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Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

20th September 2019 by Nicole, posted in Gemstones, Our Story, Why Custom?

After diamonds, sapphires are the most popular gemstone purchased by our customers. As well as the deep, rich colours they possess, they have a remarkable hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale, making them a perfect centre stone for an engagement ring.

Contrary to popular belief, sapphires aren’t exclusively blue in colour. They’re found in shades ranging from dark indigo blue to fresh, vibrant ocean spray blue, to black, white (colourless), orange, pink, yellow, brown, champagne, peach and even green.

 

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Sapphires are found in various regions of the world, however, sapphires from Sri Lanka are amongst the most prized. In Sri Lanka, you can find sapphires that have a rich colour, without being heat-treated. Sri Lanka is famous around the world as being one of the best sources for blue sapphires and their orange-pink Padparadscha sapphires.

 

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You can browse through hundreds of gemstone options, but many maintain that the right gemstone calls to you. You’ll know you’ve found it when you see it.

To find the perfect gemstone, we use a variety of sources and methods to secure the highest quality gem and cut for different ring designs. As we focus on creating bespoke rings, sometimes this entails seeking a specific cut of a gem, known in the industry as a ‘fancy’ cut. Our customers seek a unique product and come to us to capture their stories, so it’s our job to actualise their ideas with a bespoke design or a rare custom-cut gemstone.

In this article, we look at the background of the mining industry in Sri Lanka, the process of mining, and how one of our sapphire suppliers comes to procure gemstones.

 

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Sri Lanka is known as the “Jewel Box” or “Treasure Island” of the Indian Ocean, with over 25% of total land mass thought filled with precious gemstones. At the heart of the country is the city of Ratnapura, a Sanskrit word for “the city of gems”, known for being a hub of miners, traders and exporters.

Most sapphire mining is done traditionally in Ratnapura. In Sri Lankan culture, gems are seen as gifts from the gods, so the mining areas are considered sacred – labourers even perform prayers and rituals before beginning work.

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan mining industry is also incredibly supportive of local talent, supporting the economy and community in Ratnapura, with gemstones making up a large portion of exports from the country.

While child labour continues to be a global issue, Sri Lankan law states that children must remain in school until age 18 and in Ratnapura, they strictly prohibit children and teenagers from working at the mines.

Furthermore, labourers aren’t just offered a salary. They enjoy workplace benefits that include their accommodation and food, as well as earning commission on the sapphires sold from the mines. There is a strong belief that if the workers happy, a trader or exporter will receive good work in exchange.

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

The government actively makes sure that the local community benefits from the industry. The land is owned by the government and rented by the miners and investors to ensure that larger companies don’t buy the land that could be mined for gemstones, used for residential housing and the farming industry. In Sri Lanka, if a miner discovers a part of land that has gemstones, the miner will approach investors for equipment, and the proceeds will be divided equally.

The sustainable, traditional mining techniques used by the workers ensures that the land is protected. Once a mine is exhausted of gemstones, the miners simply fill the excavated areas with earth again, ready for plants to grow back over. The traditional mining methods also ensure that miners can live in close proximity to the mines while maintaining a good quality of living.

 

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On the day to day, the mining industry in Sri Lanka is busy and bustling. Every morning at around 6am miners gather in the main city of Nivithigala, about 20km away from Ratnapura with all of the rough stones that have been mined. The miners, traders and exporters all gather together to oversee the sale of their stones.

There is an incredibly strong mining community in Sri Lanka–both the government and community are determined to keep the traditions and culture of the miners, cutters, polishers and suppliers alive.

This month, one of our design consultants, Emily, had the opportunity to visit Ratnapura in Sri Lanka. She went to see the mines, and met one of the only female exporters in Ratnapura, Maneesha.

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

What I found to be remarkable about the gemstone industry in Sri Lanka is that the industry is very sustainable. The use of traditional mining methods was so interesting- I thought it was odd at first, but once you learn more about the country, it made sense. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country so they are very considerate of the environment and people.

Emily

Maneesha purchases both rough stones and cut and polished stones. As an exporter, she connects the miners & investors with customers globally. Most of the sapphires she purchases are from the Ratnapura region, however she does purchase some sapphires from around the globe, for example, in Madagascar or Montana, as sapphires from these regions have hues not available in Sri Lanka. For an exporter, it is important to be able to give your international customers options.

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

Maneesha

I prefer to buy cut and polished stones because you can see the finished product without the waste. Buying rough can be a gamble.

Maneesha

In the city of Ratnapura, there are many vendors selling rough stones, and streets of cutters and polishers. If a customer would like a fancy cut for their sapphire engagement ring, this is when we would contact an exporter such as Maneesha to procure rough gemstones to be custom-cut to fit exact specifications. Once the sapphire has been agreed upon, the sapphires are shipped internationally from Colombo three times a week.

Sapphires can be found in various locations around the world, but Sri Lanka is famous for producing high quality, richly toned sapphires. When we need to search for a unique, particular sapphire, our company looks to Sri Lankan traders and dealers. Not only does the Sri Lankan industry offer a great variety of colours in sapphires, the industry is small and local, offering direct contact with the mines and traders where we’re assured of the provenance and quality of the gemstones.

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