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Gemstones from Sri Lanka

Gemstones found in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Gemstones

There is a very strong connection between Thailand, where our offices are based, and Sri Lanka that is centuries old and based on the shared Theraveda Buddhist beliefs which came to Thailand via Sri Lanka over 700 years ago.

The two countries also share similar tropical terrain, an abundance of white sandy beaches, a love and admiration for elephants and, of course, a long tradition in mining, cutting and trading the finest sapphires, rubies, garnets and other gemstones.

Sri Lanka is possibly, pound for pound, the most prolific producer of colored gemstones in the world, rivaling Brazil and Russia for the top prize. When you compare this small Indian Ocean island with the huge area covered by the other two countries you can only be amazed at the amount of high quality gemstones it produces day after day.

For hundreds of years, Sri Lanka was known as 'Rathna Deepa', which can be translated into 'Island of Gems'. This is just one of several names by which Sri Lanka has gone by over the years. Another was 'Serendip', from which we get the word 'serendipity' meaning unexpected good fortune, as the island was supposed to be so beautiful that wonderful sights could be found wherever you looked.

Sri Lanka was mentioned in legends and stories across the ancient world including those of Marco Polo who tells of a ruby owned by the king as big as the palm of your hand and Sinbad the Sailor who was shipwrecked on the island where 'the rivers flowed with rubies, diamond, pearls'.

Geologically, Sri Lanka is connected to the Indian continental plate and was once part of a massive supercontinent which also included gemstone powerhouses Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania. Hundreds of millions of years ago this giant landmass broke up and India and Sri Lanka moved northwards to crash into Asia (creating the Himalayas). Rising and falling sea levels have separated and re-joined these two nations ever since.

The history of Sri Lankan gem mining stretches back at least 3000 years. King Solomon supposedly gave the Queen of Sheba jewelry made from Sri Lankan gemstones. Roman, Greek and Egyptian leaders were very familiar with the magnificent rubies, beryls and sapphires that came from what they called the 'Island of Taprobane' and Arab traders referred to it as the 'land of rubies'.

As a very old country, geologically speaking, most of the gemstones mined are what we call secondary mineral deposits. The gemstones have broken free of their original enclosure in rocks and have been washed into rivers and streams by rain. Miners then retrieve the gemstones from river beds or by digging shallow tunnels into packed sedimentary or alluvial deposits.

As often as not, rich veins of gemstones are discovered by accident when farmers turn over the soil in fertile lush valleys. Word soon spreads and the land quickly turns from farmland to a series of mining pits. Luckily for Sri Lanka, the methods for extracting the gemstones do not involve heavy machinery or toxic chemicals and once the gemstones are all worked out the land quickly returns to arable use.

Sapphires, rubies, spinels, garnets and tourmalines are probably the most famous names of gemstones found in Sri Lanka but there are at least 70 more varieties found in the rich earth of this island paradise. Today we will list the top gemstones of Sri Lanka, beginning with the brightest and best, sapphire.

Sapphire

Sri Lanka has a reputation for producing the finest sapphires available and the most famous gem in the world, Princess Diana's 12 carat blue sapphire engagement ring, is just one example.

It is thought that Sri Lanka may have been the first place to develop heat treatment techniques to improve the clarity and color of sapphires. Techniques still practiced to this day in Ratnapura - The City of Gems - with charcoal, coconut husks and blow tubes.

Of course, sapphires are not just blue, they can be found in just about every color including yellow, orange, green, violet and so on but not red - then they become rubies.

Most colors can be found in the rich soil of Sri Lanka but the most famous, expensive and sought-after are the Padparadscha variety. Named after the color of the lotus blossom, these sapphires come in a particular pinkish orange hue with quite definite restrictions - they cannot be too orange or too pink.

Birthstone for Month

September

Wedding Anniversary

5th, 45th and 70th

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Ruby

Sapphires and Rubies are the same mineral - corundum - with the only difference being trace elements that create the color. Tiny amounts of titanium, copper, magnesium can cause the various colors of sapphires while chromium or iron brings about the red color of rubies.

Since Sri Lanka is the source of so many fine sapphires, it will come as no great surprise that stunning rubies can also be found here including some amazing star rubies such as the 138 carat Rosser Reeves Ruby now in the Smithsonian.

Birthstone for Month

July

Wedding Anniversary

15th, 40th and 80th

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Spinel

Sri Lanka is one of the world's top producers of the very underrated spinel gemstones.

Before the science of gemology was completely modernized with refractometers and spectroscopes spinels were often mistaken for rubies and sapphires especially as in Sri Lanka they were often found in the same gravel pits - known locally as illama.

Similar to the corundum mineral that creates sapphire and ruby, spinel in Sri Lanka can be found in all sorts of colors including red, pink, orange, brown, purple, blue, green, even black to colorless.

They are nearly as durable as sapphires and rubies, have generally better clarity and are not usually treated in any way to enhance their appearance. Despite this they are very reasonably priced for such a fine gemstone.

Birthstone for Month

August

Wedding Anniversary

22nd

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Tourmaline

The root of the name tourmaline is turmali, a Sinhalese (the language spoken in Sri Lanka) word for 'mixed gems', and was first used as a term to refer to all the different colored crystal gems found on the island then known as Ceylon.

Tourmaline is possibly the most colorful gemstone in the world with just about every color represented. Sri Lankan tourmalines tend to be in the green or yellow color range as well as some interesting earthy honey brown varieties too.

Birthstone for Month

October

Wedding Anniversary

8th

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Garnet

A rival to the tourmaline in the gemstone world for variety of color is garnet which can be found in almost as many different hues. Garnets have basically the same crystal structure with their chemical composition creating the different colors. There are more than twenty garnet species, but only five are used as gemstones. Garnet types found in Sri Lanka include the Almandine, Grossular, Pyrope and Spessartine.

The best of the grossular garnets found in Sri Lanka are the gorgeous orange colored hessonites which can be found in all sorts of sizes, cuts and shapes. Some hessonite garnets from Sri Lanka have a burnt or fiery appearance and have been called Cinnamon Stones and are especially beloved because Sri Lanka is also the top source in the world for cinnamon spice.

Birthstone for Month

January

Wedding Anniversary

2nd

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Zircon

Zircon is a very popular gemstone around the world with the blue or clear varieties including the colorless Matara Zircons (sometimes called Matara Diamonds) the most sought after. These gemstones have a well earned reputation for their fire and sparkle.

The blue and clear versions are usually the result of heat treatment but some natural untreated gemstones in golden yellow or orange colors can also be found in Sri Lanka and the rare green zircons occasionally appear.

Birthstone for Month

December

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Sphene

Sphenes are a yellow to green gemstone with flashes of orange, red and gold that would make a great addition to any gemstone collection or anyone wanting a unique jewelry piece. Its hardness rating at 5.5 on Mohs scale makes it a bit delicate but with the correct setting or use as a pendant or earrings it would be an interesting choice.

Excellent examples show exceptional fire - greater than that of diamonds - and the additional colors within the stone can put on quite a display. Some sphene gemstones with fascinating inclusions or internal blemishes can make very intriguing cabochons - cut with flat bottoms and domed tops.

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Amethyst

This celebrated gemstone is available in large sizes with excellent clarity in all sorts of shapes and cuts. Its coloring ranges from pale lilac all the way to deep purple and it is admired as much for its spiritual strength as its good looks.

Birthstone for Month

February

Wedding Anniversary

6th

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Citrine

Citrine is the light yellow to honey brown quartz that is amongst the most popular gemstone types in the world today. Much like its sister, amethyst, citrine can be found in stunning large sizes with excellent clarity levels and just about every shape and cut possible.

Poor quality amethyst or smoky quartz found in and around Ratnapura (the city of gems) is often heat treated to create citrine.

Birthstone for Month

November

Wedding Anniversary

13th

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Rose Quartz

Sri Lanka is a leading source of this lovely delicate pink quartz which is very much connected spiritually with love. It usually has a cloudy or milky clarity which can add to its soft appearance and charm.

Sri Lanka is home to Rose Quartz mountain, a national park made up of a series of seven pink quartz mountains covered in ancient ironwood forests. This mountain range is 550 million years old and is the largest Rose Quartz mountain in Asia. The quality of the quartz is such that it was used for the window decorations in the Taj Mahal. It is illegal to mine for rose quartz here and much of the gemstone material comes from much further south in the Ratnapura region.

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Quartz Cat's Eyes

When certain gemstones, such as quartz, have just the right inclusions and opaque transparency they can be made into striking cat's eyes. To turn the rough stone into Cat's Eyes takes a great deal of skill - aligning the inclusions at just the right angle and creating the correct curvature to the surface of the gemstone.

Sri Lankan gem cutters or lapidaries have thousands of years of experience in generating cat's eyes from various different gem types mainly for their spiritual influence but also for their amazing appearance.

Cat's Eye quartz can be found in great green and grey colors with the characteristic silvery streak of light which so resembles the eye of a cat and give this gemstone its name.

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Kornerupine

Once upon a time, little green Kornerupine gemstones would occasionally get mixed up and sold in batches of Sri Lankan tourmalines. Better identification methods and more scrupulous dealers have stopped this and now these usually green to brown gemstones can be bought and sold under their real name.

Kornerupine are not very well known and have mostly been a collector's stone but they have a pretty good durability, interesting earthy colors, great clarity and a variety of shapes to make them suitable for unique looking jewelry items.

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Sillimanite

Sillimanite gemstones with good enough clarity to be used as gemstones are very rare and have usually been reserved for use for collectors more than jewelry items but the lovely yellow, golden and green examples out of Sri Lanka may change that.

The crystal clear sillimanite gemstones can be faceted into gorgeous gemstones while more opaque material with the right inclusions can be made into stunning cat's eyes.

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Aquamarine

Aquamarine is the light blue, teal or sea green member of the beryl family which also includes the famous green emerald and pink morganite gemstones.

This gemstone is found in various locations around Sri Lanka, usually in the loose gravels located just below the surface on land or at the bottom of river beds.

Birthstone for Month

March

Wedding Anniversary

19th

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Chrysoberyl

Despite its name, Chrysoberyl is not part of the beryl family like aquamarine or emerald. The usual chrysoberyl material is yellow, green or brown in color, has a great sparkle and an excellent hardness rating which make it suitable for all types of jewelry.

In addition to normal faceted chrysoberyl there are also a couple of unique gemstones with fascinating optical phenomena - color change Alexandrite and cat's eye chrysoberyl.

Color-change Alexandrite is an exceptionally rare gemstone with an ability to change color according to the lighting conditions –'emerald by day, ruby by night' as the saying goes because it appears green in daylight and red in candlelight. Alexandrite was originally discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia but this source has dried up. Sri Lanka does produce small amounts of this fascinating gemstone each year.

Cat's Eye Chrysoberyls are the original cat's eyes. All other cat's eye gemstones must include the type of gemstone in their name - cat's eye quartz, cat's eye scapolite etc - while just using the term Cat's Eye will identify it as a chrysoberyl. Chrysoberyls with just the right inclusions and skilled cutting can be turned into these captivating gemstones.

Wedding Anniversary (Cat's Eye)

18th

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Topaz

Topaz is one of the most historic and popular gemstones in the world. Traditionally they were golden yellow or honey brown stones but more recently the blues have taken over. Techniques have been developed to turn clear or colorless topaz into Sky Blue, London Blue or Swiss Blue gemstones ready for the world's jewelry market.

The clear topaz found in Sri Lanka responds especially well to such treatments. Topaz collected from the gravel beds in the south west are cut and faceted before being sent abroad for heat and irradiation treatment to turn them blue. Or, under strict guidelines, rough material is sent away for treatment before being returned for cutting and polishing.

Birthstone for Month

November

Wedding Anniversary

4th

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Moonstone

Moonstones have a very ethereal almost ghostly appearance with a glow or sheen that seems to emanate from within the stone itself. No wonder they have such a reputation for spiritual powers.

The science behind these gemstones is equally as mysterious with terms such as adularescence, light interference, lamellar crystal formation cropping up. Technically, moonstones are a type of feldspar and the name Moonstone, is a trade name used by marketing people to sell the various varieties of feldspar such as Rainbow Moonstone, Cat's Eye Moonstone and Blue Moonstone.

Moonstones can come in a range of colors from creamy white to chocolate brown but Sri Lanka is most famous as a source of the best Blue Moonstones which are mined in the southwest of the country in the Meetiyagoda region.

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Agate

Agates are usually a banded or striped type of chalcedony quartz and are found all over the world in fairly abundant quantities.

The delightful colors and unique patterns found in agate mean each stone is unique, each form of agate such as Fire Agate, Blue Lace Agate, Moss Agate may share common features and distinctive styles but each agate is a one-of-a-kind gemstone.

Agate is an opaque or sometimes translucent gemstone and is best presented as a cabochon cut - that is flat on the bottom with a domed top. These are usually round or oval in shape but because of the weird and wonderful patterns that sometimes occur within the stone, agate can make unique odd shaped gemstones ideal for eye-catching jewelry.

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Sri Lanka Gemstones Guide

Gemstone Color

Sapphire

Blue, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Pink, Peach, Clear

Ruby

Red

Spinel

Red, Blue, Violet, Pink, Dark Green, Orange, Black, White

Tourmaline

Yellow, Brown, Green, Blue

Garnet

Red, Orange, Green, Purple

Zircon

Orange, Golden Brown, Yellow, Blue, Clear

Sphene

Yellow, Green, Brown

Amethyst

Violet / Purple

Citrine

Yellow / Orange

Rose Quartz

Pink

Quartz Cat's Eyes

Gray / Green

Kornerupine

Green / Brown

Sillimanite

Yellow / Green

Aquamarine

Light Blue

Chrysoberyl

Yellow / Green

Topaz

Yellow, Orange, Clear, Blue

Moonstone

White, Cream, Blue

Agate

Multicolored

  • First Published: May-31-2021
  • Last Updated: June-01-2021
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    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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