The gem business is our heritage and acknowledged for its prized stones and of gem mining, cutting and polishing and doing a brisk trade. This trade has gone as far back as 3000years ago. Our little island set in all its precious sapphires stones that glisten and shines in all its glory, tells a story rich in history. Any wonder then it was called the serendipity of Ceylon in very old times.
We have such an abundance of rare stones in many mining areas of our country. But the jewel in the crown is Ratnapura. It is about 100 kilometers from the city of Colombo. The most famous stone is the much coveted blue sapphire which is mined here, and the stone is worn by many famous people here and abroad. There are many other valuable gems such as rubies, garnets, cats eye, moonstones, yellow stone, star stone, amethyst, aquamarine, topaz etc., the stones are heated to get their beautiful color like in the garnet stone, which turns into a stunning burgundy red, after the stone is heated. Other stones are also processed with the heating system, to get that special shine and light that is truly our very own.
There is a certain day of the week where all the gem merchants gather together in town to sell and barter their goods of precious stones. The town is crowded with both buyers and seller vying to sell their precious gems. Among them are many tourists also buying these stones from us? Sri Lanka is the best place to get your most accepted gem stones, and once set in jewelry, they are truly stunning pieces of work.
Mining pits of Ratnapura
If you visit the Ratnapura area, you are sure to stopover at one of the many precious stone pits. You can get to watch how it is done. The workers who do this earn a very hard living by doing mining work to eke out a megre living. These pebbles are found in the stream bed found to have gravel deposits. These pits are dug down to about 25 or 50 feet down, scaffolding is made and a makeshift roof is made to protect the machine that works it. The pit is dug out by hand. The water is pumped out from one side. After the pit is dug at a certain level and depth, the tunnel is dug out in several directions. This is to lessen its degradation.
Then a basket is put into the water and the stones are turned in a swirling manner, by doing this the stones get sifted, several times to wash and clean them. The larger stones remain in the basket. After which the stones are sorted and separated to locate any precious stones. The sapphire was the first ever stone to be minded here. After these stones are sieved and selected, they then taken away for examination of it clarity and decided upon for cutting and polishing. It is a long process in getting ready a stone cut and designed in what we see as a magnificent gem stone adorned upon jewelry.
There are many other places where gem mining is done, places in Bible, Nuwara Eliya, Pelmadulla, Matale etc. precious stones are exported from Sri Lanka, these gems come from the fields of Elahera, and it is estimated that 35% of these gems are exported abroad.
You can visit the Gem Museum and look at all the gorgeous looking precious stones and be awed by them all.