Ratnapura ('Ratna' meaning - gems and 'Pura' meaning city) was the perfect place for me to do my project documenting the mining and processing of sapphires. I wanted to see every aspect, from the moment the gems are mined to the place they are sold. The miners earn around £5-8 a day. Their harvest is divided between the mine owner, manager, and owner of the machinery before being shared amongst the miners. Despite being in the mines for sometimes 8 hours at a time, the actual amount of sapphires they find is very small.
Going down in to the mines was pretty dangerous. The climb down was wet and sandy with a very steep drop, and I cut my feet. At points the heat was so oppressive I thought I was going to die! The deepest can range up to 50 meters, but most pits are between 5 and 25 meters. The one I visited was over 20 meters. The standard pit mine in Sri Lanka consists of a vertical shaft that measures two by four metres. If the pits are deep and in harder ground, the miners might dig a two by two metre square pit or a two metre circular pit.
The cutting and selling is also carried out in Ratnupura, not far from the mines. I specifically explored to one long street where in the morning thousands gather to sell and trade both rough and cut gems.