November 14, 2022

The gem markets of Beruwala - Expedition Diary

Our diary entry from day five of our Sri Lankan adventure took us to the heart of the cut gem industry

It's hard to pick out which day from our expedition to Sri Lanka was the favourite. We packed so much into such a short amount of time and there were moments where it felt like a bit of a blur. That being said, the visit to the cut gemstone market really stands out as a highlight.

We treated ourselves to a slightly slower paced start and set off for the market feeling revitalised.

Beruwala is located 55 km south of Colombo. It's a small town on the west coast of Sri Lanka, with white-sand beaches, plenty of surf and a true community spirit.

Traders at the cut gem market
Traders at the cut gem market in Beruwala

China Fort

The town's gem trading area is known as China Fort, which is known for producing many famous gem cutters and traders, making it one of the most sought after gem markets not just in Sri Lanka but in the world. At the heart of this area is Pathe Gem Street where gem merchants gather from the four corners of the globe to trade their gems.

When we arrived at 11am, the market was in full swing. The streets were thriving with dealers spilling across the road and pavements. The market is open every day and buyers, traders and a handful of tourists come from all over the world in search of prize gems.

While most of the merchants do business on the street, there are over 200 offices also located on both sides of the street, including our hosts. It's here where we meet buyers and sellers to trade premium stones away from the chaos of the streets below.

Pathe Gem Market from Armil's office
The hustle and bustle of Pathe Gem Street from Armil's office

Despite the hectic nature of the market – not to mention the value of the gems passing through traders' hands – Pathe Gem Street is known to be a very safe environment and the rate of crime is minimal. Instead, there's a mutual respect between the traders and the atmosphere is calm, even despite the hooting horns from passing traffic.

We ventured into the crowds, torches at the ready, keeping eyes peeled for perfectly faceted, richly coloured gemstones.

Emerald cut Royal Blue sapphire gemstone
A selection of polished gemstones observed in a more peaceful setting

Variety and quality

The variety of stones available here is unlike anywhere else. You can find stones of all sizes, cuts and colours in the cut gem market and there are traders who specialise in particular varieties. The market is also recognised for its fair pricing, the traders being aware that everyone involved, from the sourcing to the treating of the gemstone, will receive a fair cut of the profit.

Elsewhere in China Fort, there are eight certified and recognised gem laboratories to provide gemstone certifications on the very same day. Certificates are produced by third party labs which provide peace of mind to the client that the gemstone is what it's being sold as. It provides the carat weight, measurements, colour, any known treatments and often origin.

We started talking to one merchant who particularly caught our attention. He seemed to be the trader with the biggest crowd, a well known respected trader known for selling some of the most exceptional gems. When we spoke to him we found out that he'd taken over the family business, having learnt the ropes from his father. Some of the gemstones he produced were truly magical.

Sapphires at the cut gem market
A gem trader unwraps a brifka holding a sample of small blue sapphires

Back in our hosts office, he showed us some stones he'd acquired, a number of rare specimens, including a 3ct Padparadscha sapphire. Padparadaschas are known for their sunset hue, a perfect blend of peach and pink with an almost salmon-like twist. These are prized gems, named after the Sinhalese for lotus blossom.

Laura in Armil's office
Looking at gemstones in Armil's office

The gemstones we came home with

After analysing thousands of gemstones between us, we selected 10 that stood out as being truly exceptional. One was a 6.0ct Pink Spinel, which we particularly loved for its pinkish hue. We couldn't leave Sri Lanka without a blue sapphire or two, being that it remains one of the single most important sources for this type of gemstone. We bought a particularly striking 5.0ct, emerald cut Royal Blue Sapphire, which will eventually lead the design of a truly beautiful piece.

A yellow and blue sapphire
An emerald-cut yellow sapphire we considered bringing home, and a cushion-cut blue sapphire that caught our eye

Our time in Sri Lanka was a continual education. It opened our eyes to each and every facet of the gem industry, from artisanal mining in Ratnapura and the hustle of the rough gemstone markets, to the delicate art of cutting and the thriving industry of the cut gem trade. We were able to fully immerse ourselves into each step in the gemstone's journey, while being guided by local experts who were only too willing to share their knowledge.

The Blackacre Team with our host

Head Gemologist Laura and Founder Sam, assessing a gemstone in the market

The biggest take away for us from the trip was appreciating the scale of the gemstone trade. Seeing how many people are involved, and when done correctly, how it can provide a thriving way of life. Our trip also made us appreciate how the journey from source to cut gemstone is a marathon in itself, and part of the resulting design comes the responsibility of doing justice to this journey and each gemstone.

Assessing a blue sapphire at the cut gem market
Sam assesses a blue sapphire in Armil's office

Join us as we continue to explore the next step in the gemstone's journey in our next blog post, answering the questions of why a gemstone requires certification and how it achieves the proper authentication.

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