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  •  Insights Sri Lanka   •  Sri Lanka (Ceylon) – Mining & Sustainability
06_Gemological Facts_1

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) – Mining & Sustainability

Insights Responsible Mining

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) – Mining & Sustainability

The island of Sri Lanka, located in the Indian Ocean, has perfected the mining of gemstones for thousands of years. Among other things, especially rare and fine sapphires are mined there.  Sri Lanka is the oldest deposit of sapphires. These are known worldwide for their fine quality. The island is called “Rathna Deepa” in the native language, which means “land of gemstones”. The name stands for the wealth of this rare natural treasure. It is believed that gemstones can be found on almost a quarter of Sri Lanka’s surface. This makes the island one of the richest in gemstones in the world. The occurrence is important for the local industry and gives the country a great importance in international trade.

Where do sapphires come from? Where do the most beautiful Ceylon sapphires come from?

The highlands stretch from northeast to southwest. This is where gemstone deposits in high-quality, metamorphic rock structures are most common. The island has been blessed with geological conditions that provide an ideal mixture of chemical properties, heat, pressure and time for the growth of gemstone crystals. Weathering along the rivers resulted in deposits and concentrations of gemstone crystals in gravel-like rock structures. Today, most gemstone mines are located in rice fields in the lowlands of the highland complex. These are secondary deposits of sapphire crystals. The best known and largest mining areas are Ratnapura, Balangoda and Elahera. For the local people, mining in small cooperatives is the most sustainable form. The mining is done according to traditional methods. This makes it more environmentally friendly and the scarce natural resources are wasted less. Many owners of mining licenses have several mining tunnels, which can be imagined as small vertical shafts of two by four meters. They can be up to 60 meters deep. However, most of them reach 5 and 25 meters. Depending on their size, between three and eight workers work in one mine.

Is there a fair participation of the miners in sapphire mining?

Usually several people are involved in a mining project: the landowner, the holder of the mining license and a person who carries out the operative mining and provides the equipment like a water pump for mine drainage. Micro-mining is a joint project, a joint venture in which everyone participates in the proceeds from the sale of the mined stones. The employment of local mining families is the key to the continuation of traditional mining practices. The knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. Faith also plays an important role. Before the workers enter the mine, they light a candle decorated with fresh flowers and pray for large sapphire finds.

What are the state mining regulations in Sri Lanka?

In the last few decades, mining in Sri Lanka has changed for the better, and uncontrolled mining is virtually non-existent. This is due to the strict government rules and controls and the granting of mining licenses. Foreigners can only acquire land and permits in cooperation with local partners. The number of licences and annual export quotas are limited. Unprocessed rough stones may not be exported. This is intended to protect local business expertise, jobs and a substantial part of the valuable natural resources.

Sri Lanka’s gemstone industry is sustainable today. The working conditions are fair. There is no child labour or other exploitation of people. Due to damage to river courses and vegetation, river mining has recently been prohibited. Whoever wants to mine gemstones with machines must comply with strict regulations and at most gets a license for places where it is not possible to work by hand.

What does sustainable sapphire mining mean in Sri Lanka?

Almost all activities in micro-mining are done by hand using traditional methods. This means less pollution of soil, water and air. The construction and securing of the mining tunnels is done according to proven methods and only natural materials such as wood and ferns from the region are used. After the closure of a tunnel a re-naturalisation has to be carried out. The physical work is hard. It is dug with picks, shovels and spades. The rubble is transported to the surface by cable winches and washed out in the nearby rivers. The Singhalese miners are proud of their work. They consider it a privilege to search for one of the rarest and highest quality natural resources and to be allowed to participate in the discoveries. The strenuous work often takes days and weeks until sapphires are found. But when the rare treasures of nature are revealed, the effort is soon forgotten and every major find is celebrated extensively.

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CEYLONS | MUNICH stands for the finest Ceylon sapphires. A brand that is committed to a responsible mining approach leading to ethically sourced gemstones from Sri Lanka.

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