Sri Lanka, also known as the “Island of Gems”, has a rich history of gemstone mining and trading dating back over 2,500 years. The country is well-known for its high-quality, rare gemstones such as Blue Sapphires, Rubies, Cat’s Eyes, and Alexandrites. The gem industry is an important sector of Sri Lanka’s economy and provides employment opportunities for thousands of people.
Gem mining in Sri Lanka is mostly carried out in small-scale operations using traditional techniques such as panning, digging, and tunneling. The gemstones are found in sedimentary gravel beds or alluvial deposits, mainly in the Ratnapura district, which is considered the heart of Sri Lanka’s gem industry. In addition to traditional mining methods, modern techniques such as open-pit mining and mechanized tunneling are also used in some larger mines.
Sri Lanka’s gem industry is regulated by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA), which is responsible for issuing licenses, conducting inspections, and ensuring that the industry operates in a sustainable and ethical manner. The NGJA also runs a gem testing and certification laboratory, which is internationally recognized for its accuracy and reliability.
The gemstones produced in Sri Lanka are exported to many countries around the world, and the industry contributes significantly to the country’s economy. Sri Lanka is particularly famous for its high-quality Sapphires, which are in high demand in international markets. Other popular gemstones from Sri Lanka include Rubies, Cat’s Eyes, Topaz, and Garnets.
The country is particularly renowned for its high-quality sapphires, which come in a variety of colors, including Blue, Pink, Yellow, Green, and Orange. Some of the other gemstones found in Sri Lanka
Ruby is considered the most valuable type of gemstone in the Corundum mineral family, and its distinctive red colour is due to the presence of chromium. Rubies found around the world vary in colour from orange-red to purplish-red. The quality of a Ruby is determined by its colour, and the finest gems exhibit a pure, vibrant red to slightly purplish-red colour. Sri Lankan Rubies, on the other hand, have a pinkish-red hue and a touch of purple, which is unique to their Sri Lankan origin and caused by the presence of iron in addition to chromium oxide. Ruby deposits in Sri Lanka are not confined to a specific area and are found in the same mines as other Corundum gemstones. However, the best-quality stones are often found in the Embilipitiya – Udawalawe area.
Cat’s eyes is a type of chrysoberyl gemstone that displays a thin, bright line of light that appears to move across the surface of the stone when it is moved. Sri Lanka is known for producing some of the world’s finest Cat’s Eye gemstones.
Alexandrite is a rare and valuable gemstone that changes color depending on the light source. It appears green in natural light and red in artificial light. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that produces high-quality alexandrite.
Topazes are a highly adaptable type of gemstone that comes in various colours and clear forms. Usually, the name of the hue identifies them, such as Pink or Blue Topaz. Some of the priciest and uncommon Topazes have specific commercial names assigned to them. Imperial Topaz is the term used for the highly valuable red and pink stones, whereas the terms Precious Topaz or Sherry Topaz refer to stones with a rich yellow to a medium, peachy-orange colour.
Garnet Gemstones belonging to the Garnet family are found in many different colours, except for blue, and are available in several varieties such as Almandine, Andradite, Grossular, Pyrope, Spessartine, and Uvarovite. Apart from Andradite and Uvarovite, all the other types of Garnets can be found in Sri Lanka. Some of them exhibit Asterism, Chatoyancy, and colour change when viewed under different lighting conditions. Despite having the same crystal structure, Garnets differ in their chemical composition. Out of more than twenty Garnet species, only five are valuable as gemstones. The types of Garnets found in Sri Lanka that have commercial value include almandine, grossular, pyrope, and spessartine.
Zircon is a well-known alternative to diamonds in many parts of the world, and in its purest chemical form, it appears colourless. It is primarily found in Matara, Sri Lanka, and is referred to as Matara Zircon or Matara Diamonds when it is colourless. The colourless zircon found in Sri Lanka is highly admired for its ability to sparkle and produce colourful flashes of light, which are referred to as fire. Additionally, Zircon is frequently found in other colours like brown, red, blue, purple, and rarely green. Although it is sometimes mistaken for Cubic Zirconia, Zircon boasts excellent brilliance and dispersion.
Moonstones are a valuable type of mineral that belongs to the Feldspar group of minerals and are admired for their enchanting glow caused by adularescence. The celebrated Blue Moonstones in the world originate from the Meetiyagoda mines located in Sri Lanka. Usually, Moonstones are fashioned into cabochons, but some stones showcase a Cat’s Eye effect or a four-spoked star along with the typical wavy glimmer of light. These stones are not only cut into Cabochons but also engraved with designs or used as artistic cameos.