Some of you may be familiar with the term "irradiation" when it comes to diamonds, but most of you are probably thinking, "What? My diamonds are radioactive?" No need to worry. Your diamonds aren't radioactive. But you should be familiar with the term in case you make a jewelry purchase that contains irradiated diamonds. For hundreds of years scientists have experimented with ways to enhance the color of diamonds. Most of the effort is to treat nearly colorless diamonds have even less color, but sometimes it's treatments are used to help colored diamonds have an even more attractive or vibrant color.
First we will take a look at green diamonds. Green diamonds, whether made green in the earth or in a lab, are irradiated. What that means is during the growth process of the diamond, the stones are exposed to, you guessed it, radiation. Because this is the way the green color in diamonds is achieved, it is nearly impossible to tell if a green diamond was irradiated in the earth or in a lab because it's a nearly identical process. Sometimes already green diamonds are even further irradiated to achieve a more vibrant color. Modern irradiation processes often paired with annealing have perfected the process and have even been able to achieve other colors such as blue, brown, yellow, black and other colors.
There have been many experiments of how to irradiate diamonds in a lab and make them sellable to the public. The first few tries left the diamonds extremely radioactive, which obviously can't be used for public use. After many years and many more experiments, scientists were able to discover ways to irradiating diamonds with a fairly short half-life. All of a sudden we're back in chemistry class, "What's a half-life?" A half-life is the length of time required for half of a group of atoms of a particular type (radioactive) to decay into another type (non-radioactive). The diamonds are never available to the public before there is little to no radioactivity left in the diamond.
What does all of this mean to you? You need to be aware of diamond treatments when you purchase jewelry. Although treatments can help your stones look more attractive, many of them aren't permanent. As far as irradiation goes, you need to be aware in case your beautiful piece of jewelry is ever being repaired by someone who didn't sell it to you. During routine repairs and being exposed to extreme heat (like a jeweler's torch, or recutting) can affect the color. That could mean the color could intensify, which might not be all that bad, but it could also dull or even change the color entirely. It's important that you remember and let your jeweler know about any irradiated stones to avoid any unwanted surprises.
Written by Claire Avery