Tips to help you buy gold, gems, precious stones and jewellery in Sr Lanka
Sri Lanka is often called “Ratna-Dweepa”, meaning “Island of Gems”. It is one of the five largest producers of gemstones in the world after Myanmar, Brazil, South Africa and Thailand.
For most travellers looking to buy a special souvenir, gems could be an ideal option. Sri Lanka is especially famous for its sapphires (Ceylon Sapphires), amethysts and the indigenous moonstone.
Most of Sri Lanka’s gems are mined from the southern part of the island, at Elahara and Ratnapura (“City of Gems”). Moonstones are even more specific and found only around Galle and Meetiyagoda. Drills reach the gravel bed (illam) at a depth of 10 m to harvest the stones can be harvested.
Gem trade abounds in all major tourist cities of Sri Lanka. Cornflower blue sapphire, Cat’s eyes, Alexandrite, Star ruby, Yellow sapphire, Star sapphire, Amethyst and Garnet are the nine most unique and precious stones found in Sri Lanka. If you are planning to buy a precious stone for a loved one, you need to be careful.
If you are not sure of how to select a gemstone, buy it from a government-authorized shop in cities like Kandy, Galle and Colombo where you can be assured of quality. Ratnapura is another destination for buying precious gems. Shops here are smaller and you can bargain for a better price but the chance of buying fake gems is higher here. A stone that looks absolutely perfect is most likely a fake, as natural gemstones tend to have flaws that only make them more beautiful and unique. If you have time, do take your gemstone to the government board in Colombo to have it checked and receive a certificate of authenticity.
The right purchase can put you in the leagues of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who travelled far and wide for such beauty!
Gold jewellery has always enjoyed uninterrupted royal patronage and the same is true for gold craftsmen. The guild of craftsmen (pattal hatara) was entrusted by the royals to make exquisitely decorative ornaments. Around the ancient capital of Kandy, gold ornament work prospered. The artisans were employed to produce crowns (ayagama and yatatnava), royal swords (godagama and amunugama) and jewellery (walwasagoda and Krukuttala). The reputation of the craft townships around Kandy grew over time and jewels from the south of the island were exported to other parts of the country.
The purpose of jewellery was not only to the enhance the beauty of the one who wore it but also in some cases, to serve as a talisman against evil. Pendants in the shape of weapons (spear, sword, discus, bow, etc.) or even cheetah claws were worn for protection. Armlets with holy prayers were also worn for the same reason.
Indian influence is quite noticeable in Sri Lankan jewellery. Traditions have been kept among jewellers and even today you can see artisans who use earthenware with a blowpipe to melt precious metals and then fashion them into beautiful shapes. Gemstones are quite often mounted to add glitter, value and beauty to a piece of jewellery.
Today, craftsmen make tiaras, forehead plates, girdles, anklets, armlets, bangles, necklaces, earrings and other foot ornaments that were worn by royal families of yesteryears. Brides often wear elaborate gold jewellery on their wedding day.
Contemporary gem and gold sellers can be found in all major Sri Lankan cities. Remember that Sri Lankans invest in 22-carat jewellery that might not suit every traveller’s taste. If you like the shine of 22 carat gold, you might want to buy a navratna necklace with nine different gemstones or simpler items like bangles and earrings. If you want to be sure about the craftsmanship of a jeweller, it is best to approach established shops frequented by locals. Remember to always keep your receipt safely with you even after reaching home.