The City of Gems: Shopping in Ratnapura

Shopping Essentials

Where: Ratnapura, near Colombo, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia
What’s in Store: 
Dazzling arrays of gems and rare stones 
Best Buy:
 Giant Blue Sapphires that cannot be rivalled anywhere else in the world

Where It’s At

Ratnapura, the ‘City of Gems’, is Sri Lanka’s treasure chest, an Aladdin’s Cave of jewels and wealth and the centre of its gemming industry. Gems are mined by ancient and traditional methods. On the Colombo-Ratnapura road many gem mining operations in paddy fields are done beside the road. A peculiarity of Sri Lanka is that a variety of different stones are often found in the same pit. The mines are worked in the dry season. According to the Arabian Nights, Ratnapura is a lofty mountain and a deep valley with deep rapids, cascades and waterfalls.

Gems that Sparkle

Cat’s Eye’s with asbestos filaments to give a sharp olive tint, Pale yellow Topazsapphires, Raven’s blood rubies, alexandrite, topaz, amethyst, aquamarine, tourmaline, garnet andzircon create a glimmering treasure in Ratnapura. The gems eradicate all sins according to folklore. The killing of the demon king Ravana blood is said to be set in the ruby, which ranges from deep bloody tomes, to pomegranate and red lotus. It is believed that the gems should not be subjected to fire, which brings bad luck to the wearer. Famous Ratnapura gems include the famous Blue Sapphire which is featured in the film Titanic as the world most valuable 850-carat sapphire, and a cornflower blue Sri Lankan sapphire was used in Princess Diana’s engagement ring.

Where To Find

The National Museum of Ratnapura is housed in the famous Ehelapola Walawwa on the Colombo Road in Ratnapura where the process of gem mining is displayed through a model. Some of the artefacts displayed here reflect the unique arts & culture of the Sabaragamuwa Provinceand visits to gem mines can be arranged through travel agents.

What’s it Worth?

Stones fetch from 8 – 10 US dollars per carat. There are few known stones in the world which exceed 100 carats. A blue sapphire the size of your fingernail would cost about 30,000 rupees, which is about $500.

More Information

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By Susi O’Neill