Over the past 2,500 years, Sri Lanka has supplied some of the finest blue sapphires seen and worn around the world, and ranks amongst the best sourcing countries for fine sapphires, along with over 50 varieties of coloured gemstones.
As part of their “Design Katha” segment, the Sri Lanka Design Festival (SLDF) 2021 hosted “Holding the World Enchanted: A Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka’s Gem and Jewellery Legacy” on 16 January.
The mystery, magic, myths, and legends, along with the history and craftsmanship, were depicted at SLDF by an imminent panel of experts in the field, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London and Geneva jewellery specialist Helen Molesworth; Andrew Lucas, owner of an independent gem and jewellery company; National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA), Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association (SLGJA), Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), and Facets Sri Lanka Board Member Armil Sammoon; gem education consultant Rui Galopim de Carvalho FGA DGA; and gem and jewellery connoisseur Richa Goyal Sikri.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch, Armil Sammoon said: “We came together with SLDF and the Academy of Design (AOD), from the Gem and Jewellery Association, to showcase the segment of gems and jewellery, and to highlight the rich history Sri Lanka has in this industry.”
He said that Sri Lanka is the oldest source in the world for coloured gemstones, dating back thousands of years, and with this story, they aim to portray the craftsmanship in the gem and jewellery industry in the country.
History of the gem and jewellery industry
The lustre and allure of our gems are widely documented as being the ultimate symbol of wealth, power, and royalty. Sri Lankan sapphires in particular are renowned for their unparalleled beauty and have been adorned by many renowned personalities throughout the ages. Sri Lanka’s gem offering has impacted the world so profoundly that they are even subjectively popular in storytelling, such as in The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.
“Sri Lanka is the single most important and ancient of all gem origins known to us today. The country used to be known as a utopian land of natural beauty, and thankfully, nothing changed.”
Helen Molesworth shared with the audience that Sri Lanka has been trading their gems as early as during the time of Alexander the Great. Sri Lanka, particularly the city of Ratnapura, was also a historic location for gem mining and cutting as well as trading precious stones.
Gem cutting and processing
Every hard-found precious stone faces a human journey of transformation before arriving at its destined state. Sammoon and his family have been in the industry for over five generations. He used his wealth of expertise to walk us through the process of cutting, heating, and transforming a rough stone into a finished gemstone. “The most important factor in cutting a gemstone is being still with the mineral itself, and feeling its character and energy.”
From there on, the rough gemstone is felt, and once they identify the purpose for cutting, they envision what the final outcome would look like. “Cutting is not about the outside – it’s about what you can do to bring the beauty and brilliance of the gemstone out.”
He said it takes decades of experience and scientific expertise to perfect this act. The key in the next step is to take out any surface intrusions and get the best clarity and shape. Once that is complete, they turn them into shapes like ovals, spheres, and emeralds.
“It is hours of work. We have to make calculated decisions, especially with the larger stones,” he said, going on to describe the most interesting and enjoyable part as polishing the stone. “We decide if we want to use standard cuts or special cuts, depending on the raw material. We build on it and apply the final polish to ensure the lustre and brilliance.”
The story of a gem
Far from being inanimate objects, every gem stone and piece of jewellery has a soul and a story to tell. They are beyond simple objectivism, and capture the human essence held deep within. Stories are at the core of our cultural evolution. Citing examples like Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, Richa Goyal Sikri opened her segment, stating that stories are lies we tell ourselves to convey the truth.
“Back in 2013, I started visiting gemstone mines, and then began curating trips and taking people along with me,” said Sikri, sharing the story of how she got into gemstones. She then documented these experiences through storytelling on social media. As these stories resonated with different people in the gem industry, she was then invited to curate special exhibitions. She has spun many tales on gems and their lives, adding that she is capable of performing this due to her authenticity and natural love for gemstones.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch, Sammoon noted that they had a very successful segment representation that drew in positive feedback and comments from around the world, commending them on their work and the gem industry in Sri lanka.
“We hope to work with AOD and SLDF in the future, and to keep our representation at their next programme,” he added.