Sri Lanka: A Rich Blend of Old and New on the "Island of Jewels"

River mining to remove gem-bearing gravels is usually done in areas where the river water slows and deposits the gravel under rocks. Photo by Andrew Lucas/GIA
Sri Lanka, an island nation long known for its wide variety of sapphire, cat’s-eye chrysoberyl and many other gemstones, is enjoying a resurgence in its gem and jewellery industry. Situated off the southeast coast of India—directly in the path of an ancient trade route for seafaring merchants—the “Island of Jewels” is a major source of coloured gemstones and a centre for cutting and heat treatment.

In February 2014, GIA field gemmologist Andrew Lucas and video producer Pedro Padua travelled to Sri Lanka for two weeks with an ambitious goal: to document the country’s entire gem and jewellery industry, from mud-drenched mines to glittering retail stores. This was a true mine-to-market expedition covering all aspects of the industry, including:

  • Coloured gemstone mining, cutting and treatment
  • Coloured gemstone wholesale trading
  • Jewellery design and manufacturing
  • Retail and pawn
They discovered a dynamic industry that blends centuries of experience with modern methods to meet the needs of the international gem and jewellery trade. With improved access to rough from outside sources, modernisation of cutting techniques, precision-quality manufacturing and expertise in heat treatment, Sri Lanka has made substantial gains in the global sapphire market.

This expedition was made possible by tremendous support from the Sri Lankan industry, whose members provided logistical support, background information and trade experience. They opened the doors to the island and its industry, lending decades of knowledge to provide a complete picture of the local gem and jewellery trade.
Lucas and Padua teamed up with GIA’s Dr Tao Hsu and a pair of Sri Lankan industry leaders to produce two field reports and a G&G article based on what they found.

Sri Lanka still relies on pits for mining gemstones — as it has done for centuries. Photo by Andrew Lucas/GIA

Amanda J. Luke is a senior communications manager at GIA. She is the editor of the GIA Insider and Alum Connect and was the editor of The Loupe magazine.