Visiting an Artisanal Sapphire Mine

Back in February we set out on a journey across Asia! Stopping in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and India, we have been searching this part of the globe for the best gemstones and suppliers. All for you! 

We wanted to find out everything we could about the parts of the jewellery world we don't always see. After our city stop in Hong Kong, we were ready for a completely new scene, so we moved onto the leafy ocean paradise that is Sri Lanka. 

Here we were on the lookout for something extra special: sapphires!  

What Are Sapphires?

Sapphires are one of the original precious stones! Next to diamond, emerald, and ruby, these sparkling stones are one of the most valuable gems around. They’ve been a popular choice for wedding rings and engagement rings for decades, and there's been no drop in demand for modern sapphire rings. 

Made of the mineral corundum, it shares most of its chemical makeup with rubies. Sapphires are best known for their rich blue tones, but there is a rainbow of sapphire colours out there all the way from teal to peachy pink! Get the in depth info on sapphires in our sapphire gemstone guide.

Sri Lanka 

Sri Lanka is known for its stunning sapphires, with over 90% of the land full of gemstone deposits. Because of these widespread deposits, artisanal and small-scale mining is a popular occupation. It plays an important role in the economy of these communities, and is often the main means of support for whole families.

We love our sapphire rings, but we also want to know we source the sapphires from the right place, in a way that will help to elevate support for these communities! Our journey to Sri Lanka was full of sun, sea and sparkle, but our focus was on educating ourselves on where our gemstones come from.

What is Artisanal Sapphire Mining?

So what is an artisanal mine? When we talk about mining, we probably think about hundreds of coal covered men, or big explosions. 

Artisanal mining is the complete opposite! Not only is it small scale, it is also small in impact. With every small part of the process taking months, it is the gentlest mining can be.

How Artisanal Sapphire Mining Works 

Artisanal mining begins with a lot of digging…by hand. 

First an entrance tunnel has to be dug 5-6 metres down into the earth. The tunnel is supported as they dig with sturdy scaffolds and a rig made from local wood. The removed earth is ferried up and piled a few metres from the dig site, and then after each section of digging is complete, they then have to sift through the earth for their precious sapphires! 

It’s a labour intensive job that can take months of digging before they even know if their site has any gemstones in it. Four or five people will work on a mine at a time, and for shutdown days or holidays, there is usually a guard to watch over the site. 

What Happens Next? 

Once a mine has been fully searched, all of the earth is put back, and they move onto a new plot far enough away to maintain the structure of the land. This slow and steady approach to mining does minimal damage, as it can take many months to fully excavate a single mine. The land is usually then restored, resold, or repurposed for farming once it has been mined!

The rough stones then need to be transformed into the glittering gems we know and love. For the gems to be cut, they need to be sent to a lapidary.

From Sapphire Rough to Sapphire Ring 

To get from the raw gemstone you’d pull from the ground to a sparkling sapphire, you need a team of skilled lapidarists! These craftsmen will start by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each stone, a talent carefully cultivated over decades of work. 

Sapphires are one of the harder stones, which impacts how many stones can be cut and finished each day. The standard output is normally between two or three finished stones per day, with more complex cuts taking longer. You can learn Everything You Need to Know About Gemstone Cuts in our guide! 

If you want to see a sapphire go from the earth to a forever finger, check out Creating a Sapphire and Salt and Pepper Diamond Toi et Moi Ring.

Finding Your Dream Artisanal Sapphire With Jessica Flinn

Read about the rest of our Gemstone Journey in Sri Lanka, India and Hong Kong! We’ve also got you covered with our Jewellery Travel Tips if you’re planning your own gemstone journey.

Ready to find your own special sapphire ring? From ready to ship sapphire delights, to our selection of hand selected sapphires in loose gemstones, we would love to make your sapphire dreams a reality. Book an appointment with our expert team to get started!

Book an Appointment

Still searching for your dream ring? We can help make that dream a reality with our custom and bespoke services. You can customise one of our existing designs, swapping out gemstones for ones that speak to you or changing the metal type. Or with our bespoke service, you're able create a ring that is completely unique to you. So whether you want a custom engagement ring or a bespoke engagement ring, at Jessica Flinn we have you covered. Book an appointment to begin the process and create your dream ring.