Posted on May 16th, 2022


Sri Lanka is one of the top gem bearing countries in the world. It has the highest density of gems in the world and is known the world over as a destination for over 75 varieties of precious and semi-precious gemstones.

Sri Lanka is best known for the following gemstones: Agate, ,Amethyst, Aquamarine, Citrine, Cymophane(Cats eye), Garnet, Moonstone, Rose Quartz, Ruby, Sapphire, Spinel, Topaz, Tourmaline  and Zircon.   Sri Lanka,  is  specially known for blue sapphire, yellow sapphire,  ruby, Alexandrite ,  Cat’s-eye  and Garnet, experts added. The Sri Lankan origin of the gemstone is determined by  certain characteristics, they said.

It has been estimated that nearly 25% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is potentially gem-bearing, making Sri Lanka one of the countries with the highest density of gem deposits compared to its landmass. Nearly all these gem formations are located in within the Highland and to a lesser extent Southwest complex, with  a few in the Eastern Vijayan Complex. About 30 years ago people in Passara and beyond realized, quite by accident, that they were living on rich gem land, said Milroy Ratwatte in 2004.

Gem deposits can exist within a couple of feet from the surface of the ground but some are only to be found at depths of 70-80 feet.  A unique feature in Sri Lanka  is that a variety of different gems may be found within the same pit. Gem deposits vary widely in the gems they contain. Most deposits mainly  contain chrysoberyl, garnet, ruby, sapphire, spinel, topaz, tourmaline  and zircon . The gemstones found in the deposits have different origins.  Residual deposits are mainly found in the  flood plains of rivers and streams.

Gem stones are found primarily in Ratnapura and Elahera. The Ratnapura and Elahera gem fields are extensively mined. Ratnapura contains the most gem deposits.  Gemstone rich Ratnapura region is a delta of sorts, with sapphire rich gravel buried 7-30 meters below the soil, in old river beds, observed an expert. The top layers of soil, which do not contain sapphire, are rich in other gems such as black tourmaline, quartz, zircon, and spinel.

Ratnapura, city of gems is still the heart of the industry, though new pits are being explored in other parts of the island, experts said. Yellow and blue sapphires from Ratnapura mines are the most sought after in the world. The sapphires of these mines have been used in some of the most premium jewellery grade pieces in the world.

Sri Lanka’s Elahera gem fields are located near the Wasgomuwa Nature Reserve. Because the soil in Elahera is relatively dry gem mining is less complicated than in wet zones like Ratnapura. The Elahera gem field is now second only to Ratnapura in the production of gemstones.  Elahera is considered an excellent source for large gem-quality corundums. Crystals weighing as much as 200 carat have been found .

Gunawardene and Rupasinghe (1986) said that while total exports of loose gems from Sri Lanka had dropped significantly from their 1980 peak of more than $40 million annually, they appear to have stabilized at between $15 million and $20 million in mid 1980s. Although specific production figures are as elusive for Elahera as they are for most others, they estimated, in 1986, that Elahera contributed 35% of these exports, or approximately 15,000kg of sapphires and 8,500 kg of other stones.

There are other gem mines in Sri Lanka which are not so well known. Sri Lanka also has the Bibile sapphire mines, which yield blue sapphires, Pelmadulla sapphire mines, Meetiyagoda moonstone mines and the mines at Morawaka in Matara district.

Pelmadulla mines are the traditional hand-dug pit mines found under paddy fields as well as mechanized small-scale mining operations, said experts. Pelmadulla yielded many white and cornflower-blue sapphires. Ceylon-blue and Padparadscha sapphires were also   found at Pelmadulla.

In 2005 The National Gem and Jewellery Authority found two large gem deposits covering more than six acres in Wellandura estate (Kahawatta) and Akarella estate (Opanayake). They contain aquamarine, topaz and quarts. A high quality  blue sapphire  deposit were found in the Kataragama klippe in the Thammannawa, Kataragama area in 2012.


Ratnapura mining region has produced an incredible variety of gemstones, many of them outstanding in comparison with stones from other countries said gemologist Peter Bancroft (1974). Sapphire occurs in all hues of blue, as well as yellow, violet, green, pink, and the remarkable pinkish-orange Padparadscha .

Ratnapura also had topaz in bright yellow with a reddish tinge, brownish yellow to cinnamon-colored Grossular, orange-yellow Spessartine, blood-red Pyrope and red to brownish red Almandine. The world’s finest Zircon in a broad spectrum including brown, yellow, orange, green, and colorless .

Green, yellow, and brown Tourmaline, and yellow, green, and brown chrysoberyl were also present in Ratnapura. A 5000-carat cat’s-eye” chrysoberyl, the size of a man’s fist, was found in a mine near Ratnapura in the 1970s. 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 were also found in Ratnapura.  Ratnapura also yielded unusual and rare stones such as Sillimanite, Andalusite, Scapolite, Enstatite, Kornerupine, Diopside and Sinhalite, said  Bancroft.


Mahinda Gunawardene and Mahinda Rupasinghe (1986) studied the Elahera gem mines in the 1980s. They said that Elahera   produced a wide variety of gem materials.

The gems produced at Elahera included blue, pink, yellow, violet, and Padparadscha sapphires, marvelous color ranges of spinel, rhodolite and hessonite garnets, chrysoberyls including alexandrite and  other varieties,  brown, green ,yellow, reddish brown and yellowish brown zircons, lovely green and cognac” tourmalines.

Gem-quality Kornerupine is quite abundant in Elahera. The most common colors range from brownish green to greenish brown. Elahera also has near-colorless to yellowish or greenish Sinhalites. Many rare stones such as Sillimanite and Taaffeite were also found, Gunawardene and Rupasinghe  said.

Sapphires from the Elahera region are reputed to be the best in quality  Elahera produces particularly fine blue sapphires. The majority are of good to excellent quality, with even coloration and transparency. The Elahera gem field also produces fine yellow, pink, and violet sapphires. Ruby is not common in Elahera, but the locality is noted for the particularly fine pink sapphires found there. Yellow stones vary in color from intense “golden yellow” to light or pale yellow. Violet sapphires from Elahera are often heat treated to remove the reddish hue and obtain a blue color. Occasionally, good-quality Padparadscha  sapphires are found in Elahera, concluded Gunawardene and Rupasinghe. 

These pendants feature sapphires fromThammannawa
photo  Sherrif Rahuman.


In February 2012 high-quality blue sapphires were discovered in a in a road construction site at Thammannawa near Kataragama. The new deposit generated considerable excitement since the gems occurred as sharp-edged, well-formed crystals with a pure blue color and vitreous luster that is unprecedented in Sri Lankan sapphires. Their blue color is different from the violetish blue typically observed in sapphires from other parts of the country.

Several kilograms of rough were obtained. There were well-formed crystals large enough to facet fine blue sapphires weighing more than 20 ct. some crystals were larger than 200 g. Faceted blue sapphires of fine color and weighing more than 20 ct have been cut from these. Unlike other gem mines, the Thammannawa deposit had only corundum, mainly blue and a few yellow sapphires. Other deposits on the island contain several gem varieties. (Continued)

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