Pssst! Want to buy some fake sapphires?

By Gyan C. A. Fernando

The good old Republic of Sri Lanka is famous for some of the nicest precious stones in the world and as one might expect, most Sri Lankans seem to be obsessed with buying, selling, acquiring or mining; legally or illegally, mostly the latter.

Most refer to precious stones as Gems but quite often as Gem’s (sic), with a total disregard for the correct usage of the apostrophe. Gem’…I mean Gems… are rather nice, but they tend to bring out the baser instincts of Srilankan-kind.

I remember, in 1977, when I was working as a young Doctor in Badulla, someone found a precious stone at Ridipana Estate. Ridipana Estate was then a rather neglected tea plantation on the Badulla-Mahiyangana Road.

As soon as word got around of this find, the normally-peaceful and charming denizens of Badulla, descended on Ridipana, uprooted tea bushes, staked out plots, hit each other on the heads with shovels,dug pits, got drunk and had knife-fights.

See what I meant about baser instincts?

The first casualty that I can remember from “The Great Ridipana Gem Rush of 77” was a guy who walked backwards and fell into the pit of his own making, drunk of course, fracturing his left tibia plus fibula. Compound, comminuted and rather nasty!

Illustrated by N Senthilkumaran

Then there was the guy who fell into a pit one dark night, drunk and whilst carrying a kerosene lamp. In the process he set fire to his only sarong which he unfortunately happened to be wearing at the time. Luckily, he just sustained first degree burns of his nether regions. Rather painful, but survivable. He couldn’t sit down for days! The hospital provided him with a new sarong, white and with the large indigo logo “GHB…General Hospital Badulla”.

Meanwhile, back at the Ridipana Ranch,organised chaos reigned until the local Police decided to take an uncharacteristical professional interest in Law and Order, which was after about a lapse of two months.

Things then, predictably spiralled in a downward direction, totally and utterly out of control!


Following my recent return to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, I have noticed that there is a fair bit of cut-throatism and a lot of the “destruction of the environment” stuff associated with the business.
When someone recently found a bit of broken glass in a pile of earth at a place called Tammannawa, the usually guarded Sri Lankan Media reported:

“Politicians galore at ‘gem pit’ auction”
“The Kataragama-Lunugamwehera road looks like a scene from the Western Front circa 1918”.
Hmmmmm! A fair bit of hyperbole on that last headline, but generally true!
Gem mining, legal or otherwise, causes “destruction of the environment”. Recent events in the Kataragama area, make my story of the Ridipana Estate pale into insignificance.
This is where an environmentally-concerned international entrepreneur like me has to come forward to save this Paradise!

Perfect Gem’…Gems!
What most people don’t realize is that far more “perfect” gems can be manufactured artificially and without the “destruction of the environment” thing.

When lasers were first invented, the scientist chaps used natural rubies in their lasers. Unfortunately, natural rubies are not perfect and furthermore the Sri Lankan gem merchants at that time were charging a fortune for rubies. So some clever guy decided to make perfect, artificial, rubies for lasers.
Just open the optical drive of your computer and you will find an artificial gem in it! Yes! That’s correct! The little shiny bit.(Warning! Lasers can blind you! So can Gems!)

It is quite simple to make an artificial ruby. All you need is fine Aluminium Oxide powder, aka Alumina, and an Oxy-Acetylene flame and you are in business. The same applies to the manufacture of artificial sapphires.(In case you didn’t know what an oxy-acetylene flame is, just ask your local garage. They use it regularly for welding or rather, “waalding” as they call it.)

As far as Diamonds go, the techno to manufacture them has been around for at least 100 years, but the De Beers Consolidated Mines guys didn’t like it, and by general agreement with diamond producing countries, they suppressed the good news. BTW, De Beers control the diamond industry.

My Gem’s…..Gems

In order to save the environment I now propose to start manufacturing artificial gems using the aforementioned principles. One of the problems with manufacturing synthetic gems is that one needs a lot of energy, either in the form of petroleum gases or in the form of electricity.

I am pleased to say that I have located cheap sources of both! There is plenty of gas in Siberia, Russia.
I once met a pretty, short-skirted and red lip-sticked Siberian Russian girl by the name of Galina Ivanova (“Gala” to her clients). She later wrote to me asking for money to set up a factory of sorts to make artificial diamonds. I gladly obliged and sent the poor girl a lot of money but I haven’t heard from her since then. Maybe she is still busy laying the gas pipes.

As for hydro-electricity, the country which has the biggest surplus of it is Paraguay. Paraguay is probably the most corrupt country in the world. They sell most of it, electricity as well as corruption, to Brazil; but with the unused megawatts, they electrocute fish in the Rio Parana. (This practice is a local pastime and similar to dynamiting fish. We are not alone in that respect!)

My Paraguayan friend and business partner, Senor Ignacio “El Bandido” del Gordo, to give his full name, recently wrote to me to say that all was in place for a hydroelectric powered gem manufacturing facility near Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.

“Si! Si! Senor! Estamoslisto!” he says, which is Spanish for “Yes! Yes! Sir! We are ready to make sapphires and make a lot of money and buy lots of bottles of Pisco!”

Mi amigo Ignacio, or Ig as I call him, was recently persecuted and prosecuted because of his political views about money, but he is otherwise a clean-living, good, religious sort of chap with only one wife.
He has only just got out of prison! He had been found guilty of something called “embezzlement” which I believe is normal in Paraguay.

Consolidated Gems of…

Anyway, I have now set up a company called Consolidated Gem’s of Paradise, or Con-Gem’s for short. The company is registered in Burkina Faso as well as in Thailand for good measure, but the head office is in Colombo: Basement Flat 01, Paradise Towers (still under construction), behind St John’s Fish Market, Pettah.

This makes us a Multi-National Company. It is easy to register companies anywhere. We can produce 100% artificial, genuine gem’s…er…I mean, gems. All we now need is some start-off capital in the form of Dollars….to buy Pisco.

Between Gala, Ignacio and me and most importantly, with your financial support, we could put the whole Sri Lankan gem business out of business!

At least that way, we will be able to stop the “ruination of the environment” thing and stop people from falling into and drowning in gem pits! Of their own making!

Serious note:

The technology to manufacture artificial diamonds, rubies and sapphires has been around for years, and still continues to be used, in the production of industrial diamonds and rubies.

There are also other perfectly legitimate practices for altering the characteristics of naturally occurring gems, which I believe have been practised and continue to be practised. Some techniques can be hazardous or can fall foul of existing legislation or health and safety. It is best not to try these at home.

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