Jewel box of the Indian ocean


Logan Sapphire 423cts Origin :Sri Lanka
Gifted by Mrs John A. Logan 1960
Smithsonian Museum

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 precious 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.


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