For centuries, the island of Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon, has been a key source for a variety of gemstones, including rubies. We know that Sri Lankan gems have been mined, set into jewelry, and traded abroad for at least 2,500 years. The Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans coveted rubies and the Indians called Sri Lanka “Ratnadeepa,” which means “Island of Gems.”
Today, Sri Lankan rubies are prized for their exceptional brilliance and clarity. Although Sri Lankan rubies can be more brilliant than rubies from other sources, they are typically lighter in tone and contain pink or purple secondary colors. Other characteristics include a strong fluorescence , color zoning, and the presence of delicate, light scattering silk.
The ruby mines of Sri Lanka are believed to have been the source of the jewels that King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba. And the famed explorer, Marco Polo wrote of a “flawless ruby the size of a man’s arm” after his visit to the region in 1292.
Historically, Sri Lanka has also been a major supplier of star rubies. However, as the world’s demand for pink sapphires has skyrocketed, star rubies are now frequently heated, which destroys their silk, and sold as pink sapphires.
Sri Lanka’s rubies come from extensive gravel deposits located in the southern two-thirds of the island. Although the original source of this gravel remains unknown, scientists speculate that the parent rock is a Precambrian metamorphic rock that makes up about 90 percent of the island. Experts speculate that the erosion of this parent rock has created the extensive gem deposits in the riverbeds of the lower valleys.
Ratnapura is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous gem producing areas, producing some of the words most prized gemstones, particularly sapphires and rubies. Because of its long history as a gem capital of the world, Sri Lanka has built up an impressive mine-to-market industry, domestically and for export, mixing tradition and experience with modernization and emerging technologies.
Continuing our exploration of ruby sources, we move to another gemstone-rich nation, also fraught with political and societal unrest, in our guide to Ruby Mining in Myanmar.