Recently FT Sri Lanka highlighted the core issue of Sri Lanka gem trade! From the Queen of Sheba to Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge, Sri Lanka’s sapphires have adorned royalty through the ages, but a flood of cheap imitations is threatening the island’s reputation for the precious stones. They fear that is tarnishing the image of the gems, seen as a major potential income stream for an economy still recovering from decades of civil war. “This is the biggest threat to our industry. Our reputation is at stake,” said Nissanka Weerasena, who owns a chain of upmarket jewellery stores in Sri Lanka.
“These coloured pieces of glass imported by the kilo are killing the market for gems.” Stories of buyers getting conned into buying fakes are legion. National Gem and Jewellery Authority chairman Asanka Welagedara recalled how one Australian buyer who spent $14,000 only discovered that nearly half the stones he had been sold were fakes when he had them tested by the state-run regulator -- by which time it was too late. Another scam is to heat treat opaque, semi-precious stones to give them the colour and clarity of a real sapphire.
“The technique of heat treating semi-precious stones originated in Thailand, but our people have now perfected the art,” Welagedara said. “There is a 10-fold price difference between a heat-treated blue sapphire and a natural stone, so naturally there is a temptation to sell treated stones as natural ones.” Problems are particularly common along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, a popular tourist draw. “We are seeing a new trend of cheating, especially along the coastal tourist belt,” said a senior Sri Lankan police officer who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Gem and Jewellery Authority says it can’t stop the import of artificial stones, which are necessary for the low-end costume jewellery industry. But it is taking steps to prevent fraud by vetting dealers and giving them a stamp of approval that buyers can trust.
For Rs. 500 ($3.50) it will issue a certificate of authenticity, which its chairman Welagedara says is the “best guarantee against fraud”. Gem expert Rohan Pitigala said it was difficult for the untrained eye to spot an imitation gem stone, but not impossible. “If you see a stone which is flawless it is too good to be true,” he said.