In October 2017, members of the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) and Gem-A embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Sri Lanka. Here, Barbara Kolator, Charles Evans, Olga González and Patricia Campion report on their adventures.

Gem-A collection curator and ODL tutor, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA, describes the temples and tea factories that caught her eye in Sri Lanka.

We didn't just look at gemstones during this memorable trip; we also had a chance to experience the culture and religions of the island. We visited a tea factory where we were shown how the leaves were sorted, fermented and dried and were then able to taste many of the brews on offer. After gemstones, tea was the most frequently bought item!

We visited several temples, including the famous Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, but for me the most spectacular visit was to the Cave Temple at Dambulla, a World Heritage Site. The five cave temples are inside a massive rock which rises 160m above the surrounding plain. They date back to the 1st century BCE and are still in use as places of pilgrimage.

Left: Interior of cave temple at Dambulla. Right: Ceiling of temple at Dambulla painted in dry tempera.Images ©John Baldwin

To get to the caves, we climbed up a steep stone staircase cut into the rock which was patrolled by the ubiquitous monkeys who try and steal anything in your hands - sunglasses in particular. We entered the magical temple compound and found a huge reclining Buddha within the first temple. I have rarely encountered such as spiritual and mystical place.


Patricia Campion and Barbara Kolator enjoying a gem dealing afternoon at Mount Lavinia Hotel. Image ©Charles Evans

As we entered cave after cave we saw the walls and ceilings were covered in paintings. These are made with dry tempera and are mainly from the 14th Century, imbued with vibrant colours that are from natural plant and mineral dyes. As we left the caves, we trekked down the hill in the twilight and encountered a magnificent Golden Buddha statue. The magical feeling of Dambulla stayed with us, even as the sun set.

Gem-A Infrastructure and Operations Manager, Charles Evans FGA DGA, paints the picture of a destination awash with charming people, magnificent architecture and of course, enchanting gemstones.

If, as an enthusiastic gemologist you were to write the specification for your perfect field trip, it would probably sound like something close to your perfect holiday: palm trees, long beaches, and delicious food, meals on a terrace watching sunsets, wonderful hotels and smiling, friendly locals. For the perfect gemological field trip you would have to add a few things that are a little more difficult to find - a destination that harbours an exciting geological cornucopia, rich in gems. You would get out into the beautiful countryside to stand among the men digging out the gem gravels and scan the resulting concentrate with eagerness to find something valuable. You would visit the markets where dealers push an astounding volume of stone packets at you and take no umbrage when you shake your head in dismissal.

While you wait - a quick repolish for a group member. Image ©Charles Evans

Your journey to a new destination, another market to mine, would not involve interminable hours on a bus or a lost day flying to another province. It would be just long enough to enjoy the scenery. Another day might see your scruffy self in the most exclusive of retail outlets looking at the very best of the nation's finds.

Another stop leads to more hours in awe of the skill involved in every area of the industry, sorting, sawing, preforming, and faceting. Gracious hosts ensure you never feel you have overstayed your welcome; demonstrating casting, soldering, setting and polishing with engaging smiles. What else could one wish for? Some wild monkeys, elephants and a good cup of tea? No problem at all. This perfect field trip could only happen in Sri Lanka.

Thank you to the NAJ, to Colin and Hilary Winter and to Gem-A for making it happen.