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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Moonstone mine and factory visit, Meetiyagoda, Srilanka

On our way from Colombo to Galle in Srilanka, our driver suggested that we take a 4 km detour to visit a moonstone mine and factory. Since we had enough time for check-in time so decided to check it out. We reached there at about 8.40 AM. Since we couldn’t find anyone around, we were about to return, then we spotted a security and another staff, who welcomed us. I was told regular opening time is 9 AM.

Moonstones are semi-precious stones which shine at particular angles, thus have high ornament value.
Moonstone mine visit- this is where you need to divert from A2 highway
The moonstone mine hut in Srilanka
I asked if there is any fee, was told the guided tour of moonstone mine is free. A senior staffer escorted us to the mine, which is about 1 km away and was the size of a small well. The slushy mud which contains pieces of precious stone are pulled out from the bottom of this well err mine and piled nearby. Then the slushy mud is washed in water- all soil particles get removed and only stones remain. These stones are placed on a table and an expert pair of eyes and hands inspect each of them to decide if they are worthy. Some stones are too brittle and can’t be shaped, some do not have any colour- these are separated- most of these are discarded while few big ones might be given to institutions for research purpose. Real gems- blue and white moon stones are cleaned and sent for further processing. Explaining the mining process we were told "We first dip a candle into the well to check if it sustains  (i.e. if there is enough oxygen inside). Even then it is very tiring to work down there- max an hour or two one comes out. The mine is about 10 meters deep."
Simple mining accessories
Hidden in this heap are the semi-precious moon stones
Primary cleaning process

Above left: potentially useful stone pieces left in the basket after mud is washed away.
Above right: Few of them are lucky enough to become part of an ornament, with price tag of 800+ USD
An uncut raw moonstone- notice the moon shade
In the factory, these stones are polished and shaped till they are ornament ready. Guests are given a brief demo of how they are processed and shaped. I asked if a hole will be drilled into them (to pass the thread) but was told No. They are embedded into silver or metal frames. These frames are in turn joined to make ornaments like ear rings, necklace, finger rings and so on.
Stones are attached to top of a stick with wax for better grip during polishing

Silver rings that will house the moonstone
Mating the silver case around the moonstone
We were told that while the current location only gives them white and blue stones, they have some hills and mines elsewhere in the Srilankan mountains which gives them more coloured stones.

While the tour is free, the objective is to make visitors buy some of the stuff from the shop. “We accept USD, VISA/Mastercard etc" - we are told. I understand that fair amount of effort has gone into mining, cleaning and readying the ornament but couldn’t justify spending 100s of dollars on the final product. So we walked away without buying anything, which would have obviously upset the staff, but we couldn't help it.
Final products- earrings- about 180 to 300 USD each
Precious stones
We were also given a brief walk of their cinnamon processing centre, where cinnamon leaves are dried, processed into oil, powder and other stuff. This mine is in its 3rd generation- we were told. Workers here have been around since decades- they are more comfortable using their hands than relying on tools- I was told when I asked why the staff has to use his hand to fill the basket with mud and why not some sickle kind of tools to make life simpler.
Cinnamon extract based products
Overall, our visit was worth the time spent there. Do visit one of these moonstone mines while in Srilanka, but be careful to avoid impulsive shopping. Some TripAdvisor reviews say that they were sold fake stones- I am not sure which mine did that, but exercise caution.

9 comments :

Indrani said...

It is so interesting to see the whole process but yes... too expensive!

Shrikant said...

This is how precious made out of ground zero! Thanks for sharing.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Indrani and Shrikant

Jyotirmoy Sarkar said...

Very fantastic presentation of the whole process. Loved reading it.

Swati & Sam said...

To see a demo of the whole process is always so exciting as you get to know all the hard work that goes in ...

Somehow the mine does not look that inviting but yes an interesting experience to share :)

rupam sarma said...

Great, Thanks for sharing :)

Navin Mathew said...

My dad had a moonshine stone on his ring, which was considered his lucky birthstone.
Interesting article, Srinidhi.

Sara Koshy said...

Nice. We didn't have the time to go to a mine so we went to a reputed store in Colombo and bought gems. Much less expensive.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Sara- hmm, good to know you got it cheaper in city store

@Navin - thanks

@Rupam- Thanks

@Swati- yes, it is more like a well than a mine... just about 100 ft deep

@Jyotirmoy: Thanks