I arrived in Delhi and headed to the international departures terminal as usual, except instead of boarding United Airlines flight 83 home to Newark, I was headed to Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sri Lankan Airways. Here I was to begin the second phase of my recent South Asian excursion. Jaipur had provided ample buying opportunities with emeralds, a wonderful Diwali experience, and an educational forum with the ICA Congress. Now it was time for sapphires.
Though only a 3 ½ hour flight from Delhi, arriving in Sri Lanka is certainly like arriving in a different world. North India is also hot, but it is not tropical like Sri Lanka. Beautiful and lush trees and plants cover the landscape, even in the capital city of Colombo. Sri Lanka is an exporter of many of its natural resources including tea, rice, rubber, rubber products, spices including pepper, coconut and coconut products. Gemstones such as sapphire, chrysoberyl, spinel, garnet and others are also a source of Sri Lankas natural wealth. These gems provide for a significant domestic industry and a substantial international offering.
Sri Lanka is one of the worlds viable sources for all things sapphire, most importantly, as a source of raw material. ‘Ceylon’ sapphires have long held historical significance in trade and adornment. While there is variety in the quality, color and general appearance of gems from any geological location, Ceylon sapphires have a signature look that is desirable by the trade and consumers alike. Sri Lanka is also home to many gemstone cutting factories. These factories have established a reputation in the industry for calibration sizes, including very precise cutting for the watch industry. If you’ve ever looked closely at the small gems in a fine watch, you’ll see an incredible attention to detail. In some cases, every stone is cut to different dimensions, and often the tolerance levels are less than 0.01 mm. It’s hard to appreciate what goes into cutting a 1.00 mm sized gemstone cut to this precision until you see it being done. At this size, the expense for the stones is considered more heavily in terms of the labor involved to cut it rather than the amount of material being sold.
My first two days were spent at the historic Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo. This 200-year-old facility was formerly the home of the colonial Governor General. The old-world charm and ocean views provided a nice place to call home. Over these two days, I visited several traders who cater to the domestic market as well as to the international buyers who come to the city for buying. I visited a few offices, looked at some merchandise and discussed the state of the industry over multiple cups of Ceylon tea.
Next, I headed inland to Ratnapura, or the ‘City of Gems.’ The two-hour drive is pleasant as you wind down one lane roads through the country and bypass small towns along the way. Ratnapura is one of the many mining areas and here a viable cutting center exists. These cutters are producing orders for international jewelry brands and wholesalers and must keep their supply steady to meet the global demand. In addition to domestic raw materials, Sri Lankan cutters are importing rough from Madagascar and other sources.
Sri Lanka is home to wonderful people and the beauty of the country is inspiring. The gemstones aren’t bad either! Visiting Sri Lanka is compulsory to our business as Nash James is supplying sapphires in various shapes, sizes and colors to the US market. Fortunately, we’ll be back again soon to the City of Gems.