My Travels through Sri Lanka (Ceylon) buying Gemstones Part 1

My Travels through Sri Lanka (Ceylon) buying Gemstones Part 1

September 05, 2018

During the early 1990s, the gemstone industry was in a dilemma about the treatment and enhancement of gemstones. Even though the practice of enhancing gemstones has existed for hundreds of years, the industry was in turmoil and resisted the recent changes to the values of precious stones.

My determination to buy unheated natural gemstones led me to Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The jewelry industry still refers to sapphires originating from Sri Lanka as Ceylon Sapphires.

Sri Lanka is a large island in the Indian Ocean, just off the southern tip of India. Gemstone use in Sri Lanka dates back at least 2,000 years. 

Sri Lanka is considered a source for the best natural sapphires. A gemstone’s value and quality are determined by its country of origin. Natural Ceylon Sapphires are one of the most valuable stones available today. Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is called “Rathna Deepa” in the native Singhalese language, which means “Land of Gems.” ​ Ceylon is the world’s oldest known source for sapphires which offers ideal gemological conditions ranging in colors and intensity of hue and brilliance. The classic blue sapphires that originate from Sri Lanka are most known and called “Ceylon Blues.” Also originating from Sri Lanka are "Fancy Sapphires" which are natural sapphires in all the colors of the rainbow ranging from blue to pink to yellow. Also, you can find purple, green, and orange (padparadscha) sapphires in Sri Lanka. Many of the fine fancy color sapphires are rare and not available to the jewelry markets.

During my travels to Sri Lanka, a civil war had sent the country into chaos with suicide bombing and roadside piracies happening near daily. The civil war started in 1983. The population in Sri Lanka consists of a Sinhalese majority who practice the Buddhist religion and a Tamil minority population who adhere to the Hindu faith. Traditionally, the Tamil population has been concentrated in the northern region of the country as well as in coastal areas along the eastern region of the island.

The diamond industry is closed during the month of July. July was the primary month when I traveled to these exotic countries. It was also the period of time when most manufacturers create their masterpieces for the holiday season. Jewelry gifting ranks high for holiday purchases.

My trips to Sri Lanka were never free of adventure. I encountered curfews, bombings in Colombo and on the roadsides. The trips to Sri Lanka always followed my visits to Jaipur, a stopover in Bombay and then a direct flight to Bandaranaike International Airport. A taxi ride from the Bandaranaike International Airport to Colombo City is about 40 minutes.  

The Bandaranaike International Airport attack in July 2001 was an assault by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The attack was one of the boldest the LTTE mounted during the civil with the Sri Lankan government. It had a profound impact on the country's military, economy, and their airline industry.

Unfortunately, I was oblivious to the country’s turmoil. My focus was on purchasing what I needed, making sure it is the best, and ensuring that it would be exactly what my customers in the USA wanted.

I was not ready to be caught in the middle of the disputes happening between the nationals of foreign countries.

During one of my trips on July 24, fourteen members of the LLTE Black Tiger suicide squad infiltrated Katunayake air base located about 35 km (22 mi) north of Colombo.

The attack was over by 8:30 a.m. All fourteen guerrillas were killed, along with six Sri Lankan air force personnel and one soldier. No tourists were harmed during the attack.

The three Airbuses destroyed constituted three of Sri Lankan Airlines twelve aircraft. The two other damaged aircraft meant that nearly half of the airline’s fleet was out of commission.

As I write about my trips to buy gemstones in exotic countries, it seems that the culture and history is part of the stones. Today, I think of the nature that produced these magnificent gemstones. It usually takes millions of years to produce a natural gemstone.

Many of the old mines are closed now after being exhausted by governments and civil wars.

I am extremely passionate about gemstones. Maybe it is the feminine side of me, or maybe it’s because trading gemstones allowed me to have a luxurious lifestyle. I feel that each gemstone has its own DNA. No two stones are matched. If you do find two stones that are matched to the eye, when you loop them, you see that they are not matching. This is the beauty of nature. Gemstones are gifts from the earth.

Please follow my travel stories. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


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