The Island of Gems
Gem stones of Sri Lanka are many and varied, some rare and precious, others considered semi precious but equally beautiful.

Sri Lankan gem stones are found in alluvial deposits of old river beds which have been covered by centuries of over lay from the eroding of the surrounding hills. The most famous mining areas are situated on the downward slopes of the central hills in the southeast of the islands.

Gems occur below alluvial deposits in gem containing gravel known as ‘illam’ which lay buried and are approached by digging out small vertical pits and horizontal shafts. Precautions have to be taken to make the mine shafts waterproof and have pumps to drain the seeping water. The gem bearing gravel is sent up to the surface and washed to bring forth the precious minerals which being heavier tend to seek the bottom of the baskets used in the washing process.

Rough gems look like all other pebbles and require experience and luck to be recognized for their value. When cut and polished they become ‘gem stones’ fit to be set into jewellery and other ornamental items.

Most abundant of the local semi precious stones are Garnet, Zircon, Tourmaline, Beryl, Topaz and Quartz. The precious stones are Sapphire, Ruby and Chrysoberyl family which are also known as Alexandrite and Cat’s Eye.

Sapphire and Ruby
Sapphires and Rubies belong to the hard mineral family corundum with hardness 9, (the second hardest next to Diamond -10), which in good colour and flawless conditions cut to produce high quality gems which are much sought after and very valuable. Sapphires come in many shades of colours. Blue Sapphires of medium cornflower blue and darker royal blue are the ones in demand. Rubies of dark red, the colour of pigeon blood as they say, are the pick of their kind.

Sapphires which have the colour of sunset known as Padmarajah or lotus colour are also rare and expensive. White sapphires are used as a close substitute to diamonds and in reality, more rare than diamonds. Other colours include the Orange Sapphires, Yellow Sapphires, Green Sapphires and Pink Sapphires.

Star Sapphires (grey to blue colour) and Star Rubies (pink to red colour) are cut with the bottom left untouched and the top dome shaped ‘en cabochon’ to bring out the to bring out the six rays in star formation. These stones have to be viewed under a point source of light to bring out the best effect.


Spinel with hardness 8, also occurs in red and many other shades of colours. Red spinel is very rare and the blue could be very similar to the colour of blue sapphire.

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