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Sri Lanka, the Land of Delights 

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Must Visit Locations

Island of Gems

"The island produces rubies more beautiful & valuable than we found in any other part of the world, & likewise sapphires, topazes, amethysts, garnets & many other precious stones. The king is supposed to possess the grandest ruby that ever was seen being a span in length & thickness of a man's arm, brilliant beyond description & without single flaw. It has the appearance of a glowing fire & upon the whole is so valuable that no estimation can be made of its worth in money. The grand Khan, Kublai, sent ambassadors to this monarch, with a special request that he would yield to him the possession of this ruby in return for which he should receive the value of a city, this offer was turned down" Marco Polo

"The marvellous rubies called bahraman (carbuncles) are found only in this town. Some are taken from the channel, & these are regarded by them as the most valuable, & some are obtained by digging. In the island of Ceylon rubies are found in all parts. The land is a private property, & a man buys a parcel of it & digs for rubies. He finds white stones, deeply cracked, & it is inside these that the rubies are formed. He gives them to lapidaries who scrape them down until they split away from the ruby stones. Some of them are red, some yellow, & some blue. Their custom is that all rubies of the value of a hundred fanams belong to the king, who pays their price & take them; those of less value belong to the finders. A hundred fanams equal in value six gold dinars.

All the women in the island of Ceylon have necklaces of rubies of different colours & wear them also on their arms & legs in place of bracelets & anklets. The king's girls make a network of rubies & wear it in their heads. I have seen on the forehead of the while elephant seven ruby stones each larger than a hen's egg..."
Iban Battutah


The tropical island of Sri Lanka was once known as the "island of gems' (Ratnadeepa) because of the spectacular range of jewels found in its gravelly soil. It is most famous for its lovely sapphires now branded & marketed by the name "Ceylon Sapphires", but it also produces ruby, garnet, alexandrite, spinel, zircon, perodot, topaz, tourmaline, moonstone & a highly-prized chrysoberyl cat's eye. Gems are found throughout central & southern Sri Lanka. But large scale mining is concentrated in the Ratnapura (city of gems, Ratna meaning gem & Pura meaning city in Sinhalese) & Elahera areas. Sri Lankan gems are found in the crown jewels of Europe & in artefacts from China's Min Dynasty tombs. Historians trace Sri Lanka's international gem trade back to 500 BC.


Blue Sapphires

Sri Lanka's Blue Sapphires are the finest in the world. The Blue Sapphire is second only to the diamond in hardness & is highly prized. Accordingly to the experts, Blue Sapphires with colours called "corn flower blue" & "royal blue tint" are of the finest quality. Sri Lanka's Gem Corporation exhibits a 93 carat Blue Sapphire of "cornflower blue".

Star Sapphires

The 362 carat Star Sapphire being exhibited at the Sri Lanka's Gem Corporation is third largest Star Sapphire of such quality & colour. The most celebrated star sapphire of Sri Lanka called "Star of Bombay' is on permanent exhibition at Smithsonian museum of Natural history in New York.

"... and by some distressing impertinence the splendid Star Sapphire which is one of the glories of American Museum of Natural History's gem collection is called the Star of Bombay-not as it should be-the Star of Ceylon." Arthur C. Clarke

Heat treated Rubies & Sapphires

It is estimated that 90% of the rubies & sapphires in the world market today undergo heat treatment, a permanent process widely accepted by the gem trade. Sapphires are so common in Sri Lanka that the palest, least valuable gems were once used in ornamental rock gardens or buried under the posts of village homes for a blessing. These low quality sapphires, known as "gueda", were not suitable for setting into jewellery. But in the 1970s, Thai gem dealers perfected a heat treatment process that transformed the worthless gueda into valuable gems. By "cooking" the stones at high temperatures, they worked a kind of alchemy. The titanium dissolved & mixed better with the iron, deepening the blue colour of the geuda. The Thais then experimented on different coloured sapphires & rubies, & learned that a valuable sapphire or ruby could be made even more valuable by "burning" out slight flaws. The process is risky as certain stones may crack, melt or explode. In some cases, the gems lose all their colour.


The padparadscha is the most prized of the "fancy", non-blue sapphires. Padparadscha is a Sinhalese word derived from the Sanskrit "padmaraga", meaning lotus flower, & was first applied to sapphires in 1847. While lotus flowers occur in many colours, the original species is pinkish orange. A padparadscha sapphire is a delicate blend of these two colours. The effect is breathtaking-as magical as a tropical sunsets, padparadscha sapphires are exceedingly rare. Some sellers may try to pass off a pink sapphire as a padpardscha, but a true padparadscha calls for a harmonious blend of both colours, spread in a light, even tone throughout the stone. A stone may exhibit this perfect mix of colour when viewed from above, but when viewed from the side, shows a distinct separation of tones. Such a gem is simply a fancy sapphire & not the more valuable padparadscha. Many connoisseurs believe that a padparadscha sapphire can only come from Sri Lanka.

Buying gems

Sri Lanka has a variety of gemstones to offer, in a wide range of quality & prices, making it a tempting place to buy-even if you aren't a jewellery or gem fanatic. Reputable gem & jewellery stores in the island offer good value.

Avoid buying gems from the street. The ICA (The international Colored Gemstone Association) put it this way: "Would you buy on the street in the New York City? Buying on the street of Rangoon will probably have the same result. The key is to buy from a reputable shop."

In Sri Lanka, the reputable shops allow the buyers to have the authenticity of the gems verified at the government run State Gem Corporation, Colombo or at a private yet government certified gem valuation agency prior to the transaction.

Four Cs of gems

Evaluate gemstones using the four "Cs": carat weight, color, clarity & cut. One carat equals one-fifth of a gram, the unit of measure by which gemstones are sold. Generally the heavier the gem, the higher the price. From the consumers' standpoint, much of that weight should be showing on the face of the stone, or the table. This is where the cut of the gem comes into play. If the gem is cut too deep, most of the carat weight is hidden from the eye & the colour may be too dark. A gem cut too shallow, on the other hand, will lack brilliance & have a flat, washed-out look. An ideally cut gem reflects light evenly from all parts of the table.

Trust your own eyes when judging the colour of a gem. When shopping for rubies, for instance, ask to see a range of colours & qualities available. You will be surprised at the variation in ruby shades, with the reds often showing hints of pink, orange or purple. It is mostly a matter of personal taste as to which shade is the best. No matter what the shade, the brighter, richer & more vivid in colour, the more valuable the stone. Look at the gem in different lights. Some gems look magnificent under florescent lights but appear lifeless in daylight, or vice versa.

Clarity is another important consideration. Only glass or gems of phenomenal value have no inclusions visible to the eye. Flaws can add interest, but look for those jewels with flaws that are least obvious when the gem is viewed face up. Emeralds have more inclusions & small fractures than most other gems. While you cannot avoid internal inclusions in emeralds, avoid those with crack that reach the surface, as they could affect the durability of the gem.

Precious & Semiprecious gems

Traditionally diamond, ruby, sapphire & emerald are considered precious. However, these terms have now become meaningless in the modern market. You can easily find buy low quality diamonds, rubies, sapphires & emeralds at low prices. And stones such as tourmaline & garnet can be worth thousands of USD per carat (as in tsavorite garnet & Paraiba tourmaline).

Sri Lanka Hotel Guide - Hotel Information, Special Offers, News and Trends and much more

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Photo Gallery

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Ratnapura Gem Mine

Gem Miners of Sri Lanka

Ambalangoda Moonstone Mine

Gems of Sri Lanka

Gem Trays at Gem Vendors

Buying Gems

Ceylon Blue Sapphires

Jewellery with Gems

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