Sapphire mining in southern Sri Lanka may not be as dangerous as other gem mining although still comes with risk.
Mr Jayarathna of Rathna gems halt, Ratnapura, tells me the risk doesn’t come so much from collapsing shafts but from the release of toxic gases trapped in the soil. Ratnapura in southern Sri Lanka is famous worldwide for its gems. In Jan 2016 the largest blue star sapphire ever found came from the district. As did the sapphire in the Duchess of Cambridge’s engagement ring. Some reports claim the tennis ball sized gem found recently has been valued at up to $300 million. .
Gem mining begins with finding the correct area. In Ratnapura this is in the rice paddy fields surrounding the town. Up to fifty metres below the service is the gravelly deposit called ilam. Formed millennia ago by erupting volcanoes and continental breakup before washing down into valleys by rivers and erosion over the ages. Now buried up to fifty metres below mud and soil, getting it out is an arduous process. Pits are dug, water pumped out by diesel pump engines and large timber frames erected along the depth and length of the tunnel.
After it has reached the required depth the tunnel may burrow out horizontally another fifty metres or more. Once a deposit of ilam is found its hacked out by hand and transported to the surface. This is washed and sorted carefully then possible gem quality stones sold to local agents who will sell it on to the bigger markets in the capital or directly to foreign clients. These are then cut and polished in country or
taken abroad as rough uncut and unpolished stones.
An important industry to Sri Lanka and one of its major exports land is normally leased from the owner or government and mining
concessions given accordingly. Profits are shared out amongst landowners, pump providers and miners, if stones are found. An ilam extracting miner can expect to earn around $5 a day 😳 💎 .
W. Jayarathna, Rathna gems halt, Ratnapura
Forbes, BBC, The Guardian, Wildfish gems.com
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