Gail Howard's Gem Trade Adventures in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1965 and 1966
The buyer's requirements were also part of the equation. An exceptionally large and perfect stone might be difficult for one buyer to sell; another buyer might pay a higher price for the same gem because it was a "prestige" stone that could be bought with wealthy clients in mind who might want to donate the gem to a museum.
Buying gems at the right price was always more difficult than selling them. Although I thought Leon would be a help to me in negotiating price, I found I did better on my own. I'd look over a parcel and think I could make a profit it I paid $2 a carat for it. Leon would tell me I should try to get them down to $3.50. He was trying to be helpful, but Leon's market was in the United States, so he could afford to pay higher prices for the same merchandise. Besides, Leon was looking for fine quality gemstones. Most of the stones I was buying were commercial grade which I could sell for a higher profit margin to stores in Bangkok, Saigon, Tokyo and Kyoto.
Although there were hundreds of Muslims in the gem business in Ceylon, they all belonged to a closely related family - cousins, uncles, brothers, second and third cousins.
Rafi invited Leon and me to his cousin's wedding in Galle, a few hours drive from Colombo. The wedding house was not particularly large, but I was told 2,000 guests had been invited. Although the number seemed exaggerated, on the night of the wedding, I didn't doubt that all 2,000 people were there. The wedding room was packed with guests and the heat from all those bodies was unbelievable.
The bride was parked in a separate room and had to sit motionless with her eyes closed for two hours while the guests stared at her. I squirmed in to have a look at the bride. She was quite unattractive. Her bridegroom had never seen her before because the marriage had been arranged by the two families. And of course, she had never seen her husband-to-be either - who was considerably more attractive.
Meanwhile, the groom was involved in his own ceremony in another room. He led a parade of bearded men in fez hats up the stairs, singing and chanting in Arabic.
As the groom entered the bridal chamber, a woman fastened a necklace on the bride. Then my view was completely blocked. The guests were packed in solid. Sweat was coming down in rivulets on my face and my entire body. I certainly would like to have seen the expression on the groom's face when he first glimpsed his bride.
I wondered what the bride was thinking during those two long hours of waiting for the stranger who was to be her husband for life. Before I left Ceylon, I asked several married women who had befriended me what they had thought about during their waiting period. Every one of them responded the same way, that their minds were completely blank.
Despite marrying total strangers, most of the wives and husbands seemed quite content with the mates chosen for them by their families.
Both Rafi and Fiaz had traveled and had sewn a few wild oats. Both were back in Ceylon now because they thought it was time to take a wife. Their families were scouting prospective brides for them.
Fiaz was offered a big house, a new car, 200,000 rupees cash and an endless supply of gems from a miner, but his sister told Fiaz that the girl involved was too ugly to make even such a generous dowry worthwhile. So he turned it down.
Both Rafi and Fiaz told me they would be faithful to their wives and eagerly looked forward to marrying the brides chosen for them by their families. Neither would consider bringing back a foreigner because they wouldn't dream of hurting their families that way. Fiaz said if he married a girl outside the Ceylon Muslim community, his wife would be snubbed by everyone in the family her entire life.
On the way back to Colombo the next day, we stopped in Beruwela, a gem cutting center, and looked at gemstones. We were interested in some we saw, so told the man to bring the goods to Colombo the next day for a better look.
Leon and I had very few meals in the Galle Face Hotel because we were invited to the homes of various gem dealers for almost every lunch and dinner. Each meal was a banquet, sometimes French cooking, sometimes special Chinese, but most often delicious Ceylonese food, which was my favorite. The food was always well prepared and beautifully served.