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August 19, 2015

Irradiated Crystals: What You Should Know

A lot of the beautiful colors and shapes that we enjoy in our crystals are not natural.

Whether by heating, irradiation, chemical reactions, coatings, dyeing, or synthetic reproduction, many crystals are enhanced for our pleasure.  This article focuses on one of these techniques — irradiation.


Using radiation to change the color of gemstones has occurred since the early 1900s. As the use of radiation has become more sophisticated, the ability to treat gemstones with radiation in order to create color changes has become more prevalent.

With irradiated gemstones, there is a possibility that some of the nonradioactive atoms in the crystal could be made radioactive.  Whether this happens depends on the composition of the crystal and the type of radiation used.

Although the irradiation of gemstones can leave some residual radioactivity, the levels are well-monitored. The US, and other gem irradiating nations, have strict regulations for the holding and testing of irradiated gems to assure that they are not released to the public until they are safe to handle and wear.

What you should be concerned about

When you buy a crystal it is reasonable for you to know whether your crystal is naturally occurring or irradiated.  Many sellers will clearly list their crystals as being irradiated, but unfortunately that is not always the case.  You should especially be concerned if:

  • A crystal has been altered and is being sold as more expensive gemstone (e.g., irradiated emeralds).
  • You buy an irradiated crystal only to have it fade in color when exposed to light or gentle heat.
  • You buy a crystal from another country and the crystal has not been tested to determine if it is safe.

Buying from reputable dealers will help minimize these concerns.  It is also helpful to know, which crystals are most commonly irradiated.

The following is information on some of the more commonly irradiated crystals.


Virtually every blue topaz sold in the market today is the product of irradiation treatment.  Blue topaz is actually very rare in nature, and tends to a very pale blue. The lovely blue topaz gemstones we find today are produced by subjecting clear topaz to electrons from a linear accelerator or by exposing them to neutrons from a nuclear reactor. gemselect

topaz-562726_640 (2)

Smokey Quartz

The photograph shows two quartz crystals each of which is approximately 1.5″ across. The difference between the two is that the crystal on the right has been irradiated with cobalt-60 gamma rays to turn it gray. Gray-colored quartz is referred to as “Smoky Quartz.” The color of the smoky quartz found in nature is due to its exposure to gamma rays from naturally occurring radionuclides such as potassium-40 and members of the uranium and thorium decay series. For the quartz to turn gray, it must contain trace amounts of aluminum. fgms



Take a look at these photos below. If you saw a selection of tourmaline crystals with great color, you could let imagination take hold and convince yourself they are legit. However, like these photos show, the quartz associated with the tourmaline is pitch black, a clear indication that the crystals have been irradiated. In fact, the color is so strong, we would guess that this lot is still giving off radiation, or “hot”. Much like irradiated blue topaz, we don’t say these crystals are now worthless, they are simply poor quality material enhanced by man and not worth as much as a natural crystal with similar color. fakeminerals


A 1988 report by Ashbuugh, list commons crystals that are irradiated.  You may recognize beryl by some other names:  emeralds (green beryl), aquamarine (blue beryl), and heliodor (yellow beryl).


The following are photos from irradiation projects at Cal Tech



 Tourmaline, the initial crystal was green and colorless



 Golden beryl turned to blue beryl



Aquamarine turned to green beryl


Capturequartz before and after

 Clear quartz turned to smokey quartz

References: Healthphysics;  Wikepedia

Feature Photo:  Irradiated Smokey Quartz Crystal ebay

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