The first written account of Sri Lanka’s jewels dates to 334 BC. Today, the country’s gemstone market is still going strong. Among the stones mined are spinel, moonstone, garnets, tourmaline, zircon, ruby and sapphire. Sri Lankan sapphires are especially prized due to their saturated hues. Phenomenal gems of many types also come from this country, including moonstone, star rubies and sapphires, and cat’s-eye chrysoberyl.
Sri Lanka’s gem bearing gravel is noted for its richness. The majority of the country’s mines use simple technology, whether it is hand dug mines or searching rivers for jewel quality stones. Hand in hand with Sri Lanka’s mining industry is a strict conservation policy. Whenever a mine closes, it must be filled in and rehabilitated so it’s in harmony with the surrounding environment.
Along with mining, Sri Lanka is known for gemstone cutting. Even with hand powered tools, the country’s gem cutters are skilled at preserving carat weight, bringing out the best face up color from gemstones, as well as orienting stars and cat’s eyes to sit perfectly in a cabochon. Sri Lanka also imports gemstones for cutting to resell on the international market.
In 2012, the Gemological Institute of America examined sapphires samples from a newly discovered deposit in Sri Lanka’s Thammannawa region. Most were blue, with two fancy yellow specimens. Padparascha, a rare orange-pink sapphire, is found elsewhere in the country. The Thammannawa samples were of a purer blue than most sapphires from the island, which may have tints of violet. There were many patches of silk, or parallel bands of rutile mixed within the crystal. In other regions in Sri Lanka, there may be enough rutile in rubies and sapphires to create stars or cat’s eyes.