Sri Lanka has been known since the days of Marco Polo as a major source of precious gems, especially sapphires. We visited a jeweler and learned about the processes of mining, cutting, and polishing sapphires.
Most of the mines in Sri Lanka use the traditional pit mining techniques. Vertical shafts are generally 6 feet by 12 feet with a depth of about 80 feet. The shafts are dug by hand and the dirt is hoisted out in baskets. Water is also pumped from the pits.
The trick to cutting a sapphire is to get the best color face up while retaining the most weight. The techniques used in Sri Lanka don't involve the latest robotic or laser devices, but rather the knowledge and experience of master cutters using more traditional tools. The results, at least to our untrained eyes, was some beautiful jewelry.