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History

Sri Lanka lies at the southern tip of India which is located at latitude of 6° – 10° N and longitude of 80° – 82° E. The major part of Sri Lanka is made up of Precambrian crystalline rocks except for a belt of sedimentary rocks along the north-west coast of the country. The Precambrian rocks which covers nearly 90% of Sri Lanka, have been classified into three major lithological units, which are Highland / Southwestern Complex, Vijayan Complex and Wanni Complex. During early times Sri Lanka was once quite fittingly referred to as “Rathna-dweepa” which connotes the meaning “The Island of Gemstones”. The name Rathna-dveepa is found in many chronicles. A Merchants Guide “Periplus of the Erythrean Sea” presumed to have been complied during the first century.
Today around 200 minerals have been classified as gemstones either due to their beauty, durability, rarity or a combination of some of these attribute which should be fulfilled make a mineral worthy of being classified as a gemstone. Of these gemstones, around 75 varieties have been mined or found in Sri Lanka. Although exploitation of Sri Lanka gemstone deposits has been going on for many centuries, its only in reason times that effort has been made to make study of the industry itself, the locations of possible gemstone deposits and most importantly. Noted that the Mahavamsa (The Great Chronicle of Ceylon) mentions a gem-encrusted throne owned by a Naga king in 543 BC, when the earliest accounts of the island were written (Hughes, 1997). The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote that ambassadors from Taprobane, as Sri Lanka was known at the time, boasted of its fine gemstones during the reign of Emperor Claudius from 41 to 54 AD (Hughes, 1997). The Greek astronomer Ptolemy referred to the island’s beryl, sapphire, and gold in the second century AD (Hughes, 1997). Marco Polo traveled there in 1293 and noted the abundance of gems, including ruby, sapphire, topaz, amethyst, and garnet (Ariyaratna, 2013). The famous Arab explorer Ibn Battuta, visiting in the 14th century, wrote of the variety of precious stones he saw (Ariyaratna, 2013).
Between 500 and 1500 AD, during the rule of ancient and medieval Sinhala kings, the mining, possession, and commerce of precious stones was controlled by the monarch. Arab and Persian merchants purchased many fine gemstones. During the periods of European colonization—Portuguese (1505–1656), Dutch (1656–1796), and British (1796–1948)—gem commerce expanded beyond the royal family, as the Europeans were solely interested in trading and profit (Mahroof, 1997). European traders brought more of these goods to the West and furthered the island’s reputation as a source of gemstones and trade expertise. During the 20th century, Sri Lanka’s standing as a premier gem trade center diminished. This was due to numerous factors: the emergence of other sources, a failure to adapt and master technology such as heat treatment and modern cutting, and government regulations that hindered the rapid growth enjoyed by Thailand and other countries. In the last two decades, Sri Lanka has overcome those setbacks and now has a dynamic, rapidly growing gem and jewelry industry