Saturday, March 04, 2006

M U M SALIE 1869-1963

Family history related by Yssuf Salie (grandson of MUM Salie)

Greetings from Sri Lanka and welcome to the LankaGems website.

The Salie Family has been in the gem and jewelry business since the late 1700's. Our business was started in the late 1700's on the tiny island of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon at the time of the British occupation). Sri Lanka is situated in the Indian Ocean at the southern most tip of India.The town of Galle is situated in the southern province and is otherwise known as the Dutch city. The first two generations of our family concentrated in the buying and selling of rough stones as well as the cutting and polishing of them. This process resulted in beautiful precious stones known as sapphires, rubies and many other varieties of semi precious and precious stones (aquamarines, tourmalines, garnets etc).

Galle is a seaport. It was the most impressive of natural harbors in the world at that time and still may remain so today. Many merchant ships passed through Galle to obtain provisions, spices and of course, gemstones. Our Great Grandparents were gem merchants. As Galle was the main gem cutting center as well as the hub of the gem trade in Sri Lanka, we presume that most precious gemstones found at that time (1700-1800) originated from this tiny port city of Galle. Today many of these original stones are in the possession of individual collectors or are showcased in museums in Asia, Europe, Great Britain well as in the United States of America.

My grandfather was the third generation of Salie's born in 1869. It was in 1898 that young M U M Salie (my grandfather) decided to leave his home country and explore the world at the age of thirty. From his early childhood days in school he had learned and heard quite a bit about two great continents, Australia and North America. He was particularly interested in the information he had gathered concerning the Opal mines in Australia. Without informing his parents, he left home and set sail to Australia on a merchant vessel. After arriving in Melbourne he spent most of his time buying rough Opals and other gemstones that he had planned to cut and refinish in Sri Lanka. Due to the fact that the gem cutters in Sri Lanka were reputed for their knowledge of precision cutting, M U M Salie decided to open his own Opal cutting center in his home country.M U M Salie married an Australian lady in 1899.

After spending a couple of years in Melbourne he and his wife Elsie returned to Sri Lanka with barrels full of rough opals. His dream had come true. He was able to cut these large quantities of opals by expert cutters at a low cost. He spent approximately six years processing the opals and turning them into fine gemstones. In the meantime, he had made many more trips to Australia. He sold his newly finished opals and in turn, bought more rough stones.

In 1906, with his wife Elsie beside him, he took part in the exposition in Hanly Park New Zealand, winning praise and awards for displaying the finest of gemstones. As he became more traveled, he had the opportunity to learn about Shanghai, Burma, Tokyo, New York, California, Chicago and Miami. It was due to the climatic similarities between Sri Lanka and Miami that he became particularly fond of Miami.Sri Lanka has always being a busy port and a central point for commerce and travel. Many businessmen and tourists passed through the Island staying in the large ships while they were docked for loading and unloading in the port cities.

My grandfather had been invited to show his rare gem collection to the passengers in these grand ships. Although this proved to be a viable business, this didn't satisfy his quest of obtaining a fair share of the world market for these beautiful and rare gemstones.As the years passed, his opal cutting center had grown tremendously and many family members and friends were employed there. Approximately 300 people including relatives depended on this business. As his family obligations increased, he decided to test his good fortune in the vast Indian market for fine gemstones. During this period, India had many Noble Maharajahs & Maharanis who were interested in adding fine gemstones to their collections. They had been particularly interested in diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. The Indian Nobles only bought the very best for their collections, furthermore, they believed deeply in the mystic powers of precious gemstones.When M U M Salie returned home, the people of the village had grown to love him for his generous contributions and for taking care of them. At this time, there were many with the last name 'Salie' working at the factory - and the people of the town wanted to give him a different and distinct name to honor his contribution to the community. As M U M Salie often shared stories of his visits with Princes and Princess's around the world, they decided to honor him with the name and title ' Prince M U M Salie'. That is what he became referred to from that time onwards.

In 1915 he traveled to America with his wife Elsie and their daughter Ruby. In San Francisco he participated in the Pan Pacific International Exposition and won a Grand Prize for his contribution of fine exhibits of precious and semi precious stones.In 1916 he took part in the exposition in San Diego California at Balboa Park making many new friends and inroads into the US market. Over the next decade, he spent much of his time traveling around the world while somehow keeping a close eye on his teenage children.

He had high hopes for his children; like his father, he also wanted all his children to follow him in the gemstone business (and they did!).In 1926 he took part in the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia where he won great praise and honors for his fine collectable gemstones. He then moved on to Miami Beach, where he bought two homes next to each other. One was for his living and the other for entertaining his customers and friends.

He entertained many of America's elite society by throwing lavish dinners parties and entertaining them with stories and mysteries from the Orient.Between 1933 and 1934 he participated in the Exposition for the Century of Progress in Chicago.

My father, his siblings and his cousins assisted Prince M U M Salie at this fair. It was here that he also won many praise awards, including the grand prize for his exhibits of fine gem material stones. In 1934, when the exposition ended, he donated the finest of his collection of gemstones to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago which still can be viewed to date.In 1935, he made the move to New York City. It was between 1935-1936 that he participated in another successful show known as the San Diego Exposition in Balboa Park.

It was during that same year that he commissioned my father, his siblings and a couple of his cousins to travel throughout the orient to explore the possibility of buying and selling gemstones in that region. They did so by going to Burma Magok where they established a buying as well as a retail outlet. They proceeded to Hong Kong, China and Japan in hopes of selling these precious stones. My father identified successful business opportunities in all of these ports in the Orient.

He spent all of his adult life in Ceylon and in the Orient until his sudden death in 1945 at the age of 42.My grandfather now at the age of 76. With the loss of both his wife Elise and his son (my father) Usuff, he began to slow down his business. In 1947 he made another trip to America.

Being homesick and alone, he returned to Sri Lanka in 1948 only to make another trip to the US in 1952 to finalize his business affairs. He returned to Sri Lanka that same year. He spent the following years of his life in Bombay Castle in Galle, which was built with all the ideas and experiences of his traveled life.In 1963 at the age of 94, during an interview with the Ceylon Observer (newspaper) he expressed his desire to visit the country he loved so dearly -the United States one more time. While making travel arrangements to visit the US with his grandson, M U M Salie was killed in a tragic traffic accident in May of 1963.

Many of his children and grandchildren have followed in his footsteps and have dedicated their lives to the gem industry in Sri Lanka. They have also traveled and explored business opportunities in gem industries all over the world. Today, I am working with the sixth generation of the Salie family -namely my children to better service our customers in the new world of the Internet.

My son Afkham Salie graduated from Chapman College with a degree in business. He then went on to becoming a certified gem cutter and gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America in California. He is now operating a gem cutting and fashioning studio in Sri Lanka.

My eldest daughter Rahma Salie, graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in International Relations and Japanese Studies. She is currently working in the technology industry in Cambridge, MA.

My youngest daughter is still in college and hopes to graduate in the year 2000.

I, Ysuff M. Salie, the fifth generation in the gemstone business, along with my wife Haleema who has successfully completed courses in diamond grading and evaluation at the Gemological Institute of America will remain as a patron and advisor to our children in this business.

We have decided to bring together our rich background and six generations of experience in order to showcase and provide you with a high quality collection of gemstones and jewelry. We will also pay particular attention in servicing your custom jewelry needs through this Internet site. We now introduce you to our gemstone and jewelry collection as well as to our culture and origins.


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