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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Color and its causes

Diamonds occur in a restricted variety of colors — black, brown, yellow, gray, white, blue, orange, purple to pink and red. Colored diamonds contain crystallographic defects, including substitutional impurities and structural defects, that cause the coloration. Theoretically, pure diamonds would be transparent and colorless. Diamonds are scientifically classed into two main types and several subtypes, according to the nature of defects present and how they affect light absorption:[4]

Type I diamond has nitrogen (N) atoms as the main impurity, at a concentration of up to 1%. If the N atoms are in pairs or larger aggregates, they do not affect the diamond's color; these are Type Ia. About 98% of gem diamonds are type Ia: these diamonds belong to the Cape series, named after the diamond-rich region formerly known as Cape Province in South Africa, whose deposits are largely Type Ia. If the nitrogen atoms are dispersed throughout the crystal in isolated sites (not paired or grouped), they give the stone an intense yellow or occasionally brown tint (type Ib); the rare canary diamonds belong to this type, which represents only ~0.1% of known natural diamonds. Synthetic diamond containing nitrogen is usually of type Ib. Type Ia and Ib diamonds absorb in both the infrared and ultraviolet region, from 320 nm. They also have a characteristic fluorescence and visible absorption spectrum (see Optical properties).[12]

Type II diamonds have very few if any nitrogen impurities. Pure (type IIa) diamond can be colored pink, red, or brown due to structural anomalies arising through plastic deformation during crystal growth[13] — these diamonds are rare (1.8 percent of gem diamonds), but constitute a large percentage of Australian diamonds. Type IIb diamonds, which account for ~0.1% of gem diamonds, are usually a steely blue or gray due to boron atoms scattered within the crystal matrix. These diamonds are also semiconductors, unlike other diamond types (see Electrical properties). Most blue-gray diamonds coming from the Argyle mine of Australia are not of type IIb, but of Ia type. Those diamonds contain large concentrations of defects and impurities (especially hydrogen and nitrogen) and the origin of their color is yet uncertain.[14] Type II diamonds weakly absorb in a different region of the infrared (which absorption is due to the diamond lattice rather than impurities), and transmit in the ultraviolet below 225 nm, unlike type I diamonds. They also have differing fluorescence characteristics, but no discernible visible absorption spectrum.[12]
Color in irradiated diamonds, with (two left stones) and without annealing (right)

Certain diamond enhancement techniques are commonly used to artificially produce an array of colors, including blue, green, yellow, red, and black. Color enhancement techniques usually involve irradiation, including proton bombardment via cyclotrons; neutron bombardment in the piles of nuclear reactors; and electron bombardment by Van de Graaff generators. These high-energy particles physically alter the diamond's crystal lattice, knocking carbon atoms out of place and producing color centers. The depth of color penetration depends on the technique and its duration, and in some cases the diamond may be left radioactive to some degree.[4][15]

It should be noted that some irradiated diamonds are completely natural — one famous example is the Dresden Green Diamond.[16] In these natural stones the color is imparted by "radiation burns" (natural irradiation by alpha particles originating from uranium ore) in the form of small patches, usually only microns deep. Additionally, Type IIa diamonds can have their structural deformations "repaired" via a high-pressure high-temperature (HPHT) process, removing much or all of the diamond's color.


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