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Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

After diamonds, sapphires are the most popular gemstone to use in fine jewellery designs. Maybe it’s the rich and remarkable colours they display, or maybe it’s the fact that they’re durable and resilient (scoring a whooping 9.0 on the Mohs hardness scale), but either way, sapphires are the perfect centre stone for any engagement ring.

Contrary to what you might think, sapphires don’t only come in blue. The earth gives us sapphires in almost any colour imaginable: from deep indigo to cornflower blue, to black, white, peach, champagne, sage green, purple, hot pink, and every colour in between.

 

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Sapphires are found in various regions of the world, but sapphires from Sri Lanka are known to be the highest quality gemstones around. In this South Asian country off the south east coast of India, you can find sapphires with a natural richness in colour that can’t be found anywhere else, as most other sapphires undergo a heat-treatment process in order to enhance their natural colour.

Sri Lanka is famous for being one of the best sources not just for blue sapphires, but for the rare orange-pink Padparadscha sapphire made famous by this very region.

 

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How to find the best sapphire

You can look at hundreds of gemstone options, but most people will tell you that the right gemstone will call to you. You simply know 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 for sapphire engagement rings.

 

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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 and workers may choose to perform prayers and rituals before beginning work.

Sourcing Sapphires in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan mining industry aims to support local talent and local economies with the communities of Ratnapura, with gemstones making up a large portion of exports from the country.

With strict labour laws preventing child labour, Ratnapura is leading the industry towards more equitable working conditions for all. Workers are provided with living accommodation alongside their salary, as well as earning commission on the sapphires sold from the mines.

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 the land is protected from privatization and development for housing or farmland.

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.

One of our design consultants, Emily, had the opportunity to visit Ratnapura in Sri Lanka. She went to see the mines, and our Gemstone Buyer, Maneesha.

Maneesha is a truly special leader within Taylor & Hart. Not only does she oversee an entirely female team of gemstone experts, she is the only woman gemstone dealer in Sri Lanka, having broken her way into the male-dominated industry.

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 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.

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. Look to The Mineral and Gemstone Kingdom for a wealth of guidance and education on sapphires and other precious gemstones.

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