View of a mechanised mining site in Sri Lanka, featuring an open-water pit.

Precious Stones, Precious Lives: The Threat to Sri Lanka’s Artisanal Gemstone Mining

Small-scale miners face the unsettling reality of larger companies constantly seeking to monopolise the market and acquire their land. The fact that miners like Itam continue to resist these acquisitions is one of the main reasons why Sapphire remains significantly undervalued compared to their ‘Big Four’ counterparts – Ruby, Emerald, and Diamond. This is largely because Sapphire mining in Sri Lanka is not controlled by a single corporation – at least, not yet.

Supporting these artisanal miners is crucial. Their land and work are their lifelines, enabling them to provide for their families. By consciously choosing ethically sourced gemstones, we help to preserve their heritage and livelihoods.

Miners in Sri Lanka carefully inspecting sifted gem-bearing gravel, known as illam, from pits after thorough washing

Ethical sourcing at its core, is about taking care of the people behind the products. This takes commitment. To do that, we need to know them on a personal level. Get to know their families, their communities, and perhaps a friendship might blossom. It’s through this genuine connection that we can develop a vested interest in their well-being beyond that of a business transaction.  

Creating positive change doesn’t happen by forcing our values on local brokers, chieftains, and mine owners who have been doing things the same way for generations. It takes time—years, not months—to build trust and relationships. Only through these deep relationships can we hope to make a difference.

However, it is important to note that no form of mining is completely sustainable. The extraction of minerals from the earth will always have some environmental impact. The goal is to minimise this impact as much as possible.

Man selecting yellow and blue gemstone roughs from illam-rich gravel using his hands with leftover, heavier material left on his palm

When a miner unearths a gem, it’s not just a treasure; it’s a beacon of hope, an opportunity for an improved life. Gemstones hold a transformative power – they can pull families out of poverty, enable children to pursue education, and foster community growth. Something a lab-grown diamond does not have and cannot do! But that is a story for another post.

Gemstones have the power to change the world, one mine, one family, and one gemstone at a time. And it is this insight that urges me to document our journey here in the hope that you, the end consumer, will know where your gemstone comes from and how it can, and has changed the lives of those along the supply chain.