Beryllium-Treated Blue Sapphires
This article discusses the use of beryllium to treat blue sapphires.
In November of 2005, Bangkok's GRS announced that they had detected
significant amounts of beryllium (Be) in a number of blue sapphires (Peretti et.
The possibility of using beryllium to lighten overly dark blue sapphires was first demonstrated
by John Emmett and Troy Douthit in experiments run in December 2002–January 2003 (Emmett et al., 2003).
Figure 1. Group of six sapphires suspected to be treated with beryllium. [note: these were later checked by LA-ICP-MS and found to contain no measurable beryllium]
At the 2006 AGTA GemFair Tucson,
a number of discussions were had on the subject of beryllium in blue sapphire. These consultations
were followed by a meeting in Bangkok on March 2, 2006, attended by the AGTA GTC's Garry Du
Toit. A further meeting was held on March 23, 2006 in New York, where GIA staff made a presentation
to a number of colored gemstone dealers. The AGTA GTC's Lore Kiefert, Garry Du Toit and Riccardo
Befi were in attendance.
discussions suggested two distinct possibilities with regard to the beryllium recently detected
in blue sapphires:
- Either the detected beryllium entered the gemstones via
accidental contamination from treatment in furnaces previously used with beryllium treatment,
- Beryllium was added deliberately (probably with an eye towards lightening
the color of overly dark blue sapphires).
To help address the question of accidental versus deliberate beryllium diffusion, the GIA recently
tested a parcel of 56 suspect blue sapphires
provided by Vincent Pardieu of Bangkok's Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (Pardieu,
Testing was performed by LA-ICP-MS, calibrated with element-in-sapphire standards, including
was found in every piece; many showed substantial amounts. In addition to the GRS and the GIA,
tests at Japan's GAAJ have also revealed beryllium in blue sapphire, as early as 2003 and 2004.
In all cases, the levels found were high enough that they would seem to preclude accidental contamination.
To Be (or not to Be)
The current evidence suggests this is no accident. Indeed, at the
Bangkok meeting, one burner described to attendees the deliberate addition of beryllium in treating
are a fact of life. Even though this treatment appears to be in its infancy, stones
have entered the world market. As a result, the policy of the AGTA GTC from now on will be that
all corundums showing signs of long-term/high-temperature heat treatment will require advanced
testing before beryllium diffusion can be ruled out. The comment on our report will read as
||Indications of heating1
||1Further advanced analysis is required to determine
not a foreign element has been introduced.
With the commercial appearance
of beryllium-diffused blue sapphires, we can expect a further acceleration of the trend towards
sapphires that have had no heat treatment whatsoever.
Previously hurt by the introduction of beryllium-diffused fancy sapphires and rubies
in 2001–2002, the world's gemstone trade has since reacted to the appearance of new treatments
with a quick, firm hand. When lead-glass filling of Madagascar ruby hit the market in 2004, many
Thailand-based dealers encouraged labs to clearly label these goods, lest they spoil the market.
And as the latest story of Be-treated blue sapphires has spread, we have seen a similar proactive
approach by dealers in Bangkok, Chanthaburi and elsewhere.
The AGTA GTC is working closely with sapphire dealers and gemologists around
the world to prevent this latest treatment from adversely impacting the market. Towards this end,
the AGTA GTC is in the process of acquiring a LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy; aka LIPS:
Laser-Induced Plasma Spectroscopy) unit. This will allow in-house detection of beryllium in corundum
down to a few parts per million. We will continually strive to stay at the forefront of gemology,
ready to deal with whatever challenges the future might bring.
- Emmett, J.L. and Douthit, T.R. (1993) Heat treating the sapphires of Rock Creek, Montana. Gems & Gemology,
Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter, pp. 250–272.
- Emmett, J.L. and Douthit, T.R. (2002). Beryllium
diffusion coloration of sapphire:
A summary of ongoing experiments. AGTA GTC, posted September 4.
- Emmett, J.L., Scarratt, K., McClure, S.F., Moses, T., Douthit, T.R., Hughes, R., Novak, S.,
Shigley, J.E., Wuyi Wang, Bordelon, O., Kane, R.E. (2003) Beryllium diffusion of ruby and sapphire. Gems & Gemology,
Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer, pp. 84–135.
- Hughes, R.W. (2002) The
skin game. Ruby-Sapphire.com, posted Feb. 2002.
- Hughes, R.W. (2004) LIBS – A
new beryllium testing method. Palagems.com, posted April 29, 2004. <http://palagems.com/beryllium_libs_testing.htm>
- Larson, W.F. (2004) Gods,
graves and sapphires. Palagems.com, posted March 2004.
- Pardieu, V. (2006) Understanding blue sapphire heat
Introduction to the beryllium issue. Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences, posted March 1. <http://www.aigslaboratory.com/aigsbeblue.php>
- Peretti, A., Günther, D. et al. (2005) Beryllium-treatment. Contributions
to Gemology, No. 4, December, pp. 1–65.
- Schmetzer, K. and Schwarz, D. (2004) The causes of colour in untreated,
heat-treated and diffusion-treated orange and pinkish-orange sapphires - a review. Journal
of Gemmology, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 149–182.
- Schmetzer, K. and Schwarz, D. (2005) A microscopy-based screening
system to identify natural and treated sapphires in the yellow to reddish-orange colour range. Journal of Gemmology, Vol. 29, No. 7/8, pp. 407–449.
Postscript: Identifying Be-treated blue sapphires
In December 2005, a number of inclusion photos of Be-treated sapphires were
published (Peretti & Günther et
al., 2005). The photos in question can be viewed online at these links:
The caption to these photos (C18–C22)
"Circular, curved and white lines associated to former zones of silk. Magnification
50-100x in the microscope. Fibre optic illumination. This inclusion have sofar [sic] only been
detected in Beryllium-Treated blue sapphires."
Figure 2. Circular inclusions in a heat-treated blue sapphire, approximately
70x. Image: R.W. Hughes
There are two theories regarding these irregular
inclusions (such as that in Figure 2). One holds that they are unique to this treatment and
might possibly result from exsolution of beryllium. But as Figure 3 (below)
shows, we have seen such inclusions in gemstones for well over a decade, long before the advent of
beryllium heating. Thus such features would seem to indicate only high-temperature
heating, rather than specifically beryllium diffusion.
Figure 3. Inclusions in a heat-treated blue sapphire. What is remarkable
is that this photo was shot more than a decade ago, long before
the advent of beryllium diffusion. This suggests that such inclusions do not necessarily
indicate beryllium lattice diffusion, but simply high-temperature heat treatment. Image: © John I.
Koivula/microWorld of Gems
It is also possible that these circular inclusions
are merely the remnants (skeletons, if you will) of thin films of rutile or other minerals
following high-temperature heat treatment. Witness the similarity of these skeletons to the thin
films in the unheated sapphire shown in Figures 4 and 5. It may be that the heating draws
material into solution, leaving a skeleton behind. Attempts are now underway to analyze these inclusions
in hopes of discovering their exact nature. The more we observe these inclusions, the more we lean
towards their being some type of precipitate generated during heat treatment.
Figure 4. Circular thin film inclusions in an untreated blue sapphire,
seen scattered throughout clouds of intact rutile silk, approximately
30x. Image: R.W. Hughes
Figure 5. The same circular thin film inclusions as Figure 4, more highly
70x. Image: R.W. Hughes
So how would we go about identifying Be-treated blue
sapphires? With the exception of the yellow color rims (which are not found in the Be-treated blues),
the same way we identify Be-treated corundums in other colors.
- The first step is to look for signs of long-term/high-temperature
heat treatment (altered inclusions, unusual fluorescence, changes in the FTIR spectra, etc.).
- Any gemstone that shows signs of major (long-term/high-temperature)
heat treatment will require advanced testing with SIMS, LA-ICP-MS or LIBS to determine if beryllium
In future articles we will discuss some of the features we use to spot long-term/high-temperature
First published in March 2006, while I was at the AGTA GTC.
Views expressed in this article are the author's opinions alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization that employs him. Those organizations bear no responsibility and assume no liability for content on this website, nor are they liable for mistakes or omissions.
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Posted 14 October, 2011; last updated
7 March, 2013