Largest star sapphire cluster to Switzerland 

  • Initial plan was to auction in China this month

By The Sunday Morning Business Desk

A part of the star sapphire cluster that was discovered in Sri Lanka a few months ago, and said to be the largest in the world, is presently at the testing stage at the Gübelin Gem Lab in Switzerland, after which the entire cluster will be auctioned in Switzerland itself, The Sunday Morning Business learns.

Speaking to us, a senior official of the State Ministry of Gem and Jewellery-related Industries, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that the unearthed gem, which was to be taken to China to be auctioned this month, will now be sent to Switzerland after the testing is completed at the gem laboratory. 

“According to the plan, within two weeks, the testing will be done, after which further measures will be taken as required for the gem to be auctioned in Switzerland,” the official said. 

Continuous attempts to reach State Minister of Gem and Jewellery-related Industries Lohan Ratwatte until this edition went to print, proved futile. 

Speaking to us in August, Ratwatte stated: “Following the auctioning, we (the Government of Sri Lanka) anticipate bringing the money back to Sri Lanka.”

The star cluster was discovered by accident in a backyard in Ratnapura, and was reported six months following the uncovering. The cluster was estimated to be worth more than $ 100 million. Experts said that the sapphire is pale blue in colour and weighs around 510 kg. 

On an earlier occasion, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Ratwatte expressed that the delay of the announcement was due to the cleaning and analysis process, and that the stones had to be handed over to the National Gem and Jewellery Authority. 

At the time, Ratwatte also noted: “There are already a lot of people interested. As a collector’s item, this would likely go to a museum or a similar place. There are a lot of inquiries. However, we must first certify the stone. That process is currently happening.” 

This discovery of clusters came at a time when the gem industry of Sri Lanka was ranked as the worst-affected industry, with exports declining more than 50% owing to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to us in May, Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association (SLGJA) Chairman Ahsan Riffai said that the industry had not received much support from the Government, and the most impacted players in the industry were the small-scale operators and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“The pandemic has to settle and the borders have to open, since unlike other businesses, gem and jewellery enterprises are dependent on the buyer and seller contact, which is affected due to the pandemic,” he stated.

However, the Government this year had declared it would take further steps to expand the local market of the gem and jewellery industry for foreigners to purchase high-quality gems and jewellery in Sri Lanka.

Commenting on his measure, Riffai pointed out that currently, it will be difficult to expand the industry, although after the pandemic is over, there would be potential for the industry to uplift itself by exporting to China and Canada.

The main gemstones found in Sri Lanka include sapphire, alexandrite, cat’s eye, padparadscha aquamarine, and moonstone, amongst which the blue sapphire is the most widely known coloured gemstone. Generally, all precious and semiprecious gemstones other than diamonds are referred to as coloured stones.

The Government relaxed the 14% income tax on the gem and jewellery industry last year. Decisions were also taken to remove the barriers that had obstructed the release of uncultivated lands with gem deposits belonging to plantation companies, and to take over control of these lands for the benefit of the mining industry. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last year instructed the officials to expedite the construction works of the proposed Gem Trading Complex and Training Centre at Demuwawatha, Ratnapura.