Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gemstones of Sri Lanka

Variety of gemstones, Kandy Sri Lanka  photo by Pauline Bradbury

No report is complete about Sri Lanka until we acknowledge the evidence of the gemstone industry here.

After the botanical gardens we stop at a reputable gemstone dealer for our indoor location while we wait for the tooth relic ceremony this evening.   We are shown a video where we learn much about gemstones in Sri Lanka and their long and colorful history. 

  It seems that the island of Sri Lanka itself was once known as Gem Island, a reflection of this wealth.  Marco Polo wrote that "the island had the best sapphires, topazes, amethysts".   Ptolemy, the  2nd century astronomer claimed that" beryl and sapphire were the mainstay of the island" and sailors purported to bring back "jewels of Serendib" during the 4th and 5th century.   

 I found this informative site :  Sri Lanka from mine to market, Part 1 by Gia.    https://www.gia.edu/gia-news-research-sri-lanka-mining-part1  It contains the bulk of what I have corroborated about the gem industry and my visit to this gem dealer.  

    "Most of gemstone mining in Sri Lanka is from secondary deposits.   The gravels yield sapphire, ruby, cat’s-eye and other chrysoberyls; spinel, garnet, beryl, tourmaline, topaz, quartz, and many others.   Sri Lanka’s gem-bearing gravels, called illam, are some of the richest in the world. The island was blessed with geological conditions that provide an ideal blend of chemistry, heat, pressure and time for gem crystals to grow..... and weathering for the gem crystals to be deposited and concentrated in gravels."

Aquamarines from Sri Lanka, photo by Mary M Payne

 "It is believed that Sri Lanka has been inhabited for more than 300,000 years.   The main ethnic group is the Sinhalese, representing about 73 percent of the population. They arrived from India in about the late sixth century BC.  

Buddhism came to Sri Lanka around the third century BC, and today it is the main religion of the Sinhalese people and the island. The Tamil people, from the Tamil area of India, are primarily Hindu. There is also an important Muslim and Christian population." 

 I found this to be true when we went to visit Kataragama where the major religions and philosophies, Hindu, Buddhist, muslim unite to honor a common diety : God Kataragama.   

  This mix of ethnicities also leads to a rich diversity reflected in domestic jewelry design preferences, especially for weddings and in Sri Lanka the gem industry is strong.

However,  what to me is even more interesting is that most of the mining done in Sri Lanka is done using the traditional pit mine method without modern machinery.  Out of 6500 licenses issued in 2013, 6000 of them were for pit mines.  The regulatory bodies frown on mechanized mines claiming they play havoc with the environment.   A deposit is put down by the miners to the regulatory body agreeing that the land must be returned to its former state or the deposit will be forfeited and used to recondition the land.  

A typical pit mine is built with palm fronds and staves and measures two by four meters.  This little clay depiction at the gem center shows it quite well.   If the pits are deep and in harder ground, the miners might dig a two by two meter square pit or a two-meter round pit.   Depth can range up to 50 meters, though most pits are between 5 and 25 meters.    

Model depicting pit mining in Sri Lanka , photo by Mary M Payne  

In the lab however, the latest techniques are mixed with traditional methods in the shaping and polishing of stones.  This gem dealer has a full lab of artisans working to make the jewelry they sell on site.    

Sri Lankan gemstone worker forming a piece of jewelry,  photo by Mary M Payne

The showroom is full of modern jewelry settings in gold and silver and a room of antique jewelry and ornamentation not for sale. 

  At this point some of us are drawn to the showrooms while the three "blokes" in the group retire quickly to the waiting room,  not  tempted.  

Antique gem studded elephant ornaments,  Sri Lanka,  photo by Mary M Payne

I myself get stuck into the little silver rings and end up with a pretty little piece the price of three average lunches in France.   It is an oval moonstone with a flash of blue fire,  flanked by two small sapphires.  I will wear it as a reminder of this beautiful island and this trip, Hoppers and Spice    http://www.telltaletravel.co.uk/sri-lanka/group-holiday.php

 Some of the other ladies are equally inclined to have a memento and after buying we board the bus with our little piece of Sri Lanka to take home....  happy as King Kasyapa's maidens. 

No comments:

Post a Comment