Call +(94)711886176 | info@sri-gems.com

Welcome to Sri-Gems !

Sri-Gems brings you the highest quality natural gems from Sri Lanka. A ‘high quality’ gemstone is one that has beauty rarity and durability.

Gems of in Sri Lanka.

A gemstone is the naturally occurring crystalline form of a mineral which is desirable for its beauty, valuable in its rarity, and durable enough to be enjoyed for generations. There are more than 30 popular gem varieties and many more rare collector gemstones. Some varieties also come in a range of colors.

Sri Lanka produces the finest quality of gems in the world.

A ‘high quality’ gemstone is one that has beauty rarity and durability. We provide a wide range of gemstones.When you buy your gems from Sri-Gems, you buy with confidence. Every piece of gems we offer is the best possible quality for the price-guaranteed.

Gems of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s gem industry has a very long and colorful history. Sri Lanka was affectionately known as Ratna-Dweepa which means Gem Island.

Contact us today to purchase the very best in natural gemstones from Sri Lanka.

We are committed to supplying you only the highest quality Sri Lankan gemstones.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Focus on Sri Lanka: Precious stones add sparkle to finest island in world

Known as the “Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean,” Sri Lanka, like possibly no other locality on earth, has yielded p
recious stones and fine gems in a great profusion of gem species and varieties. It has a sparkling reputation since nowhere else are so many minerals of gem variety exist and concentrated in so compact an area of such abundance as in this island.

Princess Diana' s engagement ring, the rubies in the Queeen of England's crown and the marine blue gem from the ill-fated necklace, 'Heart of the Ocean', featured in the blockbuster movie Titanic, all came from this resplendent island. "One of the world’s most beautiful and exotic islands, Sri Lanka, (formerly Ceylon) lies just below the southern tip of India. This pear-shaped bit of tropical paradise, about the size of Sicily, is a tourist’s delight offering British tea-houses, rubber plantations, and gem mines," Peter Bancroft who was the author of The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystal, wrote about the isle and its gems. According to the writer, the island was known in the ancient world as Taprobane (copper colored in Greek).

Native Veddahs, bathing in smooth flowing streams, noticed colored pebbles scattered in sandy bottoms. It was not until 500 B.C. that conquering Buddhists from northern India also discovered gems in the rivers and began to set rough stones into crude jewelry. They bartered stones with traders from abroad and eventually the treasures found their way to the marketplaces of Asia and Europe. Ancient Greek and Chinese historians  referred to the beautiful gems of Ceylon, and King Solomon reportedly wooed the Queen of Sheba with Ceylonese precious stones. Geologically, gemstones originated within a broad belt known as the Highland Series which runs through the center of Sri Lanka.

The edges of the belt form a trough bordered by chains of mountains and peaks. The trough, made up of highly crystalline Precambrian metamorphosed rock, featured components of schists, quartzite, marbles, and sometimes pegmatite deposits. Rock erosion resulted in the formation of extensive gem-laden placer deposits along stream beds in lower valleys. Marco Polo wrote of his visit in 1292: “I want you to understand that the island of Ceylon is, for its size, the finest island in the world, and from its streams comes rubies, sapphires, topazes, amethyst and garnet.”

Little has changed since Marco Polo’s time except that Sri Lanka faces overpopulation and a faltering economy.  Many ancient travelers and traders made Sri Lanka one of their destinations for valuable treasures of gems.

'The Arabian Nights' regales readers with the description of Sinbad the Sailor discovering the rarest and most precious rainbow-hued priceless gemstones on the island of Sri Lanka, when he was washed ashore here. In 600BC, the Etruscans incorporated rubies obtained from the island in their jewellery. Two centuries or so later, the Romans began to do likewise. Since that time, fine rubies from Sri Lanka have found their way to all corners of the earth and enhanced the art of adornment. It seems the ruby was admired locally, too, for Ibn Batuta, a traveller from Tangiers who visited the country sometime between 1333-1341, wrote: “All the women in the island of Ceylon have necklaces of rubies of different colours and wear them also on their arms and legs in place of bracelets and anklets. The Sultan’s slave-girls make a network of rubies and wear it on their heads.” The Grand Kublai Khan sent ambassadors to this monarch to offer for it the value of a city, but he would not part with it for all the treasures of the world, as it was a jewel handed down by his ancestors.” Gems found here are far superior to those found in the rest of the world. Perfected in the laboratory of nature, they lay hidden for countless ages.

The radiance, luminosity and other qualities attributed to Sri Lankan gems are of the highest quality. Added to this, the exquisite craftsmanship of the local jewelers has made Sri Lanka a paradise for lovers of gems and gem-studded jewelry. While traditional designs are still in great demand, Sri Lankan jewelers have reoriented their craftsmanship to cater to foreigners. Most leading jewelry manufacturers showcase their collections overseas at jewelry trade fairs, where they find many buyers from all over the world. The blue sapphire is Sri Lanka's gem supreme. And Sri Lanka's blue sapphires are the finest in the world. Sapphires of the finest quality have what is called the experts 'a corn flower blue' or a royal blue tint. The highly priced of all gems, the blue sapphire is second only to the diamond in hardness. The largest known sapphires in the world weighing 42 pounds was found in the gem gravels of Sri Lanka. The world jewelry market demands Blue Sapphires of 5-15 carats. Sri Lanka can supply these in very large quantities.


Sri Lanka's Star Sapphires is the star beauty among Earth's precious stones. The radiant snowy streaks that gleam in her azure heart are perhaps the solidified version of a colourful dream the world has had long ago of the glory of the universe. The 362-carat Star, now with the State Gem Corporation, is considered the third largest stone of comparable quality and color in the world. But the most celebrated Sri Lanka's star sapphire is on permanent display at the Smithsonian museum of Natural History in New York.

Moonstone the only gem that is found in situ in Sri Lanka displays a milky bluish sheen similar to that of the moon beams, and hence the name moonstone.  Trough some quirk of nature, moonstones are found only in a  solitary quarter acre block of land in the village of Meetiyagoda to the South of Sri Lanka. The world's moonstone market is dominated by Sri Lanka The Sri Lanka Gem and Jewelry Exchange (SLGJE), state-sponsored Gem and Jewelry Gallery, offers potential gem and, Jewelry with a wide range of services under one roof, including trading, lapidary services — gem-testing laboratory and gem certification.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gem Mines and Blue Sapphires in Sri Lanka

One of the world’s most beautiful and exotic islands, Sri Lanka, (formerly Ceylon) lies just below the southern tip of India. This pear-shaped bit of tropical paradise, about the size of Sicily, is a tourist’s delight offering British teahouses,rubber plantations, and gem mines.
Marco Polo wrote of his visit in 1292: “I want you to understand that the island of Ceylon is, for its size, the finest island in the world, and from its streams comes rubies, sapphires, topazes, amethyst and garnet.” Little has changed since Marco Polo’s time except that Sri Lanka faces overpopulation and a faltering economy.
Its gemstones, however, seem to occur in endless supply. Known as the “Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean,” Sri Lanka, like possibly no other locality on earth, has yielded precious stones and fine gems in a great profusion of gem species and varieties.
The island was known in the ancient world as Taprobane (copper colored in Greek). Native Veddahs, bathing in smooth flowing streams, noticed colored pebbles scattered in sandy bottoms. It was not until 500 B.C. that conquering Buddhists from northern India also discovered gems in the rivers and began to set rough stones into crude jewelry.
They bartered stones with traders from abroad and eventually the treasures found their way to the marketplaces of Asia and Europe. Ancient Greek and Chinese historians referred to the beautiful gems of Ceylon, and King Solomon reportedly wooed the Queen of Sheba with Ceylonese precious stones.
Geologically, gemstones originated within a broad belt known as the Highland Series which runs through the center of Sri Lanka. The edges of the belt form a trough bordered by chains of mountains and peaks. The trough, made up of highly crystalline Precambrian metamorphosed rock, featured components of schists, quartzite, marbles, and sometimes pegmatite deposits. Rock erosion resulted in the formation of extensive gem-laden placer deposits along stream beds in lower valleys.
Miners soon learned the richest deposits were composed of blue and yellow clays called illam which lay just below the surface of lush valley farmlands. During their tortuous journey downstream, most gem crystals were worn to rounded pebbles, but harder than host minerals, they managed to retain much of their size.
Every available square meter of stream bed was mined until all known gem areas were exhausted. The miners discovered that the rivers they were working were in reality “surface streams” and that by digging downward from 7 to 30 meters, “ancient streams” could be encountered. Unfortunately most of the ancient streams lay beneath cultivated fields. Prospecting and mining operations caused great destruction to crops and created considerable animosity between farmer and miner.
Eventually new mining methods were devised whereby the gem hunter could operate at a profit and still leave the farmland virtually intact. A vertical shaft was dug downward until the illam was reached. Feeder tunnels extended in a number of directions like the spokes on a wheel. The shaft and tunnels were carefully supported by wood and bamboo timbers. The miners dug along the tunnels, loaded the gravel into knapsacks, and then climbed to the surface with their loads. Washing, screening, and sorting occurred on the surface. Usually pumps operated full time to keep the tunnels free of water. When a mine played out, the tunnels were closed off, the shaft filled, the buildings removed, and new topsoil spread over the area. As another growing season approached, all vestiges of the mine vanished.
In 1974 when the author visited Sri Lanka, the Pelmadulla mine was in operation about 15 kilometers west of Ratnapura. It proved to be a good producer of white and cornflower-blue sapphires. Like all gem gravel mines on the island, when the Pelmadulla was worked out, its shafts were filled, its sumps removed, and rice was planted over the old workings. Today it might be impossible to locate the old mine site.
Ratnapura (Singhalese for ‘gem town’) lies about 100 kilometers southeast of Colombo. Its mining region has produced an incredible variety of gemstones, many of them outstanding in comparison with stones from other regions. Sapphire occurs in all hues of blue, as well as yellow, violet, green, pink, and the remarkable pinkish-orange “padparadsha.” Other gemstones include topaz in bright yellow with a reddish tinge; brownish yellow to cinnamon-colored grossular; orange-yellow spessartine; blood-red pyrope; red to brownish red almandine; the world’s finest zircon in a broad spectrum including brown, yellow, orange, green, and colorless (known locally as ‘Matara diamond’– a misnomer); green, yellow, and brown tourmaline; yellow, green, and brown chrysoberyl; yellow chrysoberyl cat’s-eye; the unique white translucent variety of microcline with a blue sheen known as moonstone; and great quantities of spinel in brown, green, blue, purple, violet, yellow, pink, and red. Unusual and rare stones from the same area include sillimanite, andalusite, scapolite, enstatite, kornerupine, diopside, and sinhalite. Recently a 5000-carat cat’s-eye chrysoberyl, the size of a man’s fist, was taken from a mine near Ratnapura.
The crown jewels of many monarchs gleam with extraordinary spinels, sapphires, and zircons mined from Sri Lanka streams. The Imperial Treasury of the Soviet Union houses a 400-carat red spinel of great beauty which was once given to Catherine the Great. The British Imperial Crown features a giant oval-cut spinel (previously supposed to be a ruby), known as the “Black Prince.” Crowns in the Green Vaults of Dresden are covered with sapphires from Sri Lanka.
Local lapidaries cut most of the island’s gem rough. Striving for maximum weight in each finished stone, cutters frequently align the faces poorly with the center of the stone. Therefore, many stones must be recut, causing a weight loss, before reaching their full potential.
The forests of Sri Lanka are being felled in the vanguard of an expanding population. As natural habitat vanishes, so go the remaining wild elephants, pythons, crocodiles, bears, leopards, wild boars, and other wildlife. With these changes, much of Sri Lanka’s primitive charm will disappear. But many untouched gem areas remain and await exploitation. In all probability the Jewel Box will continue to give up its precious treasures for centuries to come.Mining in Sri Lanka is carried out in both the public and private sectors.The most valuable products are precious and semiprecious stones, including sapphires, rubies, cats' eyes, topaz, garnets, and moonstones.
Official exchange earnings from gems were negligible in the first two decades after independence because most of the output was smuggled out of the country. The setting up of a publicly owned State Gem Corporation in 1971 and export incentives for those exporting through legal channels brought a marked improvement.In 1986 legal exports were valued at Rs755 million, but many observers believed that a considerable quantity was still being exported illegally.In the late 1980s, Japan remained the most important market for Sri Lanka's gems. The Moors traditionally have played an important role in the industry.

8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

It is time to lose yourself in the mystical world of Sri Lankas ancient history and culture. Exquisitely carved stone friezes, serene statues of Lord Buddha, dazzlingly decorated temples built into rocky overhangs, and feats of irrigation that amaze the world even today are just some of the treasures left by a proud civilisation stretching back more than two thousand years.

The remains of Sri Lankas ancient and medieval civilisations palaces, monasteries, shrines, water gardens and temples bear witness to thriving kingdoms and to the influence of Buddhism. Sri Lanka showcases no fewer than 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites within just 65,610 square kilometers, all remarkably preserved to surpass more well-known world class attractions.

Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankas Central Highlands comprising of Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest has been the most recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and was designated a natural heritage site in mid 2010. These montane forests, where the land rises to 2,500 metres above sea-level, are home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including several endangered species such as the western-purple-faced langur, the Horton Plains slender loris and the Sri Lankan leopard. The area is home to the Bear Monkey the highland race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. In the Peak Wilderness a small herd of elephants still roam.

The region is considered a super biodiversity hotspot. The avi-fauna diversity in the region is also high with many endemics found only in the hill country like the Whistling Thrush, Bush Warbler, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye and the Wood Pigeon.

The site includes the largest and least disturbed remaining areas of the submontane and montane rain forests of Sri Lanka, which are a global conservation priority on many accounts. More than half of Sri Lankas endemic vertebrates, half of the countrys endemic flowering plants and more than 34% of its endemic trees, shrubs, and herbs are restricted to these diverse montane rain forests and adjoining grassland areas.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Covering 190 square kilometers (73 square miles), the Sinharaja Forest Reserve is one of two natural world heritage sites in Sri Lanka. A tropical virgin rainforest, Sinharaja is home to a myriad of fauna and flora that is endemic to the island. More than half of Sri Lankas 86 species of mammals are found within the confines of this natural treasure, amongst them the elephant, purple-faced langur, the ruddy mongoose, and giant squirrels. Sinharaja is also home to the elusive leopard.

With over 130 bird species resident in Sinharaja, 34 of Sri Lankas 36 endemic birds are also sighted here, including the red-faced malkoha, the Malabar trogon and spot-winged trush. Sinharaja Forest Reserves staggering array of flora and fauna place it among the top biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Dutch Fort, Galle
Dutch Fort at Galle, close to the islands southernmost point, 173km from Colombo, has the distinction of being the best-preserved sea fort in South Asia. A living heritage site, this 90 hectare (222 acre) attraction is a superb blend of architecture, with fortifications that resemble those in the coastal areas of Portugal. The fall of Galle to the Dutch in 1640 saw its fortifications consolidated further along the lines of the fortified cities of Europe. The Dutch and the English colonial styles are evident in the deep verandahs of houses supported by timber or masonry pillars. Originally established by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, it reached its zenith under Dutch rule in the 18th Century, providing spacious housing, wide roads and all necessary facilities within its walls including an intricate sewage system that was ahead of its time.

When it comes to fortified towns, nothing can compete with the Dutch Fort in Galle. This World Heritage Site on the south coast was the main port of call for ships sailing between the East and Europe.

Today, inside the Fort you will find that it exudes old-world charm. Within the ramparts and stonewalls of the old Galle Fort which spreads over a 36-hectare peninsula magnificent buildings remain. The narrow streets are dotted with Dutch colonial villas and there's a welcome absence of vehicular traffic. There are several museums and antique shops that display curiosities from the island's colonial era. Of the many colonial buildings, perhaps the most absorbing is the Dutch Reformed Church, containing ornately carved memorials to the city's Dutch settlers. The original entrance gate to the Fort, on the northeast side of the peninsula still bears the carved insignia of the Dutch East Indies Company (or VOC, from Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie). The Fort also hosts some of the island's most exclusive boutique-style accommodation in former villas restored to their colonial glory.

The Golden Temple of Dambulla
Dating back to the First Century BC, the Golden Temple of Dambulla has been the centre of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike for 22 centuries. It is Sri Lankas most popular historic site. The Cave monastery, home to Buddhist monks is covered with exquisite 2,000 year-old murals depicting the life and times of the Lord Buddha. The shrines also house a collection of 157 statues of Buddha in various sizes and poses, including a 15 metre long reclining Buddha and vividly coloured frescoes on the walls and ceiling, making this the largest antique painted surface in the world.

To reach Dambullas rock temples, pilgrims and tourists alike must climb barefoot up the sloping ground and several series of stairs almost to the summit, 100 metres above the plain. From here, the strikingly distinctive rock fortress of Sigirya is visible, but the five caves or shrine rooms of Dambulla lie just ahead. All of these house multiple images of the Lord Buddha, either lying, standing or seated. The astonishing frescoes and the sheer size and antiquity of the caves convinced UNESCO that Dambulla should be preserved as a World Heritage Site.

The largest and most impressive of the caves, the Temple of the Great King, is 52 metres from one side to another, and 23 metres from the entrance to the back, with the sloping ceiling seven metres at its highest point. The entire surface of the cave is a mosaic of frescoes with so many themes and styles that it is easy to be overwhelmed.The paintings at Dambulla are representative of many different epochs of Sinhalese Buddhist art, although the classical school of Sinhalese painting (which ceased at the end of the 12th century) is not represented. The so-called New School supposedly influenced by the contemporary South Indian Deccan School is less successful than the earlier indigenous art forms, using brilliant colour schemes with red and yellow predominating. It is not possible to date the Dambulla paintings precisely, since they have been over-painted throughout the centuries. Some, however, were originally done by Kandyan artists during the 17th century.

Beyond the endless repetitions of seated Buddhas, and red, yellow and black geometric motifs, there are bands of sinuous tendrils and flowers; stories of the life of Lord Buddha including the Jataka tales relating his previous lives in the Temple of the Great King. There are also murals depicting battles, and others showing important events in the history of Sri Lanka. To fully appreciate this unique art, it is advisable to either go with a knowledgeable guide or to wander slowly, focusing on whatever seems to be most fascinating, remembering always that Buddhist art is not designed to be creative or original, but to impart the teachings of Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress And City
Built by an obsessed monarch in the 5th century, Sigiriya or Lion Rock is an astonishing feat of engineering and construction. The most striking portion of Sigiriya, a terracotta and grey core of rock set in the cultural heart of Sri Lanka, rises a sheer 200 metres above a forested plain, its flattened summit sloping gently. A series of moats, ramparts and water gardens remnants of an ancient city spread out on two sides of the rock, with the remains of a pair of giant stone lions paws still guarding the staircase that leads to the summit, once occupied by a royal palace.

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Sigiriya is Asias best preserved city of the first millennium, showing complex urban planning around the base of the rock, combined with sophisticated engineering and irrigation skills in the palace perched on the summit. It is considered it to be one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world with visitors recording their impressions in some of the earliest-known graffiti.

For just two decades in the 5th century AD, Sigiriya rose to prominence following a power struggle between two brothers, and an act of patricide that saw the then king walled-up alive by his son, Kasyapa. Fearful that his defeated brother would return from exile to extract vengeance, Kasyapa shifted the capital to Sigiriya and in 477 AD, he ordered the construction of the magnificent city around the base of the rock, and decreed that his palace should stand on top, a fortress that would keep him safe from retribution. Just seven years later, his astonishing palace in the sky was ready, complete with terraces and a complex system of irrigation.

Kasyapa clearly had an eye for beauty. The pleasure gardens include a series of symmetric pools, channels and fountains that still spurt water after 1,500 years. Partway up the rock are the famous Sigiriya frescoes, featuring 21 bare-breasted damsels that may represent celestial nymphs, but were surely modeled on Kasyapa's own consorts. Halfway you'll encounter a pair of giant lion's paws, part of the original entrance, which required visitors to pass through the open mouth of a lion. The summit yields a dramatic vista of the surrounding jungle and contains the foundations of the palace complex, replete with bathing pools.

Sacred Temple Of The Tooth, Kandy
The scared Temple of the Tooth in the historic city of Kandy houses one of Buddhisms most sacred relics and draws followers of the Buddhist faith from all over the world. The Royal Complex situated around the Temple of the Tooth and Kandy Lake comprising of the Kings Palace, the Queens Palace, the Audience Hall, the Royal Boathouse and the Royal Summer House, represent the zenith of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.

The last stronghold of the Sri Lankan kings against a series of colonial invaders was at Kandy, at 500 metres in the Hill Country. Now a bustling city, Kandy still remains a sanctuary for traditional Sinhalese culture, with a number of important heritage sites in and around the city.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth enshrines Sri Lankas most important relic of Lord Buddha. Constructed during the 17th and 18th centuries, this temple is surrounded by a deep moat. Nearby are three impressive shrines or devalas dedicated to guardian deities: Natha, Vishnu and Pattini. A fourth devala a short distance away, the Kataragama shrine, is famed for its wooden columns with exquisitely carved panels.

The temple was part of a complex of buildings that included the 16th century Kings Palace (part of which now houses the Archaeological Museum), while the Queens Palace, home to the National Museum, has a collection of royal regalia. Kandys pleasant Lake in the centre of the old city was created by the last Sinhalese King in 1807.

In the hills around Kandy, many temples feature the distinctive architecture, murals and carving of the late-medieval period. These include two 14th century temples: the beautiful hilltop Lankatilleke and Gadaladeniya, its wooden doors still bearing the original paintings.

Anuradhapura
Founded around 5th Century BC, Anuradhapura is the oldest city in the Cultural Triangle and Sri Lankas first capital. In its heyday, tens of thousands of people lived in a city of royal palaces, monasteries, temples topped by glittering jewels, houses of two or three storeys, shops, pleasure gardens, bathing pools and wooded parks.

Today, the restored remains of ancient Anuradhapura are dotted amidst peaceful parks to the north and west of the modern city. Among the many bell-shaped dagobas or temples are Thuparama (which enshrines a relic of Lord Buddha), and Ruwanweli, rebuilt to its original 2nd century BC bubble shape.

Other dagobas include the 1st century BC Abhayagiri and 3rd century BC Jetawana, both around 120 metres high and second in height only to Egypts mightiest pyramids at Giza. Excavations have unearthed jewellery, sculptures, coins and other rare artefacts including seven Buddhist scriptures etched into sheets of beaten gold. Soaring towards the sky, the magnificent dagobas reached monumental proportions during the period of the kingdom of Anuradhapura, which lasted for about 1,500 years, until the 10th century AD.

Stone pillars are all that remains of the 1,000-room monks residence or Brazen Palace, near Sri Maha Bodhi or the sacred bo tree, a slender fig or Ficus religiosa supported by iron crutches. The oldest historically documented tree on earth, this grew from a sapling taken over 2,200 years ago from the very same tree under which Lord Buddha gained enlightenment.

The finest of the carved stone figures protecting gateways (guard stones) at Anuradhapura is at the pavilion of Ratna Prasada. Nearby, at the Queens Pavilion, is a superbly crafted semi-circular stone moonstone set at the base of the stairs.

The Isurumuniya Rock Temple is renowned for its ancient bas-relief sculptures, including those known as The Lovers, The Horseman and a group of elephants playing in water.

No less than three vast irrigation lakes, which remain to this day, nourished the agriculture of ancient Anuradhapura, which offers numerous other fascinating sites.

Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was established as the capital after Anuradhapura had been invaded in the late 10th century. Under King Parakramabu, who ruled in the late 11th century, Polonnaruwa became a magnificent walled city. He built the vast reservoir, Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama) still in use today, and ordered the construction of monasteries, temples, palaces, bathing pools and Buddhist statues, all set in a forested park surrounded by moats.

The remains of Polonnaruwa are so numerous that only a few highlights can be mentioned. One of the most striking of the many sites is Polonnaruwas Gal Vihara or Rock Shrine, the reclining Lord Buddha is near another statue showing him seated in deep meditation, his throne adorned with lions and thunderbolts. A second seated Lord Buddha, surrounded by other deities including Brahma and Vishnu, is set within a cave cut into the rock face that still bears traces of the frescoes which once decorated the walls. The fourth Gal Vihara statue departs from the conventional poses by depicting the Lord Buddha as a seven-metre tall standing figure with arms crossed.

While these statues are regarded as masterpieces of Sri Lankan art, other remarkable carvings include a 4-metre-high bearded figure (probably King Parakramabu) holding what seems to be a book. Another dramatic work is an inscribed stone book 9 metres long and around 50 centimetres thick.

The Quadrangle, with 12 superb buildings standing on a platform in the centre of the ancient city, and the Lankatilleke image house, a vast brick building with a standing Buddha at the rear, are also among the many magnificent remains.

  


  

   

Discover Refreshingly Sri Lanka!

Set in the Indian Ocean in South Asia, the tropical island nation of Sri Lanka has a history dating back to the birth of time. It is a place where the original soul of Buddhism still flourishes and where natures beauty remains abundant and unspoilt.

Few places in the world can offer the traveller such a remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage and unique experiences within such a compact location. Within a mere area of65, 610 kilometres lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1,330 kilometres of coastline - much of it pristine beach - 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, to a culture that extends back to over 2,500 years.

This is an island of magical proportions, once known as Serendib, Taprobane, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and Ceylon. Discover refreshingly Sri Lanka!

Ceylon’s Gem Mines by Peter Bancroft

One of the world’s most beautiful and exotic islands, Sri Lanka, (formerly Ceylon) lies just below the southern tip of India. This pear-shaped bit of tropical paradise, about the size of Sicily, is a tourist’s delight offering British teahouses, rubber plantations, and gem mines.
Marco Polo wrote of his visit in 1292: “I want you to understand that the island of Ceylon is, for its size, the finest island in the world, and from its streams comes rubies, sapphires, topazes, amethyst and garnet.” Little has changed since Marco Polo’s time except that Sri Lanka faces overpopulation and a faltering economy.
Its gemstones, however, seem to occur in endless supply. Known as the “Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean,” Sri Lanka, like possibly no other locality on earth, has yielded precious stones and fine gems in a great profusion of gem species and varieties.
The island was known in the ancient world as Taprobane (copper colored in Greek). Native Veddahs, bathing in smooth flowing streams, noticed colored pebbles scattered in sandy bottoms. It was not until 500 B.C. that conquering Buddhists from northern India also discovered gems in the rivers and began to set rough stones into crude jewelry. They bartered stones with traders from abroad and eventually the treasures found their way to the marketplaces of Asia and Europe. Ancient Greek and Chinese historians referred to the beautiful gems of Ceylon, and King Solomon reportedly wooed the Queen of Sheba with Ceylonese precious stones.
Geologically, gemstones originated within a broad belt known as the Highland Series which runs through the center of Sri Lanka. The edges of the belt form a trough bordered by chains of mountains and peaks. The trough, made up of highly crystalline Precambrian metamorphosed rock, featured components of schists, quartzite, marbles, and sometimes pegmatite deposits. Rock erosion resulted in the formation of extensive gem-laden placer deposits along stream beds in lower valleys.
Sapphire
Size: 3.5 by 2 cm.
Locality: Ratnapura
Collection: Harold and
Erica Van Pelt
Photo: Harold and
Erica Van Pelt
Sapphire Crystal photo image
Miners soon learned the richest deposits were composed of blue and yellow clays called illam which lay just below the surface of lush valley farmlands. During their tortuous journey downstream, most gem crystals were worn to rounded pebbles, but harder than host minerals, they managed to retain much of their size.
Every available square meter of stream bed was mined until all known gem areas were exhausted. The miners discovered that the rivers they were working were in reality “surface streams” and that by digging downward from 7 to 30 meters, “ancient streams” could be encountered. Unfortunately most of the ancient streams lay beneath cultivated fields. Prospecting and mining operations caused great destruction to crops and created considerable animosity between farmer and miner.

Eventually new mining methods were devised whereby the gem hunter could operate at a profit and still leave the farmland virtually intact. A vertical shaft was dug downward until the illam was reached. Feeder tunnels extended in a number of directions like the spokes on a wheel. The shaft and tunnels were carefully supported by wood and bamboo timbers. The miners dug along the tunnels, loaded the gravel into knapsacks, and then climbed to the surface with their loads.
Washing, screening, and sorting occurred on the surface. Usually pumps operated full time to keep the tunnels free of water. When a mine played out, the tunnels were closed off, the shaft filled, the buildings removed, and new topsoil spread over the area. As another growing season approached, all vestiges of the mine vanished.
The “Maharani” chrysoberyl cat’s-eye
Locality: Sri Lanka
Weight 58.2 carats
Collection: Smithsonian Institution
Photo: Dane Penland
Chrysoberyl Cat's Eye photo image
In 1974 when the author visited Sri Lanka, the Pelmadulla mine was in operation about 15 kilometers west of Ratnapura. It proved to be a good producer of white and cornflower-blue sapphires. Like all gem gravel mines on the island, when the Pelmadulla was worked out, its shafts were filled, its sumps removed, and rice was planted over the old workings. Today it might be impossible to locate the old mine site.
Ratnapura (Singhalese for ‘gem town’) lies about 100 kilometers southeast of Colombo. Its mining region has produced an incredible variety of gemstones, many of them outstanding in comparison with stones from other regions. Sapphire occurs in all hues of blue, as well as yellow, violet, green, pink, and the remarkable pinkish-orange “padparadsha.” Other gemstones include topaz in bright yellow with a reddish tinge; brownish yellow to cinnamon-colored grossular; orange-yellow spessartine; blood-red pyrope; red to brownish red almandine; the world’s finest zircon in a broad spectrum including brown, yellow, orange, green, and colorless (known locally as ‘Matara diamond’—a misnomer); green, yellow, and brown tourmaline; yellow, green, and brown chrysoberyl; yellow chrysoberyl cat’s-eye; the unique white translucent variety of microcline with a blue sheen known as moonstone; and great quantities of spinel in brown, green, blue, purple, violet, yellow, pink, and red. Unusual and rare stones from the same area include sillimanite, andalusite, scapolite, enstatite, kornerupine, diopside, and sinhalite. Recently a 5000-carat cat’s-eye chrysoberyl, the size of a man’s fist, was taken from a mine near Ratnapura.
Gemming photo image“Gemming” a river. Disturbing the gravels with poles causes waste to float away, leaving gems to be gathered from river bed.
Photo: Edward Gübelin
The crown jewels of many monarchs gleam with extraordinary spinels, sapphires, and zircons mined from Sri Lanka streams. The Imperial Treasury of the Soviet Union houses a 400-carat red spinel of great beauty which was once given to Catherine the Great. The British Imperial Crown features a giant oval-cut spinel (previously supposed to be a ruby), known as the “Black Prince.” Crowns in the Green Vaults of Dresden are covered with sapphires from Sri Lanka.
Looking down 25 meters into a gem shaft
Photo: Gerhard Becker
Mine Shaft photo image
Map of Sri Lanka by Richard W. HughesMap of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) showing the location of important cities and mining areas. Illustration © Richard W. Hughes
Local lapidaries cut most of the island’s gem rough. Striving for maximum weight in each finished stone, cutters frequently align the faces poorly with the center of the stone. Therefore, many stones must be recut, causing a weight loss, before reaching their full potential.
The forests of Sri Lanka are being felled in the vanguard of an expanding population. As natural habitat vanishes, so go the remaining wild elephants, pythons, crocodiles, bears, leopards, wild boars, and other wildlife. With these changes, much of Sri Lanka’s primitive charm will disappear. But many untouched gem areas remain and await exploitation. In all probability the Jewel Box will continue to give up its precious treasures for centuries to come.
Padparadscha Crystal photo imagePadparadscha sapphire crystal
Size: 8 by 5 cm
Locality: Sri Lanka
Collection: Paul Ruppenthal
Photo: Studio Hartmann
Cutting sapphires on primitive machine
Photo: Edward Gübelin
Gem Cutting photo image
Faceted Sapphires photo imageFaceted sapphires
Size: Largest is 27 carats
Collection: Los Angeles County Museum
Photo: Harold and Erica Van Pelt
Recovering gems from rattan basket
Photo: Gerhard Becker
Recovering Gems photo image
Ratnapura Curator Holding Sapphire Crystal photo imageRatnapura museum curator holding sapphire crystal
Photo: Peter Bancroft

Peter Bancroft photo image
About the author. Dr. Peter Bancroft was Marketing Director of Pala International in the mid-1970s. He is also the author of The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals and has written for many publications in Europe, Australia and the United States. Dr. Bancroft is a well-known lecturer on mines, minerals and gemstones.
In contrast to many “armchair authors” who merely recycle what has appeared in other books, Dr. Bancroft has spent years traveling the world like a modern-day Herodotus, visiting hundreds of remote and fascinating mineral and gem deposits, and interviewing miners and local inhabitants. Bancroft has uncovered a wide range of information, some of it never before published. This and his extensive knowledge of the literature have combined to produce an authoritative and highly readable text.
Although many fine specimens reside in public collections such as the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum, Bancroft has searched further through a vast number of private collections worldwide in order to assemble the suite of magnificent photographs found in Gem and Crystal Treasures. Many specimens in these collections are rarely if ever available for public view.
Dr. Bancroft has done graduate work in geology at the University of Southern California, The University of California at Santa Barbara, and at Stanford University. His doctorate, in Education Administration, is from Colorado State University. During his long professional career he has served as teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools in California; as a White House consultant on education, as a professional photographer; as a gemstone buyer, as Curator of Mineralogy at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History; and as Director of Collections for the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society.
His personal mineral and crystal collection has won state and national honors. In 1984 he was selected as an Honorary Awardee for the American Federation of Mineral Societies’ Scholarship Foundation.
Dr. Bancroft’s son, Edward, has a collection that can be seen in the Dept. of Geological Sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara. A beautiful introduction is online at: The Bancroft Collection.
Today, Peter Bancroft resides with his wife Virginia in Fallbrook, CA. Those wishing to correspond with him can contact him at:
Dr. Peter Bancroft
3538 Oak Cliff Drive
Fallbrook, CA 92028
USA