The island of Sri Lanka continues to be one of the world's most important sources of Blue and Fancy-Coloured Sapphires.
Sri Lanka, Island of Gems
Ceylon is an old name for the South Asian island now known as Sri Lanka. Located in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a small pear-shaped country with a population of approximately 22 million people. It’s a primarily Buddhist nation with a rich cultural heritage which includes being part of the ancient Silk Road. Extraordinarily, it has long been known as the “island of gems,” as it enjoys ideal geological conditions that has led to it being incredibly abundant in high quality jewels. In fact, the island is one of the world’s richest concentrations of gems, including 40 different mineral species.
Source is important when it comes to gemstones because it can add historical context, the idea of scarcity, and the specific geological conditions of each location often affect the most important characteristic of a jewel, which is colour. Since Sapphires are found in more places in the world that the rest of the “big three,” which also includes Emeralds and Rubies, you’ll sometimes see source listed with Sapphires more often as a way of distinguishing their value, as well as describing their colour.
500 to 600 years ago, Sri Lanka was actually located in the middle of an ancient supercontinent. While seemingly the plot of a movie, this true slice of its history means that millions of years ago, perfect levels of pressure and heat ensured Sri Lanka would be rich in metamorphic gems for millions of years. Due to erosion, most of Sri Lanka's gems are found in alluvial deposits, which refers to locations that are away from their original rock formation, such as riverbeds and streams.
What Makes Ceylon Sapphires Special?
Now, Sri Lanka has been supplying the world with fine quality Sapphires for over 2000 years, and some historians believe it is actually the world’s very first source of Blue Sapphire on earth. Along with Kashmir (which is no longer in operation) and Myanmar (also referred to as Burma), Sri Lanka is known for producing some of the world’s finest qualities of Sapphires in every colour. (A certain famous Blue Sapphire and Diamond halo engagement ring features a 12 carat Blue Ceylon Sapphire.)
Similar to Rubies, Sapphires that are sourced from metamorphic rock tend to be the most prized because their environments are low in Iron, which allows the gems to maintain a vibrant, bright hue. Iron is generally more prolific in basalt rock conditions, such as those in Australia, and tends to give Sapphires a darker tone and greenish tint.
Which Colours are Ceylon Sapphires?
While gemstones can vary in tone and colour regardless of where they're sourced, Blue Ceylon Sapphires are generally thought of as having an ideal violet-blue to blue colour, often referred to as “cornflower blue,” which is lighter and brighter than most. Any Sapphire which isn’t blue is considered a “fancy-coloured Sapphire” in the trade and Sri Lanka is famously considered a producer of the widest range of fancy colours in the world, including top quality Yellow, Pink and Purple varieties. It is particularly famous for Star Sapphires and Padparadscha Sapphires, a pinky-orange variety which gets its name in part from the Sinhalese word for lotus flower.
While there are tests that can be performed by a gemologist and organizations such as the GIA to determine the geographic source of a gem, keep in mind that one of the many unique traits of coloured stones versus Diamonds is how they are mined. Coloured gems are often sourced in a much more independent and artisanal manner, versus having large corporate structures behind them which track their every move. So, by their very nature, coloured gems, including Sapphires of every colour, tend to pass through many hands, sometimes even in border towns, and pinpointing the exact, original source can be tough for anyone to 100% guarantee. While geographic terms need to be used as accurately as possible, it's important not to lean on them too heavily, and instead, use them to further inspire your love of jewellery, its history, and the stunning variety of colours they possess.