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19th July 1998

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Gem of a find

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

Gem-mining is nothing new in Ratnapura. But on a rainy Thursday afternoon last week (July 9) when four miners dug out a chunk of blue, there was no doubt that it was an extraordinary find-probably one of the biggest blue sapphires in the world.

The sapphire and Ms. DharmadasaThe stone was brought straight to the lunch table of Ms Leela Dharmadasa, the chief owner of the 3 1/2 acre plot of land at Maha Ilakumbura. It's all about trust and team work, says Ms. Dharmadasa.

The egg sized blue sapphire weighs nearly 500 grammes and is around 836 carats. According to her expensive stones such as cat's-eyes and rubies too are found in abundance in the same area. "We spend an enormous amount of money on excavations, but not always do we find the right stone to match our expenses," she said.

Most of Sri Lanka's large gemstones so far excavated have all gone into foreign hands, well before they could even be registered here, she says. Tax concessions granted by the government was what really prompted Ms.Dharmadasa to exhibit this stone. "We would have thought otherwise if not for tax concessions," she declared.

"A pride for the country is often lost by some irresponsible miners who sell gemstones illegally" added the Chairman, Gem and Jewellery Authority, A.E.T Ellawela.

"We have no restriction on foreigners buying our gems, but they have to be bought through a local agent," he said. However foreigners are not allowed to take rough stones out of the country.

The big day for the blue sapphire is July 25, when it come under the hammer at the Ratnapura Regional Gem Authority Office. Dharmadasa and family want a very good price. Ellawela says that this event could bring prestige to Sri Lanka, and that people from all over the world will begin to recognise the value of Sri Lankan gems.

Ms. Dharmadasa with a sigh remarked that one wouldn't be left with much in the end. But she hopes to divide her share among her two sons and four daughters. For Dharmadasa who lost her husband in 1987, it's an ancestral business. Her sons Varuna (26) and Kushantha (25) said that they will work toward finding more such sapphires in the future.

"But then again it all depends on one's luck," remarked Varuna saying that this rare stone was found after nearly twenty eight years of hard labour.

Musical triumph

Ronnie doing his act
The Seva Vanitha grand musical evening Sivuranga concluded on a triumphant note last Saturday.

(Singhoree) Sunil, Piyal and Ronnie
The star-studded night included artistes like Sunil and Gypsies, Ronnie Leitch, Rookantha and Chandralekha and service bands.

The objective was to raise funds for a housing loan scheme for disabled soldiers and their families.

Indrani Perera
" The show was a success. For the first time we had all four services' cultural troupes performing together. The aud ience was very appreciative and we feel we succeeded in arousing greater interest in our mission of helping the soldiers," said one of the committee members.

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