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Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

With the country’s political situation now stabilised, international gem hunters are once again returning to this gem rich island.

Previously known as Ceylon, the island of Sri Lanka, located south of India, has rightly earned its name as the ‘Gem Island’ (Ratna Dweepa). In addition to mining world-class Corundum (the family name for Rubies and Sapphires), the island is also home to Alexandrite, Garnet, Moonstone, Peridot, Spinel, Topaz, Tourmaline and Zircon.
This island has been known for its splendid array of colourful Sapphires and deep red Rubies for over 2000 years. When it comes to Sapphire, Sri Lanka is best known for its Blue Sapphire (known as Ceylon Sapphire) and its stunning orangey pinkish Padparadscha Sapphire (named after the lotus flower also found on the island).

Ceylon Sapphire is typically a stunning light-blue gem with amazing clarity and it is possibly for this reason why  Princess Diana chose an engagement ring featuring a Ceylon Sapphire as the central gem. The main source for the gem is the mining region of Ratnapura, located 65 miles southeast of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The town is also the main focal point for trading gems in Sri Lanka and its name in Singhalese means “gem city”.
Mining in Sri Lanka is primarily undertaken by artisan miners (informal mining), however the government is working hard at putting more formal procedures in place, apparently for a twofold purpose: to help preserve the landscape and to increase the percentage of profit received by the miners for each and every gem found. In order to do this, they aim to increase the skill levels of gemstone cutters and gem treatment companies within the country.

The mines are generally based in alluvial deposits and old riverbeds. As in Madagascar, to access the layers of gem bearing deposits, the miners dig, by hand, small vertical holes 10 to 30 feet into the ground and then create tunnels horizontally. This avoids upsetting the landscape and is often less labour intensive than creating an open pit mine.

Often you will hear stories about the misidentification of gemstones. Ceylon with its treasure trove of different gemstones has played a lead role in many famous misidentifications. This could be because mining is primarily from small independent miners, most of whom don’t have access to gem experts. Take Tourmaline for example: it was only identified as a separate gem species when a bag of “mixed gems” were sent from Ceylon to Holland in 1703. Then there was a parcel of gems sent to Dublin in the 1940s that was thought to be Spinel: one of the pieces turned out to be a new discovery, which we now know as Taaffeite.
Then there is the intentional misidentification. Some unscrupulous gem dealers to increase their profits, will name their Sapphires “Ceylon Sapphire” even if they have come from a different location.

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Ceylon Sapphires.