Ekanite- Discovery of a New Rare Gemstone By Mr F.D.L Ekanayake

Discovery of a rare gemstone “EKANITE”
By Neelamali De Silva (Consultant Gemmologist)

We are very grateful to all the staff at the National Gem and Jewellery Authority for giving us kind permission to reproduce this article from Gem Talk .

It was in 1953, after so many years that the last new gem variety was found in USA. The discovery of ‘Benitoite’ in San Benito country in California, before the World War I in 1907 and during the next 38 years no new additions came to the list of gemstones .

ekanite-rare-gemstone-cut-and-polished
Ekanite-rare-gemstone-cut-and-polished

Mr F. L. D. Ekanayake , who was with the customs department then , was a keen observer ,as well as a gemmologist . In 1953 he came across two dark green cut stones brought by a dealer in the local gem market in Colombo. Although they looked more like glass , his keen eyes did not miss some special properties shown by these stones which aroused his interest . With the help of foreign gemmologists , he explored the nature of these mysterious stones looking like glass.

Mr F L D Ekanayaka
Mr F L D Ekanayaka

The opinion of most of the experts was that, it was a variety of natural glass or a newly manufactured artificial glass , but Mr Ekanayake was very confident that this is a new variety. Testing and analyzing of the sample took nearly seven years with prolonged procedures. Finally in 1961 it was published in the famous magazine ‘Nature’ that Mr Ekanayake had discovered a new mineral from Sri Lanka and it was named after him as “Ekanite”.

Ekanite-rare-gemstone-rough
Ekanite-Rough Gemstone

The properties of this gem variety shows that it is highly radio-active , compared to many supposed to be radioactive minerals such as Zircon or even radiation induced stones like blue topaz . High percentage of radioactivity is due to its main component of the chemical composition called Th (Thorium).
This new find has received much attention as well as criticism in many international exhibitions during the decade. Many gemmologists around the world were eager to possess a piece of this new variety. Mr Ekanayake was able to find the exact locality of the mineral, an area close to Eheliyagoda.

Physical and Optical Properties of Ekanite

Chemical Composition: K {Ca,Na}2.Th[Si8O2O]- approximate weight of Thorium is always about 30% of the total weight of any given specimen.

Hardness: 6-6.5

Refractive Index: 1.57

Specific Gravity: 3.30

Common Colours: Green, Yellow, Dark Red, Brown. There are star Ekanites as well [As a gemmologist myself I have found the radioactive levels of Ekanite specimens I have come across extremely high compared to many radiation induced stones and natural Zircon-Which proves that they have naturally induced radioactivity.

Ekanites are still found in gem gravels from the Sabaragamuwa valley. In recent times there are three reported deaths due to keeping ekanites at close proximity to three gem dealers.
Being the discoverer of the gemstone Mr Ekanayake has never complained about any unusual disorders as he was very careful about handling and safe keeping of the samples, and he took great care to prevent his family members getting exposed to the harmful radiations emitted by the mineral Ekanite.
According to his son and daughter-in-law Joseph and Mary Ekanayake , whom I met at the Mount Lavinia Beach Hotel , on their last visit to Sri Lanka in June last year , Mr Ekanayake had lots of other interests in life , most of them are with nature like gardening, growing flowers and gambling too. He used to share every penny he won with his family, finally lack of savings has driven him to migrate to England and take up small part time jobs for survival.
He was a specialist in Crouton, cyclemen and orchid growing. He had his laboratory and lapidary set up in a big house at Ramakrishna road at Wellawatta and also had a very spacious parlour to entertain the gem dealers from Sri Lanka as well as from foreign countries. Professor Gublin, a famous gemmologist from Switzerland has written about meeting Mr Ekanayake in 1060 at his place and specially mentioned about his well equipped laboratory to test gemstones , in his article published in 1962 Mr Ekanayake had a spectacular gem collection, which included many local and foreign specimens too.
Although many criticisms have been made regarding present day new discoveries and the people behind them in other countries, we do not have much to say about our own people who have done such a yeomen service to the international world of gemstones like Mr Ekanayake.
It is our duty therefore, to create awareness among the future generations about Mr Ekanayake who brought to our small island fame throughout the world in the 6th decade of the 20th Century, during a period where Sri Lanka had not even heard of modern methods of mineral analysis.

8 thoughts on “Ekanite- Discovery of a New Rare Gemstone By Mr F.D.L Ekanayake

  1. Avatar
    Maurice Ekanayake says:

    Mr. F.D.L Ekanayake was my uncle (my father’s eldest brother).
    I remember my dad telling me the story of my uncle’s discovery of this stone, it was very fascinating.
    I was fortunate enough to see a sample of the stone in London’s Natural History Museum in the 1980’s.

  2. Avatar
    Alan Howard says:

    Mr F.D.L Ekanayake was my great uncle, my grandmother’s sister. Very interesting storyby the way hello uncle Maurice 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Alan says:

    Mr. Ekanayake was my great uncle, he was married to my grandmother’s sister. I remember my great aunt (his wife) telling me about this when I was a child. Alan

  4. Avatar
    avril nixon says:

    i am mr ekanayake grandaughter. his son is still living my father joseph. but sadly i lost my mum mary in october 2010.

  5. Avatar
    avril nixon says:

    I am Mr Ekanayake grandaughter. My father Joseph is currently living in Hastings.
    He is still coming to terms with the sad loss of my beloved mother Mary. Who sadly passed away in october 2010.

  6. Avatar
    Alan Howard says:

    Mr. F.D.L Ekanayake’s wife was my Godmother, and great aunt, she also told me this story, God rest her soul. I saw it in the Natural History Museum, and also ordered a sample as a reminder of time’s past.

  7. Avatar
    Roger Benedict Ekanayake says:

    I Roger Benedict Ekanayake fondly remember my grandfather and felt proud to see his Gem at the Natural history museum on Tuesday 29/12/15

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