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Gem Mining

Sri Lanka is globally known for its thriving gem industry. As one of the top 5 gem-producing countries with the highest density of gems in the world, our significance lies in the relatively smaller geographical area compared to the other gem-producing countries. Well placed regulations ensure that the land is not exploited during the gem mining. Majority of Sri Lanka’s gem deposits are located in gem gravel that has been washed down from the mountains and deposited along the flood plains. Thus, agricultural lands can often yield precious stones buried within the earth. Regulations ensure that food production, livelihood generation, and environmental interest are also attended during extraction. Gem deposits are mostly extracted during the off-season in cultivation.

Following Gem Mining Methods

The mining processes used to extract gemstones invariably follow the deposit's nature: primary deposits (in hard rocks, worked underground or in open pits) and secondary deposits (in soft rocks, worked underground or in open pits) (found in sedimentary, soft-rock, placers).

Pit Mining

Many of the licensees have four to five traditional mining pits on their property. It’s estimated that more than two million pits have been dug over the last 50 years. Compared to gem mining in many African countries, there are hardly any unfilled, abandoned pits. This is partly because the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) collects a cash deposit when a license is issued. If the mine owner does not rehabilitate the land after mining is complete, the NGJA uses the deposit money for that purpose.

There are usually several people involved in the venture, including the landowner, the holder of the mining rights, the person who supplies the water pump to remove water from the pit, and the miners. They all receive a share of the proceeds from the sale of the gemstones.

River Mining

Although not as prominent, river mining is another traditional form of gem mining in Sri Lanka. Rivers in gem-producing areas can contain alluvial deposits where the river bends or otherwise slows down. The river miners pick these slow-moving areas in relatively shallow waters and build a dam of wood or rock where the water slows, allowing it to escape from one side while trapping the gravels.


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