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The Gem Industry

By Ms H.M.A.C Weralupe,B.A(Geography Special)

Gems have played a unique role in Sri lanka’s socioeconomic life from time immemorial.Our ancient traditions and folk tales clearly reflect the link between these precious stones and aspects of the countries culture and civilisation.

History shows that the gem industry

occupies a special place in the

islands economy. In addition to

gold and silver, gems were part

of royal treasures in

ancient times.

Evidence is there to prove that gem mining is Sri Lanka’s oldest industry. After 1971,the state gem corporation and after 1993,the National Gem and Jewelry Authority took steps to utilize this industry for the countrie’s economic development.This resulted in the gem trade reaching a high level during the decade that began in 1970.

Nevertheless gem prospecting is no easy

task and is fraught with immense

hardships.Since the time of the

sinhala kings people traditionally

had the right to

prospect for gems.

Centuries later the State Gem Corporation was formed this right was given to them through a permit system.Before the SGC was set up the government issued two permits one for finding gem deposits and the other for gem mining.At pesent the first is no longer in usage.

Today a considerable number of people engage in gem mining after obtaining the required permit from the National Gem and Jewelry Authority. Others are illegal miners .It is no secret that they prospect for gems even in lands where permits are not issued for the purpose.

The appearance of gems beneath the earths surface is the outcome of a wonderful and complex natural process. While at some places deposits are found just below the surface, at others they are found at depths of 80 to 100 feet or even deeper.A large part of Sri lanka’s land area consists of stones of mineral or organic origin that have been deposited in river beds,river banks and valleys after being subject to forces of nature since pre-historic times.These are what are known as gem deposits.

Here mining is done in several stages after removing humus to locate deposits.Hoes or tilling implements and rods are used for the purpose (eg:Hatharabage in Balangoda).

Prospecting for gems found just below the earth’s surface can be completed in a few days .Mostly this kind of mining is done without permission.Here a rod of about 10 feet long is used to discover deposits.The spot is identified by keeping ones ear to the rod while turning it.(eg Paradise Estate,Hannaliya in Ratnapura).

In case of deposits found very deep in the earth mining is costly.Square pits are dug for this purpose and wooden frames are fitted to the walls of the pits to prevent them from collapsing.Leaves and branches are used on the sides to prevent leakage of water.The pattern of digging depends on the way the gem deposits has spread.The digging continue until all the stones are removed.

Since it is dark inside the mine work

is done in candle light.water

pumps and air pumps are

used for pumping our

water from the mine and

help workers breathe without difficulty.

Over 10 laborers usually work in these mines. Sometimes mining in such places continues for a number of years. (eg Ratnapura ,Elahera and lunugala)

The other method of gem mining takes place in ,on low lying areas on the banks of the rivers.This is done by erecting a wooden fence across the river using a hoe or tilling implement fixed to a wooden handle about 15 feet long.A tool known as Suraya is used for breaking the deposits. The stones are collected when the water flows through the fence. This is the most efficient way for buyers to identify gems in the deposit. (eg kalu Ganga, Way Ganga, Kelani Ganga rivers).

Large scale gem mining involves the use of earth moving machines like excavators  to level hill rocks and  mounds in large areas. This method however is legally banned (eg Godakawela, kahawatta in Ratnapura).

The Land Of The Blue Sapphire

By Ajith Perera,F.G.A Senior Manager(Export and Export Promotion)

From time immemorial Sri Lanka has had a sparkling reputation for highly treasured gems .Sri Lanka’s mineral rich soils have been yielding a seemingly never ending supply of high quality precious and semi precious gemstones such as sapphires, star sapphires, rubies, star rubies, alexandrites, cats eyes, garnets, zircons, tourmalines and spinels.

The gem industry of Sri Lanka is of great antiquity. Reference is made in scriptures to gems being brought from Ceylon to the court of king Solomon. It is also said that ages ago Arab adventurers came to Ceylon in search of gems. The Mahavansa, the great historical chronicle of Ceylon, whose authority is undoubted, refers to the singular reputation of this island for its wealth in gems .It is an accepted fact  that Sri Lanka is one of the largest sources of some of the finest gemstones in the world. A few of the priceless treasures whose origin is traceable to Sri Lanka are the Blue Giant of Orient(466cts),Loghan Blue Sapphire(423cts),Blue Belle of Asia(400cts),Rosser Reeves Star Ruby(138cts)and Star of Lanka(393cts)and the ray of treasure(105cts Cats eye). The Star of Lanka and Ray of Treasure are in the proud possession of the National Gem and Jewelry Authority.

Even the very names bestowed upon Sri Lanka, throughout the centuries echo the riches contained within its soil. Sri Lanka has been called Ratnadvipa, meaning the island of gems. Sri Lanka has also been known as the pearl of the Indian ocean, due to the fine natural pearls found in the gulf of Mannar.

Others believe that the name Seylan, given by Marco Polo is derived from the word sila, which means a rock, possibly in reference to its abundant wealth in minerals.

Sri Lanka ranks with Brazil,South Africa,Myanmar and Thailand as one ot the five most gem bearing nations of the world.Sri Lanka has been a virtual treasure trove of gems that have been much sought after as gifts for royalty from the Queen of Sheeba to Princes Diana.Of the countries many treasures none is as beautiful  as the sapphire. Sapphires belong to the corundum family which gives Sri Lanka two of its most valuable gemstones,rubies and sapphires.

Blue Sapphires from Sri Lanka

boasts of one of the most prized

colours in the world,

the famous cornflower blue.

Second only in quality to the sapphires from Kashmir.Myanmar is blessed with sapphires of darker shades .Kashmir sapphires are usually velvety blue in colour while Sri Lankan sapphires tend to be brighter and are renowned for their transperancy,superb clarity and vivid luster.Many of the finest spicems of sapphires in the worlds top gemstone collections have come from Sri Lanka.

The blue sapphire was declared as the national gemstone of Sri Lanka in 2003. Flawless transparent blue sapphires of deep blue colour are highly priced.Sri Lanka is the largest supplier of top quality,large blue sapphires of natural colour to the world.

Spectacular recent discoveries of blue sapphires in Sri Lanka include:

1)An 850 carat blue sapphire found at Hakamuwa(Ratnapura District).

2)A massive 8042 carat stone found in the gem pit at Pelmaddulla.

3)A fine blue sapphire weighing 2516 carats found at Ellawela.

4)Another blue sapphire weighing 4002 carats found at Neelagama.

5)A 250 carat blue sapphire of deep blue colour found at Ganegama in Pelmadulla.

Sapphires of different colours are found

in the Gem Gravels of Sri Lanka.

Sapphires are the transparent gem variety of the mineral family corundum, second only to Diamond in hardness. Blue may be the most sought after colour but sapphires also come in yellow, white green, pink, orange and purple.Any non red corondum is called a sapphire. The red variety is of course the ruby.

An enticing array of sapphires will be displayed at FACETS 2007,the 17th Sri Lanka International Gem and Jewellery Show scheduled to be held from 30th Aug to 2nd Sept 2007,at the BMICH Exhibition and Convention Center in Colombo.

High quality certified sapphires

can be sourced readily from any of the reputed

dealers who are required to

obtain a gem dealers licence

issued by the National Gem

and Jewellry Authority(NGJA) of

Sri Lanka

There are also shops and a gem testing laboratory at the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Exchange,a state sponsored Gem and Jewellery Gallery,at level 4 and 5 east low block,World Trade Center Colombo and Gem Exchange,located at the gem center,Ratnapura,for the most discerning customers.

It is important to know that irrespective

of the place of purchase,foreign

customers are offered a free gem testing service

at the National Gem and Jewellery Authority Laboratories

at 25,Galle Face Terrace,Colombo 3 and

the Gem Exchange,World Trade Center,

Monday to Friday

Key Economic Indicators of Sri Lanka


Mid year population(million persons)-19.67

Growth of mid year population-1.1%

Population density(persons per square kilometer)-314

Labour Force(million persons)-8.14

Unemployment rate-6.3%


GDP at current market prices(millions):US$23,542.3

Per capita GDP at market prices:US$1197

Economic growth GDP change: 6%

External Trade

Value in millions US$(2002 to 2006)

Total Exports3617.74931.55573.66164.86829.5
Total Imports4666.26523.17871.18314.49867.7
Total Trade8283.911454.713444.714479.216697.2
Trade Balance(1048.5)(1591.6)(2297.5)(2149.6)(3038.2)

Local Currency

Sri Lankan Rupees(LKR)

Exchange Rate(April 2007)


Inflation Rate(2005)

By Colombo cunsumer’s price index(1953)=100-11.6%

Trading Commodities(2006)


 Top Ten ItemsContribution to the total(%)
1Apparel and Clothing43.11
3Rubber and articles thereof8.01
4Natural or cultured pearls/Gemstones6.05
5Electrical machinery and parts2.37
6Fish and crustaceans, mollusks etc2.05
7Animal or vegetable fats1.64
8Copper or articles thereof1.59
9Aircraft parts1.17
10Boilers machinery and parts0.80


 Top Ten ItemsContribution to the total
1Mineral fuels, oils and products16.67
2Boilers, machinery and parts7.84
3Vehicles and other railway and parts7.29
4Electrical machinery and parts6.81
6Iron steel and articles thereof4.37
7Knitted or crocheted fabric4.22
8Plastic and articles thereof3.65
9Natural or cultured pearls or gemstones3.58
10Man-made staple fibers2.90

Top Ten Trading Partners-(2006)




3Hong Kong7.7
9South Korea3.2

Prepared by:The Department of Commerce,Ministry of Export Development and International Trade,Sri Lanka.You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (

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