© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

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There are many occupations associated with Gems. Gems  are found in many places in Sri Lanka e.g.”seams” in gardens or agricultural land, river beds etc. Ratnapura is famous as a gem stone location and hence there are many jewellers located in this area.

There is a variety of precious and semi-precious gems - Sri Lankan sapphires  perhaps being the most precious. Traditionally they are collected by individuals or small groups of friends rather than large scale mining. This activity typically takes place between paddy field or fishing seasons as these gem hunters are part time. They obtain permission from the land owner to dig trenches with hand tools and then share any finds with the owner and the group members. They then sell the gem stones to a gem merchant, who assesses the quality and weighs it. The gem trader (if not also a cutter/jeweller) then sells the stones on to a cutter/jeweller to be fashioned into jewellery, typically in gold settings, to be retailed. Such jewellery often forms part of a dowry,

Gems are used for a variety of purposes, They are for instance, ground up and used in traditional medicines as combinations of gems are believed to have curative properties. Gem stones are also buried as part of the protective items in the foundations of a new building. Settings that include “odd” numbers of gem stones are set in rings or pendants to give the wearer protection from harm or bad luck or as part of a cure. - Sets 3, 5, 7 or 9 such gems are purchased and then set into the ring or pendant by a jeweller.

Villagers panning in a river. Gems have been washed down from the inland mountainous areas when the rivers are in flood. Many of these poor villagers  following heavy rains in the mountains, were successful and after selling their finds on to gem traders were enabled to e.g. build better family houses and replace the leaky coconut thatch roofs with clay tiles or tin sheets, construct toilets, install piped water or electricity etc.

Customers at jewellery shops

Jewellery shops will be particularly busy during the popular wedding months - May and June. Not only to brides need to acquire their wedding jewellery, but also members if the respective wedding party need to be able to “impress” the other family with their finery!