visit our london showroom to discuss your ideas - book your consultation

Meet Maneesha: Sri Lanka’s trailblazing gemstone buyer

In 2020 we hired our in-house Gemstone Buyer, Maneesha Humphrey. Maneesha is making history as one of the first female gemstone dealers in Sri Lanka, having broken her way into the traditionally male-dominated industry. She’s tackled hurdles to become an industry leader in the world famous Ratnapura gemstone region, sourcing ethical gemstones with an all-female team and supporting the local community.

Our rings depend on her expertise, and anyone interested in coloured gemstones for their ring design has Maneesha’s knowledge and creativity to thank. We wanted to speak with Maneesha about her beginnings in the gemstone industry, the impact her work has had, and her future ambitions.

How did you begin working in the gem industry?

I moved from my hometown to Ratnapura and entered the gemstone market when I was a young woman. I felt daunted and uncomfortable at first, in an industry filled with men. I didn’t want people to take advantage of me, so I worked hard to build my skills, experience and confidence.

When did you start your business?

I began working as a gemstone exporter in 2011. I was working for another sapphire company, but in 2015, with two of my colleagues, we combined our knowledge and experience to start our own all-female business. It was the perfect time for us to branch out!

From 2015 to 2017, the three of us were working from a studio in my home, researching, making deals here and there, and putting together business proposals for investors.

In 2017, an investor helped us to officially set up our company and we opened an office in Ratnapura.

sri lanka train ride
sri lanka gemstone team

What's so special about the sapphire mining region of Ratnapura?

The mining region of Ratnapura is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains, and traditionally, the gemstones are seen as a blessing from the gods. The miners see their job as very sacred-they perform prayers and rituals before they begin working.

In Sanskrit, a common language in Asia, Ratnapura literally translates into ‘City of Gems‘. The sapphires mined in Ratnapura are amongst some of the most beautiful gemstones I’ve ever seen. Their colour is incredibly vivid and vibrant.

peach and pink cushion bi colour sapphire

What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?

When I decided to set up my own business, I faced different challenges as a woman and a mother. While I was trying to secure investment, I had to travel alone and many people weren’t sure about the return on investment.

I had to build trust with and convince potential investors that the gem market was worth their investment. It wasn’t easy, but after sending so many proposals, one investor finally agreed in 2017. It was the break we’d all been waiting for!

I don’t know what I would do without gemstones. I never thought I’d be able to work in this industry because of our traditions and culture.

As women in the gemstone mining industry, we ‘re making a statement. I even sometimes wear heels to visit the mines. I wear a nice outfit and do my make up. One of my clients was laughing asking, ‘why are you so dressed up?’ It’s because I’ve carved an image for myself. I wanted to stand out from the rest, and I do.

No day is the same. We feel so lucky being able to come into work in the morning and see these precious gemstones, that not many other women have access to. Day to day, it’s always different. We work with different people and see different stones coming in-it’s challenging but it’s a great experience.

Of course, I’ve made losses on some stones, but at the end of the day, it’s all learning.

What ambitions do you have on your horizon?

I want to get more opportunities for women in Sri Lanka. Since 2011, I have been involved in charity projects to empower women, supporting them to earn their own money from home, and to educate them on how to avoid domestic violence.

I came from a small family and have experienced domestic violence and abuse-I know how it is.

That experience made me strong and who I am today, but some women cannot raise their voice, so I want to be the voice for those women. That’s the dream.

And things are changing. Now, there are even female shareholders in the mines and they’re allowed to visit. We’re not allowed to actually work in the mines-that still needs someone to come forward and challenge the industry. New generations are different and it’s evolving for the better.

For the business, we want to expand the team and create more opportunities to supply sapphires. And of course, we want to support our families-I have two beautiful children that I want to educate well.

Thanks to Maneesha, an integral and inspiring person, for breaking down barriers within the gemstone industry and likewise uplifting the women in your community.

This website uses cookies. For more information, please read our cookies policy.