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Kat-aragama's out of the bag

posted Mar 5, 2012, 7:29 PM by Alex Barcados   [ updated Mar 13, 2012, 6:51 AM ]
On Valentine's Day, a woman discovered a sapphire crystal in a pile of earth brought for reconstruction of a road near Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Thus began an incredible gem rush. According to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror, a crowd of more than 5,000 people flocked to Lunugamwehera Road near the Viharamahadevi Chaithya in Kataragama in search of gems. What transpired was sheer pandemonium. Thousands of miners flooded the area and clashed with soldiers resulting in broken bones, bloodied noses and heads cracked by rifle butts.

The following story and photo comes to us courtesy of Jeffery Bergman and Richard Diran, along with reporting from the local Sri Lankan press.
     
Government efforts to control the situation quickly fell apart as the army was overwhelmed by over 20,000 people. The sense of urgency, according to on-the-scene gemologist and dealer Richard Diran, was created by "Kashmir-like glassy clean crystals already fetching up to US$5,000 per gram."

 

 

The Sri Lankan National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) believes most of the blue sapphires will not require heat treatment. Further, some believe the deposit to be a primary pegmatite deposit. If true, this would be one of the only instances of gem-quality sapphire having ever been found in the mother rock in over 2500 years of mining on the Island of Gems.

 

Following a survey of the 3.5 acre property, the National Gem and Jewellery Authority held a mining rights auction on February 24, 2012. The result was the largest single day auction in the nation's history, with 49 of 52 blocks being sold for Rs271 million (US$2.23 million). The remaining three blocks were distributed to village groups in the area.

 

Meanwhile, a second sapphire deposit was discovered near the Thammennawa tank, also in the Kataragama area. The government quickly declared that area off-limits.

 

The NGJA has declared the stones will be marketed internationally as "Kataragama Nila." Nila is the Sinhalese word for sapphire, which itself is derived ultimately from the Sanskrit word of the same name (नील), which means dark blue.

 

 Map of Sri Lanka showing the Kataragama location

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