News Update: Blue Sapphire Discovery Near Kataragama, Sri Lanka

In mid-February 2012, a new find of blue sapphires occurred southwest of Kataragama, near the famous Yala National Park on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. The sapphires were initially found on a road construction site between Kataragama and Lunuganwehera. The soil used to cover the road reportedly came from a small farm nearby that belonged to a Mr. Ranga. As news of the discovery spread, thousands rushed to the area. The Sri Lankan authorities responded swiftly and transferred 1.4 hectares of land around Mr. Ranga’s farm from the Forest Conservation Department to the National Gems and Jewellery Authority (NGJA). The NGJA held a February 24 auction in Kataragama for one-year mining rights on 52 individual lots.

In early March, with the support of the NGJA and some local traders, these authors visited the site to collect samples for the GIA reference collection. Upon reaching the deposit, located at 06°22’16″N, 81°17’18″E, we saw that it was being prepared to host an estimated 1,500 miners. Within hours the miners began arriving at their claims, and camps sprang up from the cleared land. Miners loaded the potentially sapphire-rich soil into bags to be taken away for washing. Only hand tools were allowed, as mechanized mining with excavators has been prohibited in Sri Lanka since June 2011.

At the time our expedition ended on March 9, we were unable to see any sapphires produced from the new diggings around Mr. Ranga’s house. However, we studied numerous samples reportedly found on the road construction site during the initial discovery. The sapphires were either fine crystal specimens or broken pieces with sharp edges and no indication of alluvial transport. Fissures and cavities were filled with a white powdery material. We saw several specimens up to 150 g and heard reports of fine crystals as large as 300 g. Although the material is often quite included, we expect to see some clean faceted gems weighing more than 20 ct. Many of the crystals showed distinct dichroism and color banding associated with layers of minute particles. Several gem merchants onsite were excited by such Kashmir or Burma-like new material, and at the time of our visit the asking prices were already remarkably high.

We were unable to see any faceted stones from the new deposit, although we expect that the combination of dichroism, color banding, and highly visible inclusions will present challenges to cutters. More information on the nature and extent of the new deposit will become available after the NGJA completes its geologic survey of the area and as mining continues.

Authors:  (1) Vincent Pardieu - GIA, Bangkok, (2) Lou Pierre Bryl – Gaspe, Canada, (3) Andrea Heather Go - Vancouver, Canada, (4) Boris Chauviré - Cholet, France

Source: GIA e-brief


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