How does Blue Topaz Get Its Color?

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Colors are the result of the absorption of certain wavelengths of visible light. When a specific wavelength of light passes through a gem or is reflected from its surface, what we see are the wavelengths that are not absorbed. So, when we see a red gemstone, in actual fact that gemstone is every color but red. The absorption of certain light wavelengths in some gemstones is caused by the inclusion of impurities; these impurities add color to minerals. However this is not the only method that a mineral crystal can display color by…

Most yellow and brown Topaz, and the popular blue varieties that are derived from them, gain their coloration from natural atomic phenomenon present within the gems

called'Color Centers.''Color Centers,' which give a gem its subsequent color, can be created or modified by a process of irradiation, a little bit like modifying the DNA structure of an organism.

Mention the word irradiation and most people will run a mile. Ironically, these same people will think nothing of heating up their lunch in a microwave, soak in the Suns' ultra-violet rays, bug out in front of their TV's gamma rays and chat away via radio waves on their cell-phones. In truth, radiation is all around us, part of our everyday existence and an integral ingredient of our genetic make-up.

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All gemstones, at some point in their billion year lives, have been exposed to radiation. In the case of Topaz and amethyst, natural radiation is largely responsible for their coloration. For the most part Topaz is sourced as a colorless mineral, so to create color the Topaz's 'Color Centers' are manipulated, mirroring the exact same natural processes of nature. One of the methods used, is the irradiation of colorless, brown and yellow Topaz using a linear accelerator, which gives us'Swiss,' 'London' and'Sky Blue' Topaz.

A linear accelerator bombards these Topaz gemstones with high-speed electrons: subatomic negative charges. These electrons pierce the crystal structure, hit molecules and displace atoms. When part of an atom is displaced from its regular site, its place is taken by one of the electrons, which becomes trapped in the vacant space. This trapped electron absorbs light energy, which causes it to get excited and jiggle. This light energy is dissipated through the motion of the excited electron, and with it a subset of color wavelengths from the light energy is used up. What we see as the colors of a Topaz are the remaining light energy wavelengths, which have not been used up by the excited electron. This is the creation of a'Color Center,' the phenomenon that gives Topaz, amethyst and some colored diamonds their color.

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When colorless Topaz is irradiated using a linear accelerator, two sorts of'Color Centers' (i.e. trapped electrons) are created. One'Color Center' absorbs light energy at the blue end of the color spectrum: resulting in some Topaz atoms becoming a yellow to brown color. The other'Color Center' absorbs light energy at the red end of the color spectrum: resulting in some Topaz atoms to become blue. The two forms of'Color Centers' present in the Topaz at the same time, yellow-brown and blue, result in an overall muted green color.

This resulting green color is not desirable. However, the yellow-brown color centers are not stable like the blue'Color Centers,' and can be easily removed with heat. When the Green Topaz is heated up a bit, the electrons that were displaced, causing the yellow-brown'Color Centers' are relocated. In effect, the heat treatment selectively repairs the yellow brown'Color Centers' re-rendering them colorless, leaving only the blue'Color Centers.' This process leaves us with a Blue Topaz. The irradiation process can be manipulated by sustained and prolonged exposure to electron activity at varying wavelengths. By this method irradiated Topaz can attain many different 'Color Centers,' and by subsequent removal of unwanted 'Color Centers' a wide variety of colors can be achieved. This is what's called'Controlled Enhancement.'

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