Ratnapura – city of gems
Sapphires in jewellery have a long and rich history, as James reveals
“Ancient sapphires survive, like the famed Roman cameo depicting Aphrodite feeding an eagle”
THE FIRST known transcripts describing rubies, spinels and sapphires were recorded by the Roman and Greek empires when they described the gems found on the island of Tabropane. The Persians also recorded riches from Serendib and the Old Testament records the gifts of sapphirus given by the middle eastern King Solomon to the Queen of Sheba. The high priest’s breast plate from the book of Exodus was also jewelled with sapphirus.
By the time of Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, trade routes were established for precious stones through India into Europe. European medieval records detail Seilam (Ceylon) the ‘Island of Gems’ – now Sri Lanka – where gemstones floated down the river in vast waves ready for collection.
Fables from the 13th century book Livres des Merveilles du
Monde, detailing the exploits of Marco Polo, have thrilled readers for generations. Rivers around Ratnapura have been described as flowing with gems and have witnessed waves of adventurers seeking their fortunes for generations.
Ancient sapphires survive, like the famed Roman cameo depicting Aphrodite feeding an eagle, part of the Fitzwilliam collection. The Talisman of Charlemagne, also known as the Carolingian amulet, was sent to the Holy Roman Emperor by Caliph Haroud Al-Rashid; two sapphire stones flanked and encased a lock of hair of the Virgin Mary. Sapphires preserved from the middle ages have become some of the most recognisable in the world, such as the 11th century St Edward’s sapphire found in the Imperial Crown, along with the 17th century Stuart sapphire located in the Maltese cross surmounting the Imperial Crown.
Under British rule the Island of Ceylon was famous for supplying jewellers with the finest sapphires to be found anywhere on the planet. This practice continues today with the most desirable and best-coloured sapphires still originating from the Ratnapura region.
At Juels’ Limited we stock an array of sapphires; a recent purchase has been our exceptional Ceylonese Ratnapura sapphire and diamond ring set in platinum. The central Ceylon sapphire is approximately four carats with a further one carat of sapphire around the edges that have been interval set with diamonds of the highest quality. The ring forms part of our current window display. If anyone has any jewellery they wish to have appraised please bring it along to James in the Royal Arcade who will be delighted to examine, evaluate and give a free valuation.
Above: Sapphires from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) have always been prized
The Talisman of Charlemagne