Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Since time immemorial, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) has been counted among the premium sources for Corundum alongside Burma (Myanmar) and Kashmir (India). Historians tell us that gemstones from Ceylon have been found in markets since 3rd Century BCE and probably even earlier. Alexander the Great is credited with introducing sapphires and other gems to the Western world through his conquests of sections of now Afghanistan, Tajikistan, North India. The use of sapphires is considered older than diamonds given the unappealing visual nature of rough diamonds. Sapphires which were used as tools (emery powder), carved seals/rings (intaglios), for social stratification and personal adornment.
An account published in the late 1800s by August C. Hamlin titled “Leisure Hours Among The Gems” explains, “The island of Ceylon is the most famous of all localities thus far known, and it is, in reality, the most wonderful gem deposit in the world. It was known in the period of the Roman empire as the land of the Luminous Carbuncle.”
In his book, “Ruby, Sapphire & Spinel”, Derek J. Content shares a 17th-century account by the Dutch reverend and diarist, François Valentijn. According to Valentijn, gem prospectors in Ceylon were subdivided into two classes. The Diegaranno (Sinh. Diyagarannō) being “those who search for precious stones from rivers and springs where they are found”, referring to secondary deposit, and Goddegarranno (Sinh. Godagaarannō), “those who search for precious stones of the land out of the ground” or the primary deposit. He further goes on to explain, “ The rubies are formed in a reddish, half stoney and half sandy earth about one and a half fathoms deep as if issuing out of the lode. If the swollen flood of a river moves such lodes, it carriers the crumbled pieces downwards where the stones, as long as they are covered with water, preserve their appearance completely. The sapphires form in hard blue soil but the white in grey ground hardly one fathom deep. Also with loam and are carried downwards by the floods.”
Gemstone mining in Sri Lanka offers an interesting model in the small-scale and sustainable mining category. Mining companies employ workers as casual labour and offer them either a daily wage or a share in the mine’s production. Typically the land owner gets 20% of the mine’s production with 8% for the license holder, 7% for the person who finances the machinery (water pump, engine etc.), and balance 65% split among seven to eight workers, each getting 8% to 9% of the production. The mine workers then sell their share in gem markets to traders and lapidary owners. Government insurance is provided to cover injury sustained during mining. The mining itself is artisanal in nature requiring deep-rooted knowledge and experience.
Incredibly, despite hundreds of years of mining, Sri Lanka continues to deliver sapphires in a myriad of hues. Industry sources estimate that there may be 20 varieties of sapphires in Sri Lanka with the blue colour dominating the conversation, followed closely by the rare Padparadscha Sapphire. Founders Joe and Pirapan Belmont have been visiting Sri Lanka for the past 30 years and during that time have built deep-rooted relationships with miners. Their daughter, Maria explains, “We believe in establishing and nurturing long-term relationships with our suppliers. It’s more than business; our suppliers are truly our friends. Trust is the most important factor in the gem trade, and we invest time and significant effort to stay loyal to our main suppliers. The reward is the extensive stock of untreated sapphires KV Gems can offer not only in Blue but also the illusive Padparadscha, Pink, Orange, Green, Purple and more.”