Sri Lanka , the tiny island nation at the tip of the Indian sub-continent , popularly known as the “Pearl of the East” and famous for its pearls and colored gemstones since time immemorial, is once again in the news of the international gem and jewelry trade, after the November 2010, announcement of the engagement of Prince William, the second-in-line of succession to the British throne, to Kate Middleton. Soon after the long awaited announcement, the happy couple appeared for the first time, arm-in-arm in front of a barrage of camera flashes, and Kate Middleton was seen wearing an engagement ring given to her by the Prince. The white gold cluster ring, with an 18-carat Sri Lankan cornflower blue sapphire , as its centerpiece and surrounded by 16 brilliant-cut diamonds, looked very familiar. It was none other than the engagement ring used by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales to propose to Lady Diana Spencer in February 1981. After Princess Diana’s death, the ring reportedly came into the possession of Prince Harry, while Prince William inherited Diana’s Cartier watch. Prince Harry apparently then decided that the celebrated ring of sentimental value to both of them , should appropriately adorn the finger of the future Queen of England, and gave the ring to Prince William to be given to his fiancée.
“Obviously, she is not going to be around to share in any of the fun and excitement of it all, so this is my way of keeping her sort of close to it all,” William said of his late mother, and the decision to use the same engagement ring, in a joint interview with Middleton .
Princess Diana wearing the sapphire and diamond engagement ring
Minutes after the engagement ring was unveiled, jewelry stores around the world started getting calls requesting for replicas of the ring. There was a surge in business worldwide for Diana type engagement rings, incorporating blue sapphires and diamonds, a repetition of the boom witnessed in 1981, soon after the engagement of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. The demand for Sri Lankan blue sapphires also surged with the announcement, and the National Gem & Jewelry Authority of Sri Lanka reported receiving large numbers of inquiries for the supply of blue sapphires from dealers across the global markets. The United Kingdom, that was among the top fifteen buyers of Sri Lankan gems, was expected to procure more of the fine quality sapphires from Sri Lanka, to cater to the unprecedented demand created after the announcement of the royal engagement.
Blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring
Sri Lankan blue sapphires are internationally renowned from time immemorial for their natural color and luster , with excellent qualities, such as good clarity, transparency and color saturation. Sri Lankan blue sapphires are among the finest blue sapphires in the world, with the Rakwana blue sapphires internationally renowned as the look-alike of the elusive Kashmir blue sapphires, considered as the highest quality blue sapphires in the world, used as a standard for comparing other blue sapphires.
Historically Sri Lankan colored stones and pearls had been actively sought out by the agents of Royalty to be incorporated in jewelry since very ancient times, such as during the ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Empires. The arrival of Phoenician, Greek , Roman and later Arab ships on the shores of Sri Lanka, in search of these marvels of nature, are well authenticated. According to Sir Emerson Tennent, King Solomon in Biblical times is believed to have wooed the Queen of Sheba with precious stones sourced in Sri Lanka. He is believed to have sent his sailors and emissaries to procure these precious stones from the City of Gems (Ratnapura) in Sri Lanka, situated in the Kalu Ganga basin, containing large alluvial deposits of corundum, washed down the hills of the Adam’s Peak wilderness over millions of years; one of the most ancient sources of sapphires and rubies in the world.
One of the oldest blue sapphires in the world, the Saint Edward’s Sapphire, which was first set on the coronation ring of Edward the Confessor, when he ascended the throne of England in 1042, is now incorporated on the Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom , mounted on the Maltese cross right on top of the crown. This sapphire which is presently 969 years old is believed to have originated in the alluvial deposits of the Kaluganga basin in Sri Lanka. Some of the famous blue sapphires that originated in Sri Lanka are, the Star of India (563.35 carats), Blue Giant of the Orient (486.52 carats), Queen Marie of Rumania Sapphire (478.68 carats), Logan Sapphire (423 carats), Blue Belle of Asia (400 carats), Star of Artaban (316 carats), Empress Maria’s Sapphire (260.37 carats), Star of Lanka (193.39 carats), J.P.Morgan Sapphire (188 carats), Star of Bombay (182 carats), Midnight Star Sapphire (116.75 carats), Star of Ceylon (101.01 carats)and the Bismarck Sapphire. The Blue Sapphire has been designated as the national gemstone of Sri Lanka, and the choice of an engagement ring incorporating as its centerpiece a Sri Lankan blue sapphire, is considered as a rare honor bestowed on all Sri Lankans inhabiting this beautiful island, a former British Colony in Asia.