The jewel in the crown (and the engagement ring)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011 23:53 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The UK loves nothing better than a royal wedding: the tradition, the pomp, the glamour! Prince William and Kate Middleton are a young, beautiful and popular couple and their marriage in Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011 is expected to be quite the occasion.

A national holiday has been declared so the whole of the UK can join in the celebrations.

This much we all know. But what many people might not know is that the Royal Wedding is also great news for Sri Lankan trade with the UK. Sri Lanka has already made a unique contribution to the Prince’s big day: the 12-carat oval blue sapphire at the centre of the engagement ring given to Kate Middleton originally came from Sri Lanka.

This same ring, known as a “Blue Sapphire Diamond Cluster ring,” was given to Princess Diana on the occasion of her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981.

Nobles, socialites and fashionistas wanting to follow the trend-setting Royal couple are seeking their own version of the Diana engagement ring. This means interest in already-popular Sri Lankan sapphires is rising and provides great opportunities for collaboration between the UK and Sri Lanka.

With a colourful and well-established history of gem-trading dating back over 2,500 years, Sri Lanka is among the top five gem-producing nations in the world and has over 70 varieties of gems. The increased focus on the gem and jewellery industry, coupled with the unexpected fillip courtesy of the Royal engagement, means foreign exchange earnings from the industry are expected to double in the next five years – quite an achievement for an industry already generating around $400 million (LKR44.3 billion) a year.

The UK has a world-leading creative industry that accounts for 10% of the UK economy and generates $ 16 billion (over Rs. 1.77 trillion) worth of exports each year. This means UK designers are well placed to provide innovative designs incorporating Sri Lankan sapphires, among other Sri Lankan sourced gems, to meet the rising demand.

Jewellers in the UK have reported a marked increase in demand for sapphire rings and Sri Lanka’s National Gem and Jewellery Authority has reported large numbers of enquiries from across the globe. The UK is already amongst the top 10 purchasers of Sri Lankan gemstones and is set to purchase even more of Sri Lanka’s fine sapphires, benefitting the economy of both countries.

On 29 April this year, thousands of Britons will wake up, slip their Sri Lankan sapphire engagement rings on their fingers and settle down in front of the television to watch the pageantry and romance of the wedding of the year. The Royal Wedding will be an occasion of great celebration. It is also a reminder of the success of Sri Lankan businesses in the UK and the strong trade ties between our two countries.

Expert tips

Many Sri Lankan companies successfully do business in, or with, the UK. The UK is one of Sri Lanka’s most significant trading partners, and trade links are wide and deep – especially in the gems industry, which goes back a long way.

Gems and jewellery exporters in Sri Lanka have a natural advantage in the resources available and the island’s well-established international reputation in the industry. However, if you are interested in setting up an export business, here are some tips you make wish to consider:

1. Make the right connections. The ‘right’ business partner overseas is key to growing your market. Visit the market and do your research. Find someone who understands your business and shares your vision.

2. Keep up with the times. Trends, tastes and fashions change – especially in the gems and jewellery industry. The UK has some of the most successful jewellery designers in the world. Keep yourself informed of the latest ‘in’ thing as well as classic looks that are perennially popular.

3. Identify and segment your market – who is your customers? If you plan to launch a new range of jewellery, make sure you know who you are targeting. The UK has one of the most open business environments in the world. It is also the No. 1 gateway to the EU, a market of almost 500 million people.

For a wealth of information on the practicalities of setting up business in the UK, visit the UK Trade & Investment website at