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Gems in the Backyard? A Tall Tale Has Glimmers of Truth.

Gems in the Backyard? A Tall Tale Has Glimmers of Truth.
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Gems in the Backyard? A Tall Tale Has Glimmers of Truth.

Gems in the Backyard? A Tall Tale Has Glimmers of Truth.

A story that circled Sri Lanka this week had all the brilliant ingredients needed to rivet a pandemic-weary nation that had been caught in a cycle of debt even before the coronavirus ravaged the economy.

The world’s largest cluster of sapphires, estimated at $ 100 million, was accidentally discovered by workers digging a well in the backyard of a gemstone trader, media reported.

The details, reported this week by the BBC, have given many Sri Lankans something exciting and hopeful to tell. In this predominantly Buddhist country, famous for its gemstones, many tend to regard the discovery of remarkable gemstone specimens as a happy spiritual coincidence, said Daya Amarasekara, professor of sociology at the University of Peradeniya, south of. the capital, Colombo.

“During all this time, we have heard negative news about Covid-19,” he said. “So people are drawn to the mental pleasure they get from the gemstone news. “

But some details of the discovery of the gems turned out to be too good to be true. The rock, while real, was not dug up in a well, but in a gemstone mine, an official said.

According to Tuesday’s report, workers found the cluster of 1,124-pound sapphires more than a year ago while digging the well in Ratnapura, an area rich in gemstones. An accompanying photo showed a steep boulder the size of a car tire.

The report identified the owner of the rock only as Mr. Gamage, a third generation gemstone trader. He told the BBC that a few stones that fell from the rock during its cleaning were later found to be high-quality star sapphires, a type of sapphire known for its optical effect. (A mineral inside the gem reflects light in a star pattern, a phenomenon called asterism.)

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The article quoted Thilak Weerasinghe, chairman of the National Gem and Jewelry Authority of Sri Lanka, a government agency, as saying that it was “possibly the largest” specimen of star sapphire in the world.

Mr Weerasinghe later told the New York Times that the rock was found in 2020 and that he kept the news a secret for months because the pandemic seemed like a bad time to sell sapphires.

He also said the rock was mined from a gemstone mine, not a well, and that he asked reporters to withhold certain details of their stories for security reasons. He estimated the sapphires embedded in the rock at $ 100 million.

“It will be a great exhibit for a museum or for someone who collects rare gems,” he added.

At least two Sri Lankan media outlets correctly reported on Wednesday that the gems were discovered in a mine. The BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

It is not uncommon for some people in Ratnapura to have small scale gemstone quarries in their backyards. It is also not uncommon for people in Sri Lanka to cover up details of a gem find, PRK Fernando said., the president of the Gemmologists Association of Sri Lanka, an industry group. News of such discoveries can sometimes trigger a frenzy of excavation.

“It can be problematic,” he said.

But he said news of the discovery could help rejuvenate an industry that had struggled during the pandemic.

On social media, the episode prompted some users to question whether the sale of the sapphires would finally generate enough foreign currency to help Sri Lanka escape its debt crisis.

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Anushka Wijesinha, an economist in Colombo, said selling the gemstone for $ 100 million would increase the equivalent of about a third of the prepandemic annual export earnings from the country’s gemstone and jewelry trade.

“But, of course, the full value may not be realized in a one-time sale,” he added.

David S. Atlas, a gemstone and jewelry appraiser in Virginia who is chair of ethical issues at the New York-based National Association of Jewelry Appraisers, said in an email that the estimated value of any large specimen would be highly speculative and “subject to the highest level of guesswork.

Mr Atlas said that although the rock could eventually land in a museum collection and prove to be very valuable, “there are already many more large specimens in the collections”.

“You just cannot predict in advance the value or the quality of the small gemstones cut from this large piece of mass material,” he added. “Cut it out, produce the gems in it, then have it examined properly to determine its value.” Then we will know a lot more.

Either way, the story of workers digging up a rock with gems got social media users to say – seemingly jokingly, but who knows? – that they too were planning to start digging in their own backyard.

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