occult have been associated with the long history of the island’s precious stones.

During the past few decades, many new gemstones and hitherto unknown, yet interesting, gem quality minerals have been discovered. The gem fields ofSri Lankacontain about 75 varieties and sub-varieties of gemstones, some in abundance and some as rarities, which occur both among gem gravels and as components of numerous rock types.  

 The main varieties of Sri Lankan gems :                    

 Corundum (Ruby, Star Ruby, Star Sapphire, Yellow Sapphire, Golden Sapphire, Padparadscha and White Sapphire), Chrysoberyl (Chrysoberyl Cat’s Eye, Alexandrite, Alexandrite Cat’s Eye and Chrysoberyl), Spinel (Blue Spinel, Red Spinel and Mauve Spinel), Topaz (White Topaz), Beryl (Aquamarine, White Beryl and Pearl Green Beryl), Zircon (Green Zircon, Yellow Zircon, Brown Zircon and the very rare Red and Blue Zircon) Garnet (Rose red colored, Red, Mauve, Hessonite Garnet and Spessartine Garnet), Tourmaline (Green and Brown varieties), Quartz (Yellow, White, Brown, Rose and Purple or Amethyst) and Feldspar (Moonstone) 

 The Blue Sapphire isSri Lanka’s gem supreme.  And her blue sapphires are the finest in the world.  The highly priced of all gems, it is second only to the diamond in hardness.  The world’s largest known sapphire weighing 42 pounds was found in the gem gravels ofSri Lanka.  The Blue Giant of the Orient weighing nearly 500 carats and the 400-carat Blue Belle of Asia, which a British multi-millionaire purchased, were also from this country.

Discovery of a new gem mineral is a very rare event. For it implies that the specimens found are at least large enough to be cut as gemstones suitable for jewellery  and usually that they are transparent and pleasingly coloured.

From the trade point of view the recovery of a new gem variety of an already known mineral may be much important. 

The New Gem Varieties Discovered in Sri Lanka


 Ekanite is named after F. L. D. Ekanayake who first found it in a Sri Lanka gravel pit.

F. L. D. Ekanayake  


Ekanite is green to brown colored rare stone with chemical composition calcium thorium silicate. Thorium is a highly radio active element and due to this element Ekanite is converted to metamict state. In metamict state Ekanite almost acts like amorphous. By applying heat at certain temperature the metamict state of Ekanite can be restored to crystalline state.

Ekanite is an extemely rare gem. It was discovered in 1953 in the gem gravels at Eheliyagoda, near Ratnapura, Sri Lanka. It is also found at Mt. Sainte Hilaire, Quebec, Canada. Ekanite may be strongly radioactive as defined in 49 CFR 173.403 (greater than 70 Bq/gram) due to the presence of Thorium (Th). Ekanite is almost always completely metamict. Metamictization is a natural process due to radiation bombardment that results in the gradual and eventually complete destruction of a mineral’s crystal lattice leaving the mineral amorphous. Ekanite is found in shades of green and brown as are other metamict gems such as low Zircon and Sphene.                                                                           


Serendibite was discovered at Gangapitiya, near Ambakotte, Sri Lanka, in 1902 by G.T. Prior and A.K. Coomaraswamy. Prior and Coomaraswamy named the mineral ‘serendibite,’ which is derived from ‘serendib,’ an old Arabic term for Sri Lanka.

Serendibite is rarely found as facet-grade material. Before the 2005 discovery of serendibite in Mogok, Myanmar, there were only 3 known faceted serendibites, which were from the original Sri Lankan find. The serendibite from Sri Lanka and Myanmar is believed to be the only sources for facet-grade material. Sri Lankan Serendibite was an attractive greenish or violet-blue, while the stones from Myanmar are dark black.

In the second half of the 1990’s, gem-quality serendibite was discovered from secondary deposits in the Ratnapura area of Sri Lanka.

The Serendibite is very beautiful bluish green gemstone with following physical properties. 

(Ca, Na)2 (Al, Mg, Fe2+ , Fe 3+  )6 ( Si, B, Al)6 O20 Pleochroism: strong, L, Yellowish green/ bluish green/ violetish blue , H = 61/2, SG : 3.44 , RI : 1.697- 1.702 B (-), transparent , Glass body , absorption spectrum: one weak line at 470nm.Inclusions: white finger print inclusions, healed fissure, polysynthetic twining, has been founded at Ginigalgoda,Kolonne,Sri Lanka.

This gemstone’s  mineral initially discovered and named in 1903 by Mr. Ananda Coomarasamy, for the locality. The  Serendib is an old Arabic name forCeylon.


Weight:   0.35 ct.

Colour: Very beautiful light medium Emerald green.Shape:  Rectangle

Type of Cut: Face: Emerald cut, Bottom: mix protugees cut.

Locality: Gingalgoda,Kolonne,Sri Lanka


The Second SERENDIBITE Discovered in Sri Lanka

An identification report 10035658 has issued by Dr. Mary L. Johnson , Santa Monica, California in  Jan .08 1997,  Discoverer:  Dr. Dunil Palitha Gunasekara, (Dip Gem, SL & GB) Dealer & Gemologist at Crystals Gallery, Gem Lab, 28, Batugedara, Ratnapura Sri Lanka (1996). 

 Weight:   0.55ct. Colour:  Emerald Green ,Shape:  Triangular,Type of Cut:  Mix cut, Measurements:  4.98×4.95×2.72mm   

The Story , How Dr. Palitha Gunasekara found the Gem

In year 1996, Dr. Palitha was able to purchase a rough transparent, pebble weighs 1.25 ct from a gem merchant in Kolonne. He has preformed it and has given to his gem cutter with some another gems. after cut and polished it, his gem cutter has asked him if this was an Alexandrite. He has examined it under artificial light and has said it was not, because there was no colour change effect.

What exactly was it, then?,

Possibily a konerupine.

Before exporting any gem, Dr. Palitha customarily check it on his refractometer called “GEM LAB” . When he placed this gemstone on glass prism, he has seen very unusual 3 RI redings, R. I : a = 1.697, ß = 1.700 and ? = 1.702, B (-)

He has jumped with joy. His immediate thought was that this might be a new gem variety, because he has never seen such RI readings before in his refractometer. He has tested it several times on same night , same results has come back.

Other day on date 4th August Aug. 1996 he has written a letter a description paper to Professor as Unknown gem, (with above gem details)

” I think this stone may be a new gem variety, if it correct , please mention the name BONNYNITE, That was my be loving mother’s name, I honored her very much.

Price US $ 55555.00

 Dr. Gubelin written him , that reject the price and asked him to get an identification report from GIA Laboratory . Then he has sent it to Dr. Mary L. Johnson , GIA ,Santa Monica,California. They issued a identification report 10035658Jan 08th 1997,

Conclusion : Serendibite , Weight 0.35ct.

 The story :How Dr.Palitha found the second Serendibite.

 One day , Dr. Palitha has examined his old stock of gemstones, He has found a paper packet , wrote as “Doubt stone” ?. By seen the green colour pebble, weight 0.80ct. He has told to his gem cutter, please see another green Serendibite. Then he has tested through his refractometer, has seen the same 3 RI readings.

Both Serendibites has purchased by Prof . Dr. E. J. Gublin. Date :19th June 1999.




Dunilite belongs to the olivine group of minerals, it is a rare mineral and discovered at the Katukubura Hills in the Kolonne area, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka. Dr. Dunil Palitha Gunasekara, Gemologist at the Crystals Gallery, Gem Lab, 28, Batugedara, Ratnapura has discovered this new gem variety in 1996.(Dunilite is a trade name only)  

Katukumbura hill .

From Ratnapura on the Embilipitiya road to Colombageare and there turn right towards the Kolonne area and have to walk about 2km on a dusty path to the Katukumbura hill.

The Dunilite crystals has found in Gem pit on top of Katukubura mountain,Kolonne,Sri Lanka, in a deep hole about 5m in length , 3m in width, and about 3m deep . Ferroedenite, Hercynite ( Balck spinel) and some iron oxide were find inside a white calcite rock.


In crystal structure someCrystalare very large, some are aggregate crystals. The Dunilite Occurrence at a contact metamorphic mineral in Calcite, associated with ferro edenite hornblende crystals (MON), Iron oxide and hercynite.




 Mr. Palitha Gunasekara has also discovered the Gem variety Metamict Allanite fromSri Lanka.  The main varieties of Sri Lankan gems are: 

Allanite is very dark in color and seldom cut. The content of the rare earth and radioactive elements causes it to become Metamict with severe damage to the internal crystalline structure.( Dr. Joel E Arem).

Hardness: 6, Specific Gravity: 3.40, Refractive Index: 1.680 Single refraction, Streak Grey. This Gem verity occurrences  as rocks inside a gem pit associated with quartz and cassiterite in Goluwahela, Badulla district.

Sizes vary in small rocks to big sizes.( 25.00ct, to 4.0Kg). The Colour is Black and the Outer coat is Brown, The clarity shows Opaque.

This Gemstone has named by Mr. Thomas Allan (1777 _ 1833) Scottish mineralogist, who first observed the mineral  Epidote group in 1810.


The discoverer of 02 new Gem varieties and new mineral from Sri Lanka           

Mr. Dunil Palitha Gunasekara, (Dip Gem, S.L & G.B) Dealer & Gemologist at Crystals Gallery, Gem Lab, 28, Batugedara, Ratnapura Sri Lanka  has found new Gem varieties , (1) Serendibite  – Gem Quality( 1996)and (2)Dunilite – Olivine (1996). (3) “Metamict Allanite” (2001). 

Mr. Dunil Palitha Gunesekara was born in 27th of October 1947 in Nagoda,Kalutara ,Sri  Lanka, has married to Mrs Padma and farther of two daughters Deepali and Dinusha. He has studied at St. Aloysius College, Ratnapura (1957 – 1964) in science in English medium,  up to  O/L Examination. Subsequently Mr. Gunesekara has done Diploma in Gemology at theUniversity ofCeylon Katubedde Campus Moratuwa in 1971.( Preliminary examination in Gemology in 1971 and diploma in Gemology 2002. Mr. Palitha Gunasekara bears life membership in Gemologists Association of Sri Lanka,he is a member of GAGTL London and also client of GIA ( Client No: 30390802) has served as a Lapidarist, Senior – Valuer, and Gemmology – Lecturer, at the state  Gem Corporation of Sri Lanka in 1972 to 1991.

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Gem Cutting

The Bead was probably the first gemstone cut used by man, dating back several thousand years. Limited by the tools available at the time, as well as the hardness of most gemstones, the simple bead or ‘cabochon’ were the logical choice for jewelry making and ornamentation. Stones where shaped by rubbing them with other stones, then polished using ‘sand’ as an abrasive.

Intricately carved cabochon cuts known as ‘Glyptic‘ gem carvings, date back to the 7th millennium BC, and were popularized throughout ancient Egypt (scarabs), Indus Valley, and China (carved jade).

Engraved ‘Glyptic’ gems were used as personal signets or seal-stones which could be impressed into wax or clay to create a signature. The examples above are of early Roman gemstone cuts using the pre-renaissance cabochon cut with several variations of cameo and intaglio styles.

Medieval Lapidary Techniques

A “lapidary” (edelsteinschneider) is an artisan who works with stone, minerals, or gemstones, forming them into decorative or functional objects. The term “lapidary” is derived from the word lapidaries, which were medieval ‘treatises’ on alchemy, mineralogy, chemistry and other sciences.

 Perhaps the best documentarian on the subject of medieval gem-cutting was Theophilus Presbyter (c.1070 – 1125), a Benedictine monk with a fascination for the applied arts. In Theophilus’ ‘On Divers Arts’ De diversibus artibus (c.1125), his treatises on the polishing of gemstones goes into great detail in describing various techniques. For the polishing of “onyx, beryl, smaragdus (emerald), jasper, chalcedony, and the other precious stones” you would make a very fine powder from “fragments of crystal” or “emery” and then work the stone on a “smooth flat limewood board, wet with saliva.”

The ophilus also describes the method for using a ‘dop stick’ by attaching the gemstone to a “long piece of wood of comparable thickness” using “chaser’s pitch,” then rubbing the stone on a wet “piece of hard sandstone,” and decreasing the grit of the abrasive until the stone “becomes brilliant.” Then, using “tile dust moistened with saliva on a goat skin,” you would rub the stone until it is “completely clear.”

To create intricately carved cabochons, cameos, and intaglios out of sapphire, early Roman engravers may have used ‘adamas’ (diamond) fragments as carving tools, given that they are the only material that is harder than corundum.



 The simplest form of gem cutting is tumbling. This is where the rough material is put in a revolving barrel with abrasives. Progressively finer abrasives are used, until a polish is obtained. This process closely resembles what happens to rocks in a stream or on the beach, except that the level of polish is much higher.
There are a number of inexpensive settings available so the tumbled stones can be turned into jewelry. These make wonderful, homemade gifts.


Cutting en cabochon, or as it is more commonly known, cutting cabs, is probably the most common form of gem cutting. Cabs are gems that are cut with a flat bottom and a curved or domed top. Cabs have distinct resale value, based on the material they are cut from and their cutting can be profitable.

The first attempts at gem-cutting were to smooth off or round off the stones and polish them by crude methods. Gems were also drilled and used as drops. The old process of cutting is still extant in the various types of cabochon cuts, which include the following: Convex cabochon, lentil cut, high cabochon, hollow or concavo-convex cabochon. 


A cabochon (cabouchon) is a gemstone which has been rubbed and polished into a simple rounded shape, as opposed to a faceted cut. Up until the 1400s, gem cutters were constrained to cabochon style cuts and odd asymmetrically faceted cuts due to the limited technology at hand. The resulting shape has a convex top with a flat or concave back. The term cabochon is used to describe any gemstone cut shape that is not facetted.


When a gemstone is cut en cabochon, the miniscule amount of light that is able to enter, and exit through the stone is due primarily to its crystalline structure and optical properties, and has little to do with the gem-cutter’s expertise.


There are several types of carving. One of the best known is cameo. These are usually cut from sea shells or agates, but they can be carved from almost any material. Often cabochons are carved. If the design is cut into the top, it is called an intaglio, or a relief carving. If the design is carved on the back, it is a reverse intaglio. Some carvings are not designed to be used in jewelry; they are cut simply for their beauty. These are classed as stand alone carvings.

Carving is the most challenging of the lapidary arts and there are very few recognized experts in the field. To be successful, one must have a distinctive artistic sense and a thorough understanding of the principles of lapidary. Unlike working in wood or metal, the materials present definite limits as to what can be done.


Faceting is the style of cutting that has the greatest profit potential. If you can envision a diamond, you are looking at a faceted gem. The surface of a diamond is covered with several geometrically arranged, flat surfaces. Each of these flat surfaces is called a facet. The gem is faceted, by a faceter on a faceting machine. This is also where we get the expression, “a multifaceted question.”  The purpose of faceting is to bring out the brilliance of a gem. That is where the light entering the stone is reflected off the bottom facets and returned to the viewer. Brilliance should not be confused with dispersion or fire, which is the multicolored flashes you see coming out of diamonds and some other gems.

Naturally occurring facets in crystals were undoubtedly the inspiration for early gem-cutters, motivating them to attempt improvements on nature. It is, and has always been the gem cutter’s task to take maximum advantage of the stone’s potential with a minimum amount of wasted material. Each stone’s optical properties dictate the way in which it should be cut. It is up to the gem cutter to discern the optimal cut for each stone.

History of faceted Gemstones

faceted Gemstones and diamonds made their appearance in European jewelry during the late 13th and early 14th centuries. With the advent of the horizontally turning cutting-wheel (horizontalen Scheiben) in the late 1400s came the possibility of designing and repeating elaborately conceived geometric faceting schemes, thereby controlling and enhancing the light coming from within the stone.

There is evidence to suggest that some early gems were shaped along natural cleavage lines by knapping, the same technique used to fashion stone spear points. Later, man used grinding and polishing stones mounted in machines that turned them horizontally and were turned by water or human power. This technical advancement led to:

flat(er) facets / more facets /  more precise location of facets/ better polished facets through the use of polishing grits/ more beautiful gems available.

Around the year 1400, painters in Italy and other European centers of art were experimenting with the manipulation of light… and the illusion of depth in paintings using light and shadow.

Gem fashioning and the jewelry arts were also located in these art centers. Soon, the manipulation of light in gems became a central theme of cutters. This led directly to new gem shapes and facet arrangements.

This seems to be the time when it was recognized that different facet angles and arrangements needed to be employed for different gems. Refraction and reflection could now be measured, even though they were not completely understood.

From those early days through today, advancements in technology, techniques, equipment, and even new gems have continued unabated. Today’s gem cuts are the finest the world has ever seen.


Faceting methodology consists of mounting a gem crystal on a metal dowel, (dopstick), which fits into a quill, then rigidly addressing the Height-Angle-Index triangle with the faceting machine, and touching  the locked-in-place crystal  to abrasive laps in two sequential operations, faceting first the top (called the “crown”) and then the bottom (called the “pavilion”).

In faceting, HAI is much more than a casual idiom. It is an absolute ruling principle, expressed as an acronym with it’s
significance focused on “go ahead.”  When a faceter can say
HAI to his or her faceting progress, it means “OK to go ahead”
(and facet) because the vital triangle is in place  with the gem cutter  incontrol of the three principle elements of faceting:  

H — height, A–angle,  I–index. 

Height controls the  depth to which a facet is cut and this enables a faceter to establish even, uniform rows of same sized, same depth facets.   Angle establishes the plane upon which each facet is cut because optics and performance is so dependant on each facet(s) possessing just the right amount of plane or slant.. Index refers to the placement of the facets around the shape or outline i.e., a round  brilliant cut stone, like most diamonds, shows eight main facets when viewed straight down in “plan view.”    

Lapidary & Gem Cutting Equipment

The machine to the upper left (Poly-Metric Scintillator 88 Digital) and to the upper right (Facetron) are semi-automated faceting machines. Machines such as these have taken some the guess-work out of stone cutting, but a skilled craftsman must cut a rough stone to its optimal size and and take ito account any inclusions or imperfections that must be eliminated in the cutting process. 

By examining the rough stone under a microscope or jeweler’s loupe, the gem-cutter will decide which type of cut will show the stone’s best color attributes, and what (if any) inclusions to avoid.

Facetron & Lapidary Gem Saw

The Facitron (left) and Scintillator (upper right) are water-cooled faceting machines designed to make cuts at precise angles by mathematically plotting out to depth and degree of a given facet. The rough gemstone is held by a chuck called a “dop” “dop stick” or “dop chuck” and ground against a grinding plate called a “lap”. The rough stone is held to the dop with hot-wax glue.

By adjusting a dial indicator (protractor) the gem-cutter can control the degree of cutting angle to a tolerance measured in hundredths of an inch. The image above (bottom, center) shows a rough gemstone attached to a dop stick. The image to the right (above) is a combination lapidary gemstone saw (slab saw) and grinder.

Cabochon Grinder 

If the material to be cut and polished is translucent to totally opaque (agate, onyx, malachite, etc.) a cabochon cut will most likely be employed. 

Faceting Design & Rough Evaluation 

Diamond Manufacturing factories use sophisticated electronic equipment for cutting and evaluating cut diamonds. Using the latest hardware and software to create highly accurate 3D models, these scanners measure the angle of inclination of a facet and its azimuth, allowing the operator to pre-visualize a 3D model of the cut stone. Helium Polish Scanners are used for Round Brilliant Cuts as well as Fancy cuts. A device called a Pacor Oxygen Scanner can be used for optimizing rough stones based on purity to evaluate inclusion removal or orientation.

Traditional Gem Cutting in Sri Lanka


Sri Lankan prefer their traditional equipment when faceting high quality stones in order to control the cutting more precisely and conserve weight. A much higher price is commanded per carat for these stones than for the average commercial grades.

Hanaporuwa (Bow cutting)  

 Bow cutting is still in use mainly to cut expensive corundum or to perform other gems.  Bow cutting is a hand – driven method especially used to cut star sapphires, chrysoberyl and kornerupine cat’s eyes. This method uses less pressure and so saves weight. Polishing is done using a copper lap with  wadi.        

This technique conserves weight compared with machine cutting because the pressure can be better controlled and weight loss is reduced. For larger, fine quality specimens a difference of one to two carats may be achieved and native cutting is designed to produce the largest size possible.

Because the machinery is all hand driven, it is safer as working action be better controlled and the lap speed is slower than when electricity is used to drive the wheel.

This technique gives a fine polish, better then that achieved with electrical equipment as because wadi  is used as an abrasive , Machine cutting uses diamond powder and coconut oil. Black diamond powder gives a better polish than the white diamond powder. Black diamond powder is more expensive.

Called wadi , the polish paste mixture consists of paddy seed ash , water boiled rice. The paddy seed ash is burnt rice corn shell material. Wadi is used on a copper lap. It is said to be better than diamond dust.


Moonstone Cutting 

Moonstone is a beautiful and fascinating gem. Its colors are subtle and restrained: taupe, soft brown, green and peach from India, near-transparent from Sri Lanka. The most striking feature of the moonstone is its shimmering iridescent quality. A type of feldspar, moonstone contains thread like crystal structures that reflect the light differently as the stone is viewed from different angles. This is called the Schiller effect, also known as chatoyance.

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A visit to Sri Lanka’s city of Gems,

Sri Lanka’s city of Gems, Ratnapura, is the world’s richest treasure house of gems is a picturesque town attracting tourists from all around the world is also one of the most prominent gem mining destination in Sri Lanka.

Rare sparkling precious and semi-precious stones are found in the rich soil that covers the entire district. It is situated around 100 kms south-east of Colombo and is a major junction and a link between the southern plains and the hill destinations in the east of the country. The fame of this small city in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka is as old as history and many are the legends that surround the glittering city of gems.

Its name appropriately means (Ratna – Gems + Pura – City) “city of gems” in Sinhalese. The winding roads in Ratnapura, revealing every backyard and agricultural field has at least one small operating mine. Some mines are located alongside the road. In fact, the rather unsettling observation that miners have burrowed tunnels under the road itself.
Today, as in those distant days, this small city continues to remain one of the world’s biggest exporters of gems which are both rare and of the highest quality. Some major gem miners of Sri Lanka operate from Ratnapura .

Apart from the sparkling stones that are sold uncut, polished or in the form of delicate beautiful jewellery, visitors to the city are fascinated by the sight of the gem mines scattered in many parts of the city. This is something a visitor cannot miss as the city is full of eager gem hunters hoping to strike gold by unearthing a rare precious stone or several of them from a mine.

Ratnapura is known for producing some of the best quality cornflower-blue and white sapphires. Sapphires in beautiful hues of blue, yellow, green, violet, pink as also ‘padparaschas’ – stones a shade of orange-pink combination which are considered to be extremely rare and precious are found here. Bright yellow topaz, cinnamon coloured grossular garnets, the finest quality of matara diamond or zircon in colours of orange, brown, green, yellow and also colourless occur here. In addition to this green and yellow tourmaline, brown, green and yellow Chrysoberyl cats eye, moonstone and spinel of various colors is mined in this area of Ratnapura.

The place has a bustling market square where gem trading is a common trade for many years now. Traditional gem mining and gem cutting operations are performed here and the place is the most popular gem hub of this beautiful island country. Some years back, a 5000 carat Chrysoberyl or cats-eye almost the size of a man’s fist was discovered from a nearby mine.

A visit to this city of gems is a must for any visitor. Here there are private gem museums which is worth visiting to see how these stones are cut, polished and made into beautiful jewellery using both traditional and modern methods. A walk along the narrow streets in this fabled city of gems is also an unforgettable experience. These streets are lined with gem and jewellery shops. It is a city set amidst a mix of paddy fields, rubber and tea plantations which give a scenic backdrop to this legendary city of a thousand gems.

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Gem Buying in Sri Lanka


 Buying gemstones from Sri Lanka, is cheaper than buying Sri Lankan gemstones in a foreign country. You can definitely get it at half the price and sometimes even for about 20% of the price or even less than that.


There are thousands of gemstone shops sprinkled throughout Sri Lanka. Some are elegant (luxury hotels and museums), while others may be small and unassuming. Normally one’s purse dictates which sort of shop to deal with. Generally, gem dealers are courteous, friendly, helpful, and rarely get offended when a customer walks out without buying.

For Gems, Ratnapura has been the main source for many centuries and most of the Country’s gem dealers are located in this town. Most gem cutting centers also offers gems to be set into jewelry by the visitors.

Apart from the shops, and with a great deal more fun (and often much frustration) are the street gemstone hawkers of Ratnapura and other mining towns.


 Some things you should consider when buying gemstones or jewelry with gemstones.


a. Make use of gem testing centers – Most major towns have gem testing centers, if you are looking spend a considerable amount of money on buying gems, it is always advisable to get them tested. You can also get your gems tested free of charge by visiting test centers of National Gem and Jewelery Authority.

b.Buy from a gem dealer with a valid license – Gem dealing is regulated by National Gem and Jewelery Authority and the issues a license for creditable gem dealers. Since they cater to mostly tourists the price is a bit higher but you are certain of a quality product.

c.Get Local help -If you are going to buy gems, always try to take a trustworthy local with you.  This is the best way to buy gemstones for a low cost, but it depends on the trustworthiness and the expertise of the local guide. If you are staying at a hotel ask for some tips from the manager or the help desk.  

 d.Be informed – Spend some time doing research and comparing prices. There are plenty of guides about Sri Lankan gems and spending a few dollars on them would be a worthy investment if you looking to spend some money buying gems. 



The Important Instruments at the a street auction

When visiting a “Pola” (a street auction where all the action is), you will want to carry minimum gem-testing instruments. The following items may seem intimidating, but all are small and will rest easily in one’s pocket or handbag. * 10x lens, * small diffraction-grating spectroscope.* small pocket size mirror:  *Dichroscope,*Spectrascope, * tweezers, * sewing-machine oil in a small dispenser: Ideal to check rough stones for asterism or chatoyancy. *Chelseafilter, * penlight,* 49 mm polarizing lens (PL): The primary use of the PL is to check rough stones for double refraction and/or pleochroism. This lens is often marked “PL” on the wider rim, and is obtainable from any photographic shop. It is a crude, but often quite effective, substitute for a polariscope. The PL is highly portable, easily cleaned, and inexpensive. If you have a portable polariscope so much the better.


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