A Complete Guide to Irradiated Diamonds: Types, Safety, and Value

As a GIA certified gemologist with over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry, I’m often asked about treated diamonds like irradiated diamonds. Some people are curious about the origins of their enchanting colors, while others are concerned about safety or value.

Irradiated diamonds are natural diamonds that have been treated with radiation to enhance their color. This process alters the diamond’s atomic structure, resulting in a permanent change to its color. Irradiation is a common and accepted practice in the diamond industry.

If you’re in the market for a fancy colored diamond, it’s important to understand exactly what irradiation does and its impacts on the stone. Here’s my comprehensive guide to irradiated diamonds.

What an Irradiated Diamond?

Irradiation is one of the most common treatments used to produce fancy colored diamonds. The process involves exposing a diamond to radiation to alter its atomic structure. This modifies the crystal lattice and causes the stone to reflect different wavelengths of light, changing its color. There are a few ways this can be achieved:

Electron Irradiation: A beam of electrons is targeted at the diamond. This is the most common method.

Gamma Ray Irradiation: The diamond is exposed to gamma rays from a radioactive source like cobalt-60.

Neutron Bombardment: The diamond is bombarded with neutron particles in a nuclear reactor. This is less common.

These techniques can transform diamonds that are originally brown, yellow, or colorless into vivid shades like blue, green, red, purple, pink, and orange.

Table of Irradiated Diamond Colors

Diamond ColorTreatment Method
Mermaid BlueElectron Irradiation
Canary YellowElectron Irradiation
Fancy GreenElectron Irradiation
Cherry RedGamma Ray Irradiation
Pretty PinkGamma Ray Irradiation
Vibrant OrangeNeutron Bombardment
Ocean TealElectron Irradiation
Lavender PurpleElectron Irradiation
Sunshine YellowElectron Irradiation

One famous example is the mermaid blue diamond, which gets its magical color from electron irradiation.

The most saturated and intense hues are produced by irradiation.

Are Irradiated Diamonds Safe to Wear?

I often get asked if irradiated diamonds are safe to wear. This concern stems from the diamond being exposed to radiation. However, the levels used are quite low. In fact, the radiation dose is less than the exposure from a typical x-ray scan. 

The treated diamonds themselves do not remain radioactive following the procedure. They are safe to wear and handle. Leading gemological laboratories like GIA use sophisticated equipment to test all diamonds for radioactivity and would not issue grading reports for radioactive stones.

So you can rest assured that any certified irradiated diamond is perfectly safe.

Independent studies have also confirmed the lack of long term risks from wearing an irradiated diamond.

Radiation Safety Comparison

Comparing the radiation levels used in diamond irradiation to common sources of radiation exposure for safety assessment:

Radiation SourceRadiation Level (in Sieverts)
Diamond Irradiation (Electron)Low, typically less than 0.01
Diamond Irradiation (Gamma Ray)Low, typically less than 0.01
Diamond Irradiation (Neutron)Low, typically less than 0.01
X-ray Medical Scan (Chest)0.01 – 0.1
Natural Background RadiationVaries by location, averages around 0.1 per year
Dental X-ray (Single Exposure)0.005 – 0.01
Commercial Airline Flight (One Hour)0.00001 – 0.00004
This table allows you to compare the radiation levels associated with diamond irradiation to those of common sources of radiation exposure in everyday life. It demonstrates that the radiation levels used in diamond irradiation are very low and well within safe limits, even when compared to routine medical procedures and natural background radiation.

How Irradiation Affects Diamond Value

While irradiation can produce amazingly vivid colors unattainable in nature, it does impact the value of the stone.

On average, irradiated diamonds will be 30-50% less expensive than a naturally colored diamond of the same hue. There are a few reasons for this:

Many buyers prefer “natural” instead of treated gems. They view irradiation as an artificial enhancement, driving prices down. However, the distinction is minor since all diamonds are artificially cut and polished by humans.

Cost Comparisons

Diamond ColorIrradiated Diamond (Average)Natural Diamond (Average)Potential Cost Savings
Fancy Blue$3,000 – $8,000$10,000 – $30,000Up to 70%
Fancy Yellow$2,000 – $6,000$5,000 – $15,000Up to 60%
Fancy Green$2,500 – $7,500$7,000 – $20,000Up to 65%
Fancy Pink$5,000 – $12,000$15,000 – $50,000Up to 75%
Fancy Orange$4,000 – $10,000$12,000 – $40,000Up to 75%
Fancy Purple$5,500 – $13,000$20,000 – $60,000Up to 78%
* Please note that these are approximate figures and actual prices may vary. actual savings can vary based on the specific characteristics of the diamond and market conditions. Consult with reputable jewelers for precise pricing information.

The stigma around irradiation poses challenges with reselling the diamond later. Buyers may be more hesitant and demand deeper discounts.

Overall, you’ll get far more perceived value and size for your budget with an irradiated diamond. But the trade-off is lower resale value compared to an untreated, naturally colored stone. My advice is to enjoy the diamond for its beauty and craftsmanship, rather than viewing it as a financial investment.

How to Tell If a Diamond Has Been Irradiated

Reputable diamond sellers will disclose any treatments, but it’s still smart to know what to look out for.

Gemologists and grading labs use methods like photoluminescence spectroscopy and FT-IR spectroscopy to identify characteristic absorption features indicating irradiation.

For the layperson, here are some tips:

  • Vivid neon colors like mermaid blue are a telltale sign, since these hues do not occur naturally.
  • Check for uniform color saturation and distribution. Natural fancy colors will show variations.
  • Irradiated diamonds often have a bluish glow under UV light.
  • Compare the price against a naturally colored diamond certificate from the same lab. Is it 30-50% less?

If you purchase a stone with an up-to-date grading report from a major lab like GIA or AGS that doesn’t mention irradiation, you can be confident it’s natural.

Any treatments will be disclosed. Laboratories use various methods to identify if a diamond has been irradiated. This mandatory disclosure for certified stones reveals the treatment. Buying certified diamonds helps avoid any uncertainty.

How Irradiation Compares to Other Treatments

Along with irradiation, other common diamond treatments include:

HPHT

High pressure, high temperature processing can enhance color in some diamonds or even convert brown ones to colorless. This treatment is considered more acceptable since it doesn’t involve radiation and mimics natural conditions.

CVD

Chemical vapor deposition can produce synthetic diamond material. This is considered less desirable than mined diamonds.

Annealing

Short bursts of heat can modify the defects in a diamond and enhance color. This treatment is difficult to detect.

Comparison Chart

Comparing irradiated diamonds to other treated diamonds (HPHT, CVD, annealing) in terms of color enhancement, safety, and price.

AspectIrradiated DiamondsHPHT-Treated DiamondsCVD DiamondsAnnealed Diamonds
Color EnhancementWide range of colorsImproved colorSynthetic diamondsEnhanced color
SafetySafe to wearSafe to wearSafe to wearSafe to wear
Radiation Low radiation doseHigh pressure and temperature involvedNo radiation involvedShort bursts of heat
PriceGenerally affordable. 30-50% less than natural counterpartsPrice varies based on color improvementVaries depending on size and qualityModerate pricing compared to untreated diamonds

If given the choice between an irradiated diamond and HPHT or annealed, I would recommend opting for irradiation. It usually offers more striking, brighter results.

Just be sure to buy certified stones with the treatment fully disclosed. CVD grown diamonds are synthetics, so I would avoid those if you want a “real” mined diamond.

Caring for Irradiated Diamonds

In terms of durability, irradiated diamonds are just as robust and wearable as untreated ones. The irradiation process does not damage the crystalline structure or cause weaknesses.

As long as you avoid extreme heat when setting or cleaning, irradiation poses no long term risks to the integrity of the diamond.

General warm soapy water cleaning is safe for irradiated diamonds. Ultrasonic and steam cleaning are okay as well.

Avoid bleach or acid based cleaners. Since irradiated diamonds have vivid color coatings on the surface, you want to avoid abrasives that could scratch the stone. Handle them with the same care you would any fine jewelry.

The Pros and Cons of Buying Irradiated Diamonds

If you’re looking for a showstopping fancy color diamond, irradiation offers some unique advantages:

Pros:

  • More affordable pricing compared to rare natural counterparts
  • Ability to obtain magical colors like mermaid blue
  • Perfectly uniform color distribution unlike natural stones
  • Can be performed on lower clarity diamonds to enhance their appeal

Cons:

  • Lab treatment stigmatization among some consumers
  • Not considered a financial investment due to lower resale value
  • Requires disclosure for certified diamonds
  • Limited supply of natural starting rough material

Overall, I recommend irradiated diamonds to buyers who wish to get the most color for their budget. The striking colors make them perfect for fashion-forward engagement rings or jewelry that celebrates personal style.

If resale value and investment potential are priorities, a naturally colored diamond would be preferable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about irradiated diamonds:

Are irradiated diamonds safe to wear?
Yes, irradiated diamonds are completely safe for wearing and handling. The treatment does not make the diamond radioactive.

How can you tell if a diamond is irradiated?  
Gemologists use special spectroscopy and luminescence testing. Indicators include neon hues, uniform distribution, and bluish glow under UV light. An up-to-date grading report will disclose irradiation.

Are irradiated diamonds worth anything?
While less valuable than untreated diamonds, irradiated diamonds still carry worthwhile value. Expect to pay 30-50% less than natural colored diamonds.

How long do irradiated diamonds last?
The color is permanent and will not fade over time. Durability is unaffected by irradiation.

Can irradiated diamonds get recertified?
Yes, labs like GIA and AGS will recertify irradiated diamonds and clearly state irradiation on the report.

Are all blue diamonds irradiated?
No, blue is an exceptionally rare natural diamond color. But many vivid blues are irradiated. Evaluate the price and have the stone tested by a gemologist.

Should I buy an irradiated diamond?
If you prioritize affordable pricing and enjoy engineered gems, irradiation is a great option. Buy certified stones with disclosed treatment.

How do I clean an irradiated diamond?
Use warm soapy water, commercial jewelry cleaner, ultrasonic cleaner, or steam cleaning. Avoid bleach or harsh chemicals.

Does irradiation weaken diamonds?
No, diamond’s inherent hardness and durability are not impacted by irradiation or other treatments.

Is it safe to buy irradiated diamonds online?
Yes, most reputable online diamond sellers will provide grading reports clearly disclosing any irradiation treatment. This gives you peace of mind on authenticity.

Key Takeaways

I hope this complete guide has helped shed light on irradiated diamonds. While long term value may be lower, the unparalleled colors and affordable pricing make irradiated diamonds an enticing option for jewelry buyers, especially engagement rings.

As with any treated gem, be sure to buy certified stones with full disclosure. And focus on finding the most beautiful diamond for your needs that you’ll treasure for a lifetime, not just an investment.

Please reach out if you need any guidance finding the perfect irradiated diamond!

Sources:

  • https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/blog/irradiated-diamonds/
  • https://gemologyproject.com/wiki/index.php?title=Irradiation
  • https://www.gemsociety.org/article/are-irradiated-diamonds-safe-wear/
  • https://www.igi.org/reports/verify-your-report?r=LG4451307705
  • https://www.jtv.com/library/irradiated-diamonds
  • https://www.rarecooredstones.com/article/detail/what-is-an-irradiated-diamond

Carl A. Jones, GIA GG

Carl A. Jones is a GIA Graduate Gemologist with over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. He is an independent jewelry appraiser. He specializes in determining the value of diamonds and advising consumers on how to buy quality diamond jewelry.

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