Searching for Sapphires


Searching for the famous Ceylon Blue Sapphire in Rathnapura, Sri Lanka.



Last February I ventured with my family to the island of Sri Lanka for a break from the Alpine winter and a little Gem Hunting on the side. After a week sitting on the beach in Mirissa my son, Sami and I made the long but very exciting bus journey to Rathnapura. Situated in the cental-South, Rathnapura is known in Sanskrit as the city of gems.



The journey was long (longer than what I told Sami and longer that what the bus driver later told me), bumpy and very exciting. I love travelling local bus, the only real way to see a country in Asia if you ask me. For Sami it was also an incredible experience, driving through jungle roads, stopping to eat chili veg rolls and on into the unknown. Already on the road before Rathnapura you got the feeling of the wild prospectors lifestyle giving everything in the hope of finding the big one. Small shops selling all sorts of ropes, axes, shovels water pumps and such. People have been mining here for over 2000 years!


Fair trade sapphires searching for sapphires


On the outskirts of Rathnapura is dotted with mines, absolutely everywhere. The miner boss rents a patch of land from the farmer under the agreement that when the rent is up he will receive his farm land back exactly as he gave it.. flat without holes! Actually its a very good ecological system. The miners dig deep trenches (unfortunately also very treacherous trenches). From the main trench they bores out in every direction. Water is pumped out of the mine depending on the ground water level. The water softens the illam (mud). The illam is then carried to the surface and placed in a big mound until full moon. Full moon is a very auspicious celebration for Buddhists and on the day before the mound of illam will be sieved through in search of precious gems.


Searching for Sapphires  ethical gemstones


We visited many mines while we were there searching for Sapphires and the miners were so nice to us. We drank tea and had a good laugh. They work hard but know well how to enjoy life. There are many minerals in Rathnapura; Tourmaline, corundum gems, Chrysoberyll and Alexandrite etc. They told us that on top of their low salary that everything they find under three carat they can keep. Except if its Blue. If its blue they will call the boss immediately. In fact it seemed to me that as soon as a high quality raw blue sapphire is found it doesn't even touch the ground again till its cut and exported. The English royal family have kept the status of the Ceylon Blue gem very much in focus for centuries.


ethical wedding rings


I think Sami had a good time. Two years ago he came with me to the Moonstone mines in Meetiyagoda and he was bored as hell. Bored, hot and missing the beach. This time was different. We walked alot and met heaps of people. The miners realised that he is old enough to learn, so they showed him all sorts of treasure. Unfortunately we didnt find any Blue Sapphire at the mines but we we got some nice tourmaline. On the last day we went into the town to chance our luck with cut Sapphires at the local gem dealer stores. Samis job was to check the cut and I was dealing with colour. He was pretty good at it and loved to reject gems because of the cut. The guys were very impressed and were eager to give him a few pointers ;)