As is usual with almost every tour that you go on the guide will find time to encourage you to call in to local craft centres and I’m sure that they get some kind of commission or introduction payment for their efforts. We were taken to two in Kandy and in fairness they both proved interesting.
First we called in at a gem museum. I’m not sure that it necessarily merited the title museum but there was a real effort to introduce to the gem market in Sri Lanka. Firstly we were taken to a small "theatre" where we were shown a short informative film about the gem industry. It was comprehensive but not overly technical so we all got a real good appreciation of how the business works from the mining of the rocks through to the production of fine jewellery. Next the guide took us through to the "museum" where he showed us all the uncut rocks of the different type of gem stones that are mined in Sri Lanka, including the blue sapphire, red sapphire, garnet, opel, cat’s eye ruby and zircon.
Next we were offered the chance to see the stones being developed for their setting. This is very labour intensive and once the stone has been cut the gemstone workers begin the long stage of polishing and shaping the stone. After several hours of work the polished stone can be passed to the "setting specialist" who manipulates the ring, pendant or bracelet to "grip" the gem stone. Fascinating to watch and I would have been quite happy to stand and stare at the workers as they concentrate on the polishing wheel or the tiniest of gold claws in the jewellery case.
After a time we are led through to the final stage of our visit – the showroom. Here every attempt is made to sell jewellery to our wives. A salesman moved in on us as soon as we entered the room and was quickly showing rings to our wives. Not taking "No" for an answer the ring trays were pulled out from the showcases and held up to us for closer scrutiny. As if to "pin us to our seats" a cup of tea is brought to us and the hard sell continued. We were well able to resist their attempts to sell to us as none of us had any intention to be spending over £200 on a piece of jewellery. Sure ly would never be an impulse buy! Finally, having enjoyed our cup of tea, we excused ourselves from the showroom and judging from the faces of the sales folk we were not likely to be flavour of the month. They looked disgusted that they’d missed out on a sale!
Next we set off to catch a view of the lake and take in a craft shop specialising in carved timber. I’m particularly interested in this and although predictable I am still surprised to see that there is no modern equipment in the workroom. All cutting, shaping and carving is done by hand and so the work is real labour intensive. I can’t help but comment on the delightful smell of freshly carved wood and stand in awe at some of the beautiful finishes and carefully crafted joints that hold the furniture together. It’s all traditional joints with wooden dowels securing the joints. Beautiful, but of course it’s not cheap.
Downstairs is a full showroom with small tables, chess sets, carved elephants, fishermen, jigsaws and traditional Kandyan dance masks. I am tempted momentarily until I remind myself that purchases direct from source are not always the best value. Indeed when the manager confirmed that much of the small carving is outsourced to home workers I remember that smaller shops and markets will also be dealing direct with these workers. I hold back on a purchase, but my friend steams ahead with the purchase of a very nicely carved elephant. Pricey – I think but he loves it so that’s all that matters.
It’s worth checking out these local craft places but be cautious about jumping in with an early purchase