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100 years in business : 

O.L.M. Macan Markar into real estate from jewellery

By Shirajiv Sirimane

From a simple family run jewellery shop in Galle, O. L. M. Macan Markar Ltd, after over 150 years of their existence, has today branched out to other areas of business related to real estate.

The Chairman Managing Director of the company Mecci Macan Markar. 

In addition to their jewellery showroom at Galle Face Courts the family has set up two companies, Galle Face Land and Buildings Ltd and Macan Markar Buildings Ltd. The family today owns the Macan Markar building in Janadhipathi Mawatha which houses the Seylan Bank and many other key business institutions. This section was earlier used by Apothecaries which was a well known departmental store which has now put up shutters.

The other two properties at Galle Face Courts opposite the Indian Embassy too have been given out to commercial establishments and for apartments.

According to Director O. L. M. Macan Markar Ltd, Zacky D. Macan Markar, with the peace process they are expecting good returns this year. "We are predicting a better financial forecast for the end of this year." He said that their foreign clientele specially from Europe has picked up and the buying power of Sri Lankans too has increased by a large margin." He said that due to this factor Sri Lankans are looking at purchasing additional items such as gems and jewellery.

Some of the creations

The Director said that Sri Lanka has made a name for its tea and similarly for Sapphires which he said is the number one choice among foreigners even today. He said that the industry has received a boost with the decision by the authorities to relax the export and import duty on gold and jewellery related items. "However with the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) customers are faced with an additional fee."

He said that the Gem and Jewellery industry in Sri Lanka has expanded rapidly to cater to the modern day demand. "Our company too has decided to move with the times to fall in line with competition."

The outlet at Galle Face Courts

Markar said that they are planning to introduce internet buying to the Gem and jewellery market soon. "When this is done even a foreigner could select an item from the web and place their order and we will ensure that it is delivered safely and on time."

He said the trust their customers placed in their range of Gem and Jewellery for over 150 years is a major plus point for them.

He said that Royal visitors such as King Edward VII as Prince of Wales in 1875, King George as the Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901, King Edward VIII as Prince of Wales in 1922, Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Prince Charles in 1970 along with a host of VVIP's have visited their store.

O.L.M. Macan Markar's rare and unique collection of Traditional Moorish heirloom bridal jewellery dating back to the seventeenth century has been viewed by many of the British royal family and leaders from all over the world". We are now offering the whole collection for sale at a negotiable price. The collection consists of necklaces, bracelets, bangles and anklets, and various other pieces". The jewellery is exquisitely set in gold with pearls, rubies, emeralds and old-cut diamonds," he said.

The Company has also made a name in the world gem and jewellery history books by owning and later transferring the world's, biggest precious stones found in Sri Lanka. The 'Ceylon Morning Leader' a newspaper in Sri Lanka on August 23, 1907, published the following news item under the headline 'A monster Sapphire worth 7,000 pounds'.

O.L.M. Macan Markar, jeweller, GOH Buildings, is the possessor of what is alleged to be the largest sapphire in the world. The stone was mined in the Ratnapura district some six months ago. In its finished state it is 2 1/2 inches-long, 1 3/4 inches broad, and its greatest thickness is 3/4 of an inch.

The sapphire, there is every reason to believe, is - the largest sapphire in the world. The sapphire was mined by four Sinhalese villagers who as a syndicate, started a small mining speculation in the Kuruwiti korale. The villagers sold the stone in the rough to J.W. Ekneligoda R.M. of Kuruwiti korale, who in turn sold the gem in the same condition to A.L. Mustafa Lebbe, Ratnapura, the transfer price being R20,000. A.L. Mustafa Lebbe had the stone cut and polished, an operation which occupied for months, and then sold it in its perfected condition to Macan Markar. The sapphire, a magnificent stone, now weighs 466 carats and is of brilliant darkish blue colour.

The stone is valued at pound 15 sterling a carat, making the gem worth approximately pound 7,000. A gold casket is being made to contain the stone, since it is too big for setting purposes. Macan Markar will have the stone on his premises for several weeks, and will be pleased to show the gem to any visitors who may call. Macan Markar is also the owner of the largest and best catseye ever found in Ceylon, which is valued at pound 3,000.

Famous gems sold by O.L.M. Macan Markar Ltd.

On August 3,1908 the 'Times of Ceylon' reported that O.L.M. Macan Markar had sold the sapphire referred to by the Ceylon Morning Leader above, to an American multimillionaire. The American was J.P. Morgan who later donated the gem to the Smithsonian Institute. Regrettably the stone is presented there as the 'Star of Bombay'.

In 1937 O.L.M. Macan Markar Ltd. sold another giant sapphire known as 'The Blue Belle of Asia' to the British motor magnate, Lord Nuffield. This gem weighing over 400 carats was later fitted to the royal house and has become part of the crown jewels. 'The Blue Giant of the Orient', a Blue Sapphire weighing 486 carats and considered to be the largest blue sapphire in the world was sold to a Japanese buyer by O.L.M. Macan Markar Ltd. in 1972. Cabechon cut gems which cast a star are a particular delight among Sri Lankan gems. O.L.M. Macan Markar Ltd possessed at one time 'The Star of Asia' - a star sapphire weighing 224 carats. Many royal visitors to the firm over the centuries have also admired the firm's mascot, a-105 carat catseye found in 1860 in a paddy field at Rakwana.

History of the firm

The firm's business in gems and jewellery dates back to 1860 when Oduma Lebbe Marikar Macan Markar opened an establishment in the New Oriental Hotel at Point de Galle (as Galle was then known). The business flourished and was moved to the Grand Oriental Hotel Arcade in Fort, Colombo in 1891 when the port moved from Galle. The business is now established in Galle Face Court 2. Branches were established at the Shepherds Hotel and the Semiramis in Cairo in 1920 and later extended to King David Hotel, Jerusalem in 1931, but with the spread of World War II in 1941 to the Middle East, the branches were closed down.

Today the Company is being managed by their third generation and Mecci Marcan Markar is the Chairman Managing Director of the company.

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