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Gem gravels, Ratnapura, Ratnapura District, Sabaragamuwa Province, Sri Lanka

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Location is approximate, estimate based on other nearby localities.
Latitude & Longitude (WGS84): 6° North , 80° East (est.)
Margin of Error:~16km
Köppen climate type:Af : Tropical rainforest climate

The island of Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon or Serendib) has a heritage for gem mining and trading that dates back 2000 years. Sri Lanka is a tropical island situated in the Indian Ocean, off the southern tip of India. Sri Lanka has earned its namesake as the 'Gem Island' or 'Island of Gems' (Ratna Dweepa), with its abundance of corundum gems, chrysoberyl and alexandrite, garnet, moonstone, peridot, spinel, topaz, tourmaline, and zircon. During the 16th century, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama said of Sri Lanka: "Ceylon has all the fine cinnamon of the Indies and the best sapphires."

Sapphire & Ruby from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is known for its Ceylon Blue, and Padparadscha (aka padmaraga) sapphire, named after the island's lotus flower, and its unique soft pastel orange-pink color. The name 'Padparadscha' comes from the Sanskrit or Singhalese "padma raga" meaning 'lotus blossom.' The traditional mining areas of Ceylon were located in the vicinity of Ratnapura, about 100 kilometers south-east of the capital of Colombo.

Sapphire from Sri Lanka occurs in a wide range of hues from Padparadscha, Ceylon and cornflower-blue, to green, orange, pink, purple, white (geuda) and yellow. Sri Lanka's 'Geuda sapphire' is a semi-opaque milk-white stone that can be heated to a deep blue.

The gem trading center for Sri Lanka is in the town of Ratnapura (Singhalese for "gem town"), about 100 kilometers southeast of the capital, Colombo.

Heat Treated Material from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a two thousand year history of heating their rubies to enhance the reddish-pink color, and remove any bluish or purplish hues. Sri Lanka's "burners" traditionally apply heat treatment using a blow-pipe and charcoal burner, to super-heat the stone.

The government has instituted a five-year program to increase Sri Lanka's share of the heat-treatment industry by advancing experimentation in heat-treatment technologies [3]. The Sri Lankan government is also opening up new lands to sapphire mining in the central part of the country.

It is a common sight to see vendors in Sri Lanka's Ratnapura's Newitigala 'morning gem market,' and Thailand's Muang Chan's (Chanthaburi's) 'weekend market' selling Sri Lankan sapphires alongside of material from Madagascar and Tanzania that was treated in Sri Lanka ("geuda sapphires").

Gem Mining in Sri Lanka

The government works in cooperation with land/farm owners to manage and allocate mining rights to their land in exchange for a percentage of the profit, should any gemstone be found on the property. The government sees to it that the land is not spoiled by mining operations, through strict regulation of low-impact mining proceedures.

Gem mining in Sri Lanka is primarily from alluvial secondary deposits found in gem-bearing river gravels (illam), in ancient flood plains and streams that are now covered with productive farm land and terraced rice paddies. To access the gem-bearing gravel, 5 to 50 foot deep mining pits are hand-dug by teams of several workers, pumping out any ground-water as it enters the hole from below. When the pit is dug to the correct depth, tunnels are dug horizontally in several directions to minimize surface degradation.

Sluicing with conical-shaped baskets is used to extract the gems from the illam clay, gravel and sand slurry. The basket is swirled around until the heavier stones (Jathi) settle to the bottom of the basket.

The Ratnapura region was the first locality to mine sapphire on the island. Significant gem-mines throughout Sri Lanka are the Bibile sapphire mines (central), Elehara Gem Fields (near Ratnapura), Metiyagoda moonstone mines (south-west coastal), Morawaka (south-central), Nuwara Eliya mines (mountainous tea plantation area), and Pelmadulla sapphire mines (15 km south-east of Ratnapura).

Sri Lanka's Bibile area is located in the central-eastern region of the island in the Uva Province. Ceylon-blue sapphire is mined in pits, dug into the rice paddies that carpet the valley floor. Alluvial sapphire deposits are found in gem-bearing river gravels (illam), in ancient flood plains and streams that are now covered with farm land.

Sri Lanka's alluvial Elahera Gem Fields are located in the Matale District near the Wasgomuwa strict natural reserve, in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka; 115 km north-east of Colombo. The Elahera Gem Fields are estimated to produce up to 35% of the gemstones exports from Sri Lanka. The Elahera mines contain a variety of of gem-quality minerals including chrysoberyl, garnet, sapphire, spinel, tourmaline, and zircon.

Sri Lanka's Nuwara Eliya mining region (Tea Country) is located north-east of Adams Peak (2224m) in the northern part of Sabaragamuwa province Nuwara-Eliya District. The high mountainous Nuwara Eliya region of Sri Lanka (1806m) is famous for its tea plantations.

Sri Lanka's Pelmadulla Mine is located 15 km south-east of Ratnapura (aka "City of Gems") in the Sabaragamuwa province of south-central Sri Lanka. Ratnapura's Pelmadulla mines are the traditional hand-dug pit mines found under rice paddies as well as mechanized small-scale mining operations. Ceylon-blue and Padparadscha sapphire is mined in pits, dug in the fields that carpet the valley floor.

The city of Ratnapura (with the Ratnapura Gem Museum) is located 101 kilometers south-east of Colombo, on the Colombo-Ratnapura highway. Alluvial sapphire deposits are found in gem-bearing river gravels (illam), in ancient flood plains and streams that are now covered with farm land throughout this region.

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Sri Lanka

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Econ Geol (1981) 76:733-738
Ceylon Gem Aluvial Mine (2000)

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