Sri Lanka is sometimes called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean which is an entirely fitting compliment. An island of incredible natural beauty with an equally enchanting culture. Despite its tumultuous recent history, it is a must-see for the mildly intrepid.
Of course, when I visit, it is for gem-buying purposes as well as a little downtime. Both are enormous fun!
The process of gem-buying is arranged well in advance. Gem-dealers are contacted, old relationships are re-kindled and new ones created. In discussions with other gem professionals, you get a feel for what they are about. Are they looking to make a quick buck or more interested in serving their client well, to forge a lasting relationship? When dealing with new suppliers they can begin by asking outlandish prices. Perhaps it is to test my knowledge and perhaps rightly so! Once they know that I am not a (complete) dimwit, the selection process begins.
I know immediately, when looking at a tray of gemstones, which attract and which don’t. It’s hard to describe how this process works other than that it is borne of handling hundreds of thousands of gems over the last 35 years …along with instinct. Instinct should always be trusted! In the back of the mind is a knowledge of our clientele and what they love. For instance, there is no point in buying a stunning gem that is simply huge – it will be too big to be made into wearable jewellery. It has to be practical as well as beautiful. Of course, sapphires are popular but our clients also like to see something unusual, something they would not normally encounter, so finding a balance between the tried and trusted and the novel is part of the journey.
The stones which stand out are the ones that have an almost magical element to them. It’s a combination of the depth and evenness of colour, the brilliance and of course the finish; how it has been polished. That element is most important. A master polisher, known as a lapidary, brings out the very best in each piece of rough material. Holding a gemstone in your hand is like meeting a new person or making a new friend.
There always tends to be one ‘stand-out’ gem and for this visit, it certainly wasn’t the most expensive. A beautiful cushion-cut Sphene….yes, it isn’t that well known! It has a deep, rich yellowish-green colour and as it is moved you see it is full of ever-changing fire. It is such a magical gemstone I’ll be sad to see it go.
Once the final selection is made, the negotiation begins and that should be fun too. The most important aspect of any deal, which may include dozens of carats of gemstones or just a single piece, is that all parties are happy and walk away content.
It is interesting that in general the term ‘Ceylon’, Sri Lanka’s name prior to independence in 1948 is still commonly used. In terms of jewellery, it is still the word used to describe the ideal sapphire, a bright ‘cornflower’ blue.
There is unavoidably a history between the UK and Sri Lanka but there is also a deep affection too, certainly for me there is and what a pleasure it is, not only to visit, but to be able to share it with others in the form of the most exquisite things the earth can offer up. It will always have a very special place in my heart.
If you’d like to see the collection of Gemstones that I bought back from Sri Lanka, pop by our workshop andhave a chat with us.