Sri Lanka, known as one of the top gem-bearing countries globally, boasts the highest gemstone density in the world. It has gained recognition as a global sourcing destination for more than 75 varieties of precious and semi-precious gemstones. The country’s rich geological landscape has made it a treasure trove for gem enthusiasts and traders alike.

The history of the gem and jewelry industry

From ancient times, Sri Lanka’s reputation for gems and jewelry has been celebrated globally, with a rich history of international trade. Tales of the island’s magnificent gemstones have been recounted in legends from Arabia, folklores of China, India, and Indonesia, as well as in writings of early European travelers to the East. References to the art of jewelry making and the Sri Lankan gem industry can be traced back to literary works dating as far as 250 BC. According to legend, King Solomon gifted priceless Sri Lankan gems to woo Queen Sheba. Throughout history, these gems adorned crowns, thrones, and royalty worldwide, including notable figures like Queen Victoria and Princess Diana of Great Britain. The allure of Sri Lankan gems continues to captivate enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike.

Gem Mining

The gem mining industry in Sri Lanka is closely regulated and overseen by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA). The country’s gem resources are considered a government asset, but individuals or companies can obtain licenses for mining on privately owned lands.

Over the centuries, the gem industry has grown significantly across the island, providing employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, not only in mining but also in related fields such as supplying equipment like timber, water pumps, and washing baskets. Regions like Ratnapura, Pelmadulla, Kahawatte, Balangoda, and Nivitigala have witnessed significant development in private properties and resources associated with gem mining.

Despite being labor-intensive, the techniques of gem mining and processing in Sri Lanka are highly efficient, especially compared to gem industries in other developing countries. Traditional methods are still employed, ensuring the recovery of even fine gems as small as one millimeter or less. Mining involves digging pits and intricate, well-supported tunnels, which are safe and result in minimal loss of gem gravel.

The evolution of mining techniques and machinery has contributed to increased efficiency. Mechanical water pumps have replaced traditional methods like Andia, which was used as a balancing weight to lift pails of water in shallow pits. Open-cast mining is practiced in Sri Lanka, where washing is done manually or using jigs.

While developed countries use advanced machinery like bulldozers, draglines, loaders, and heavy haulage trucks for the excavation and transportation of gem-bearing gravel, Sri Lanka primarily relies on manual and traditional techniques. Gravel is fed through a grid iron to remove large rocks, followed by a revolving trammel for initial break-up.

The gem mining industry in Sri Lanka continues to thrive, balancing traditional practices with some modern advancements to maintain its status as a significant player in the global gemstone market.

Sri Lankan Gem Varieties

Sri Lanka stands out as a gemstone paradise, housing around 75 diverse types of colored and colorless gemstones from ten main species, making it one of the richest sources of gemstones globally.


The corundum family encompasses some of the most sought-after and valuable gemstones, such as ruby and sapphire. Corundums are compact, dense, and lack gemstone cleavage, making them incredibly durable—only second to diamonds in hardness. Both ruby and sapphire are highly desired in jewelry due to their exceptional properties. Ruby is the red variety of corundum, while all other colors, including colorless corundum, are referred to as sapphires. Gems from the corundum species can exhibit unique optical phenomena like asterism and chatoyancy, caused by oriented mineral inclusions. Additionally, some corundum can exhibit color change when viewed under different light sources.

01. Ruby

Ruby, the most valuable gemstone in the Corundum species, owes its distinctive red hue to chromium. The spectrum of Ruby colors spans from orange-red to purplish red. Its value hinges mainly on color, with the finest gems boasting a pure, vibrant red or a touch of purple. Secondary hues like brown or orange may diminish a ruby’s worth. Clarity, cut, and carat weight also play roles in determining value. Sought-after sources include Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique. To ensure authenticity and quality, it’s essential to purchase rubies from reputable sources and get them certified by gemological laboratories.

Sri Lankan Ruby varieties typically exhibit a pinkish red color with a hint of purple, owing to the presence of iron in addition to chromium oxide. This unique combination of elements distinguishes them from rubies found elsewhere. Unlike distinctively localized deposits in some regions, Sri Lankan rubies are often found alongside other Corundum family gemstones. The Embilipitiya – Udawalawe area has been known to yield higher-quality stones, adding to Sri Lanka’s significance as a source of these captivating gems.

02. Blue Sapphire

Sri Lanka’s sapphires are renowned worldwide for their exceptional quality and occasionally impressive sizes. The island’s sapphire deposits encompass a breathtaking array of blue shades, ranging from the faintest to the deepest hues. Notably, high-quality Sri Lankan blue sapphires are celebrated for their captivating and pleasing tones, regardless of the shade. Their transparency is remarkable, particularly in superior specimens, which exhibit a very high degree of transparency and excellent clarity.

Among gem enthusiasts and collectors, the most coveted sapphire is the cornflower blue variety, distinguished by its “Velvety” luster. This rare combination of features is a source of immense pride for Sri Lanka. With a rich gemological heritage and a history of gemstone mining, the country continues to be a premier source for these prized sapphires, captivating the world with their beauty and allure.


The Beryl family comprises prized and costly gemstones like Emeralds and Aquamarines. Red Beryls are among the world’s rarest and most expensive gems. Pure beryl is colorless, and its various colors result from trace elements, producing shades such as green, blue, pink, red, and yellow. The significant gemstone in this family is the Green Emerald, colored by chromium or vanadium, while Aquamarine’s blue hue is due to the presence of Iron.

01. Aquamarine

Aquamarine crystals are known for their stunning green-blue to blue color variations, which are attributed to the presence of iron within the crystal. These crystals are often sizeable and well-formed, with the most intense sea blue color found in larger specimens, while smaller stones tend to have a lighter hue. Unlike many other colored gemstones, the value of aquamarine is primarily determined by its tone rather than the specific hue and saturation.

The most highly prized and sought-after aquamarine stones are those with a darker tone. One of the remarkable features of aquamarine is its tendency to be found almost entirely flawless. Sri Lanka is one of the significant sources for aquamarine, with deposits found in various locations, including Rathnapura, Rakwana, Morawaka, Hatton, Nawalapitiya, Galle, Matara, Tissamaharama, and Lunugamwehera.

Overall, aquamarine’s striking color and relative rarity, especially in darker tones, make it a prized gemstone for collectors and jewelry enthusiasts alike.


The term ‘Cat’s Eye’ is commonly used for different mineral species, but the most popular and sought-after Cat’s Eye gemstones belong to the Chrysoberyl family. Not all Chrysoberyls exhibit the unique chatoyancy effect. Transparent to translucent Chrysoberyls without the Cat’s Eye effect are common in Sri Lanka. However, the Chatoyant Chrysoberyls, which do display the captivating cat’s eye effect, are highly prized and cut into cabochons to showcase their spectacular eyes. The Chrysoberyl species includes two types: Cymophane and Alexandrite.

01. Cymophane (Chrysoberyl Cat’s Eye)

Cymophane, commonly known as Cat’s Eye, is a variety of chrysoberyl that exhibits a captivating chatoyancy effect. This effect is caused by the reflection of light from inclusions of tiny parallel needles or hollow tubes within the gemstone. Chrysoberyl gemstones come in various degrees of transparency, ranging from transparent and clear to cloudy translucent and opaque.

Cymophane or Cat’s Eye is widely distributed in several gem-producing regions in Sri Lanka, with significant deposits found around Rakwana, Bulutota, Deniyaya, Morawaka, Elahera, Avissawella, Pelawatte, Horana, Matugama, Panadura, Rathnapura, Aluthgama, Ambalantota, Agalawaththa, Bulathsinghala, Kalapugama, and Mestiya. The color of Cat’s Eye gemstones varies from semi-transparent golden-yellow to slightly greenish-yellow or brownish-yellow hues, adding to their unique allure in the world of gem enthusiasts.

02. Alexandrite


Alexandrite is a highly prized and rare variety of Chrysoberyl, renowned for its exceptional color-changing properties. Sri Lanka is known for producing larger stones with a fair and remarkable color change. This gem is among the most sought-after in the world of gemology. The enchanting beauty of Alexandrite lies in its ability to appear green or bluish-green in natural daylight and transform into a captivating raspberry red or violet-red hue in incandescent light, earning it the nickname “emerald by day, ruby by night.” The gem’s value is determined by the percentage of color change exhibited. While most Alexandrite can be faceted, some exceptional specimens may display a unique cat’s eye effect in addition to their color-changing characteristics.

03. Spinel

The name Spinel is rooted in the Greek term “spinther,” which translates to “sparkling.” This gemstone is found in a captivating array of colors, including red, pink, orange, shades of reddish-purple, blue, bluish-green, mauve, and colorless varieties. Among these colors, some are rarer and hold higher value in the market. Red spinel is the most sought-after, prized for its intense hue. Following closely are fine Cobalt-blue spinel, vibrant hot pink, and vivid orange stones. On the other hand, mauve and bluish-purple to purple, or lavender, stones are generally considered less attractive and in lower demand compared to the other more uncommon colors.

04. Garnet

Garnets are gemstones that come in a wide range of colors and varieties, including Pyrope (reddish-brown), Rhodolite (purplish-red), Tsavorite/Demantoid (green), Spessartite (mandarin orange), Mali (yellow), and Hessonite (orangey-brown). While garnets are available in various colors, red is the most well-known and affordable option. The green Tsavorite and Demantoid garnets are particularly rare and precious, making them exquisite and costly gemstones. Garnets can sometimes display asterism, forming four-rayed stars, though Star garnets remain extremely rare.

05. Tourmaline

Tourmaline, often referred to as ‘the gemstone of the rainbow,’ is renowned for its exceptional array of colors, making it the most colorful gemstone of all. Its name is derived from the Singhalese words ‘tura mali,’ which translates to ‘stone with mixed colors,’ perfectly capturing the gem’s wide color spectrum that surpasses other precious stones. Tourmalines exist in shades ranging from red to green and from blue to yellow. Among the various colors, pink, red, green, blue, multicolored, and the delightful watermelon colors are particularly well-known. Some Tourmalines exhibit unique optical effects, changing colors in different lighting conditions or displaying the mesmerizing Cat’s Eye effect. Sri Lanka is a notable source for Tourmalines, offering a variety of colors


Topaz is a versatile gemstone species, coming in a wide range of colors and also colorless forms. The gemstones are often labeled with specific hue names, such as pink or blue topaz. Some of the most valuable and uncommon topaz varieties have commercial names. The exceptionally precious red and pink topaz are known as Imperial Topaz, while stones displaying a rich yellow to medium, peachy orange color are referred to as Precious Topaz or Sherry Topaz. These commercial names reflect the high value and rarity of these particular topaz varieties.

07. Zircon

Zircon is a widely used alternative to diamonds in jewelry and is naturally colorless in its purest chemical state. Notably found in Matara, Sri Lanka, the colorless zircon from this region is sometimes referred to as Matara Zircon or Matara Diamonds. Renowned for its brilliance and captivating display of multicolored light, known as fire, colorless zircon is highly valued. However, zircon also occurs in various colors, including brown, red, blue, purple, and occasionally green. It is important to distinguish zircon from cubic zirconia, as zircon possesses high brilliance and dispersion, making it a unique and appealing gemstone option.


Quartz, a vast gemstone family, exists in numerous colors and variations. While it is colorless in its purest state, it is found in a diverse range of hues and forms, encompassing an extensive selection.

01. Amethyst

Amethyst is a purple variety of quartz, displaying a strong reddish-purple to purple hue with no visible color zoning. Its shades range from transparent pastel roses to deep purples, attributed to iron impurities. Quality varies depending on the source, with the finest specimens found in Siberia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the Far East. It is a sought-after gemstone prized for its stunning color and metaphysical properties.

02. Rose Quartz

Amethyst is a purple variety of quartz, displaying a strong reddish-purple to purple hue with no visible color zoning. Its shades range from transparent pastel roses to deep purples, attributed to iron impurities. Quality varies depending on the source, with the finest specimens found in Siberia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the Far East. It is a sought-after gemstone prized for its stunning color and metaphysical properties.

03. Agate

Agate is a semi-precious chalcedony, a translucent microcrystalline quartz found in various colors like brown, white, red, grey, pink, black, and yellow. These colors result from traces of iron, manganese, titanium, chromium, nickel, and other elements, forming alternating bands within the stone. Unique patterns of color or moss-like inclusions differentiate agate from other chalcedony varieties. Sri Lanka is renowned for its blue-tinted agate.

04. Citrine

Citrine is a relatively rare variety of quartz with a transparent appearance, ranging from pale yellow to brownish orange. Among yellow gemstones, citrine is highly sought after, particularly the finest specimens with vibrant, saturated yellow to reddish-orange hues without brownish tints. Natural citrine crystals can be found in Russia and Madagascar, varying in size. However, Sri Lanka often exports irregular amethyst stones that have undergone heat treatment to transform them into citrine, making them more readily available in the market.


Feldspar is a vital silicate mineral constituting more than 50% of Earth’s crust. It finds extensive use in diverse industries, such as glass and ceramic manufacturing, and as fillers in paints, plastics, and rubber. Notably, various well-known gemstones, including Moonstone, are members of the Feldspar mineral family.

01. Moonstone

Moonstones, precious stones in the Feldspar mineral class, are renowned for their enchanting glow, known as adularescence. The world-famous Blue Moonstones originate from the Meetiyagoda mines in Sri Lanka. Typically, Moonstones are cut as cabochons to accentuate their unique shimmer. However, some specimens display additional optical effects, such as a cat’s eye or a four-spoked star. These special stones are not only crafted into cabochons but also fashioned into artistic cameos or adorned with intricate engravings.