Home Sweet Home - COVID-19 & The City of Gems

by Siân . May 14, 2020

Ratnapura, meaning ‘The City of Gems’ in Sanskrit, has for centuries been the epicentre of romanticism and the lure of precious gems. King Solomon showering The Queen of Sheba, the tales of Sinbad the Sailor in Thousand and One Nights shipwrecked where the rivers flowed with gems. By Marco Polo’s time the island paradise was referred to as Ratna Dweepa, ‘ The Island of Gems’. The city has lost some of its heritage romance thanks to COVID-19, and its inhabitants are now fleeing to join the impoverished outlying communities. The luxury jewellery trade, which has been the lifeblood of Ratnapura’s economy up until now, has all but ceased in this time of uncertainty. While all work associated with the luxury jewelry trade is on hold, the sad reality is that most people who relied on its continuity are unable to put food on the table. For those impacted the worst, access to healthcare and basic requirements for the sustainment of life are no longer available to them.

Beehive Industries was the largest Lapidary in South East Asia prior to the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007. Featuring some 800 employees and known for exporting precious gems from Ratnapura across the globe to luxury jewellery chains and high profile clients including royalty, the company all but collapsed. Post GFC the company was left to rebuild with only 80 employees and some of the finest craftsman scattered across the countryside in small workshops seeking to muster a living from what remained of the decimated global jewellery marketplace. Vindya Perera, the Director of Brilliant Cuts and daughter of the Director Beehive Industries, has set about rebuilding the family business, in a male dominated industry and forever mindful of the dependency of her people on the global economy. Educated in Sydney, Australia, she has resisted the temptation of so many professionals that drain the talent pool of Sri Lanka and head for foreign shores. She has invested not only her entrepreneurial ship into rebuilding the family business but also her heart into rebuilding her community.

Vindya could teach many a western entrepreneur a thing or two about corporate social responsibility; the catch phrase for modern business, many who are unsure about the impact of such transparency of supply partnerships on global brand image. There is little transparency in luxury jewellery circles in identifying the global luxury jewellery space of acknowledging the largest finest gems are predominately being cut from rough stones in Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and China. Providing little recognition for the mastercrafts people who are hidden away behind the powerhouses of western marketing prejudices and protected by industry trade groups to tick the boxes of the ever enquiring and social consciences consumer. However, Vindya can relay the story of every individual who ordains the lapidary at Beehive and affords them the dignity of working hard to share the benefits of their labour with their families and broader community.

Providing health care, rice paddies, building schools and providing teachers to orphanages; just a few of the works undertaken by Vindya and her team. In addition to regular health checks for her employees, in an era where we acknowledge global connectedness, she grows rice that is harvested to feed the families for the month of April, typically the most expensive period of the year for her community and they scramble to pay their bills for education that fall due during this time. Importantly this service provides hope for the next generation to aspire for something beyond the confines of poverty and pedalling the streets for quick cash from the numerous roadside markets and stores. The development and operation of Hilburn College and on Friday afternoons teachers from the school provide tutoring at the local orphanage. Bus stop provision, shuttle buses to town, donations of computers and the list goes on.

The question beckons, who helps Vindya, Briliant Cuts and the beneficiaries of the global jewellery trade collapse in the face of COVID-19? Like the GFC of 2007, the team wait in hope of a return in consumer confidence. The precious stones, diamonds and gold values remain unaffected if not more precious as investment pieces in what would seem the ever rising gold market.

Much of our time in preparing  for launch has been identifying reputable, highly qualified and trustworthy partners. We are delighted that Vindya Perera is part of the Sovereign Stones family and that we look forward to working directly to support her work at her new venture Lustre, the community support in ‘The City of Gems’, Ratnapura who opened their doors and rolled out their Welcome Matt’s to our team at Sovereign Stones and supported the creation of the Journey Collection.

The image below is the outcome of Sovereign Stones in collaboration with Vindya, Lustre staff and the hard work and generosity of the people of ‘ The City of Gems’, Ratnapura: Click on the image to magnify and marvel more closely at their work.