Sri Lanka has high hopes for its newly discovered blue sapphire deposit in Kataragama, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the south-eastern part of the country.
“It is [important] to note that the demand for blue sapphires from Sri Lanka in the global market is on the increase. We hope that the gems found in the Tammannawa area would boost our blue sapphire exports [and benefit] the national economy,” Sri Lanka’s National Gem & Jewellery Authority (NGJA) said in a recent report outlining the amazing find.
The gemstone deposit was accidentally discovered by locals in a road construction project between Lunugamwehera and Kataragama in February. “Sapphire fever” has since gripped the village’s residents. The NGJA, which has been designated by the government as the sole authority responsible for the issuance of mining licenses – whether on state or private land – auctioned 49 blocks of land to miners. The sale, which grants miners a year to operate in their respective blocks, raised a record-smashing $2.25 million in revenues for NGJA and the Forest Conservation Department, which owns the land where the deposits were found.
Deep blue colour
The majority of gems found consisted of well-defined crystals of sapphire, with a deep blue colour. “It was the opinion of the gemmologists of NGJA that most of the blue sapphires could be cut and polished without subjecting them to heat treatment,” Sri Lanka’s gemstone authority said.
The gemstone deposit was also believed to be a primary deposit in pegmatite rock, it added. “NGJA intends to carry out scientific research in the neighbouring land and obtain data on the availability of gem deposits [in the said area],” the government body said.
Three blocks of land were also granted to three groups representing the villagers. They will be mining the area under the direct supervision of the NGJA. Gems recovered through this project will be sold by tender. The mining operations’ proceeds, after deducting all the expenses, will be split 30-70 between NGJA and the members of the group, respectively.
The Sri Lankan blue sapphire is one of the country’s export champions.
Last year, the country exported 330,318 carats of blue sapphire, with an export value of $53.2 million.
Overall, Sri Lanka’s gemstone, diamond and jewellery sector grew 29.11 percent to $547.24 million in 2011. Thailand ranked as the largest buyer of Sri Lankan gems with an import value of $20.8 million, closely followed by the US, which imported $20.3 million-worth of gemstones. Hong Kong ($19.4 million), Switzerland ($7.8 million) and Italy ($2.5 million) occupied the third, fourth and fifth slots, respectively.
During the first quarter of 2012, Sri Lanka’s gemstone, diamond and jewellery sector registered a 58 percent increase, generating approximately $140 million in revenues compared with the corresponding figure of $88.2 million in 2011.
Jewellery exports amounted to $4.8 million during the said period, recording a year-on-year increase of 33 percent, NGJA said.