Sri Lanka: From Mine to Market

Following the GIA travel logs is a great way to learn about the far flung emerging and established gem markets of the world. Sri Lanka is a unique place in the world where many types of gems abound the landscape. The centuries have taught the Sri Lankan gem miner how to take his goods from mine to market with as few steps as possible. In recent years the changes in import export rules for the gemstone industry have helped them expand and bring in large amounts of foreign stones for cutting and processing into jewelry for the world. With the mining, trading, cutting, treatment, jewelry manufacturing, and retail sectors all on fire, the future is looking good.

Sri Lanka has massive deposits of a variety of gemstones, The gravels yield sapphire, ruby, cat’s-eye and other chrysoberyls, spinel, garnet, beryl, tourmaline, topaz, quartz, and many other gemstones.

The ability of cutters from Sri Lanka to orient a stone for cutting is legendary and among the natural talents of this centuries old trade. Gem cutting skills are well established in this island nation. The color orientation is key to the presentation and light penetration of any gemstone. The natural eye of these stone cutters is a huge asset to the gem markets in Sri Lanka.

Still using traditional methods of stone orientation for cutting are still employed in this modern day, this is because it works and needs no changes. These traditions have serve well the gem cutting industry in Sri Lanka and it is slow to change with modern tools and techniques.

Gemstone deposits in Sri Lanka are based in gem-bearing gravels called illam.

Gemstone deposits in Sri Lanka are based in gem-bearing gravels called illam.

To visit Sri Lanka is to experience one of the great gem sources and trading centers in the world. This country has a rich, almost unparalleled tradition and remains vitally important to the modern gemstone market. Sri Lanka has a true mine-to-market industry, both domestically and for export. Its evolution over the last two decades blends the best of traditional practices with modern technologies and business models.

In this field report, we take you on an expedition to this magnificent island and its remarkable mine-to-market industry.

An Amazing Island

Traveling in Sri Lanka, you realize it is a large island with very diverse environments. Most of the terrain consists of flat or rolling hills, but there are beautiful mountains in the southern central interior. Agriculture is a constant presence as you drive around the country, with intense green rice fields and rubber tree plantations.

In Elahera’s rice fields, there are treehouses for agricultural workers to climb into when a herd of wild elephants passes through. In Ratnapura, Elahera, and Balangoda, green rice fields also enclose small pit-mining operations, sometimes covered with V-shaped roofs for a little protection from rain and sun. Gaining elevation, you encounter beautiful tea plantations where it is common to see workers picking tea leaves by hand. Driving along the coast offers views of Sri Lanka’s beautiful coastline and fishing industry. READ MORE…

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About Rob

I have been designing military coins and jewelry for nearly 40 years now.