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Last updated:  June 2006

Bulk Diffusion

Bulk diffusion or beryllium  treatment is a new treatment that has only been known to the market for a short period of time. It is obvious now that this treatment has been experimented with for much longer but it is unknown how many gems entered the market before this treatment was disclosed - a practice still continuing today. 

The initial version of this treatment was originally relatively easy to detect as a simple immersion test  could detect the surface colouration induced by the treatment.  However, more sophisticated versions of this diffusion treatment can induce colour throughout the entire gemstone and the presence of unnaturally high levels of beryllium can only be detected by very expensive chemical analysis. Currently, there is no practical detection method.

Although detection of this treatment is difficult, one thing to look for is evidence of very high temperature heating ( > 1800 °C) sometimes for extended periods. This does not prove that beryllium has been used but is indicative.

These treatments are extremely common in sapphire other than blue - you should assume that all yellows, oranges and padparascha colour sapphires have been treated in this way unless you have  specific written documentation to say otherwise. Unfortunately, it is now clear that this type of treatment is also used to create a desirable colour of blue.  Therefore, all buyers should demand written guarantee of treatment status before purchasing.  Do not pay more for fine colour if this colour is not natural - this value is artificial so beware.

Reputable sellers will disclose  this treatment using terms such as bulk diffusion, lattice diffusion, beryllium or Be treatment.  Aussie Sapphire does not support the use of this type of  treatment and do not treat any of our gems in this way.


Photographs showing before and after beryllium treatment on sapphire from Songea at left and Australia at right (from Gemlab Inc)

The following links provide further reading on the issue of diffusion enhancement treatments in sapphire:

  • Ted Themelis on Beryllium Treated Rubies and Sapphires (photos and book review)
  • "Gods, Graves and  Sapphires" by  Bill Larson of Pala International (editorial on the sapphire treatment  issue)
  • Beryllium treated  sapphire - question/answer format article published by Pala International
  • Brief history of heat  treatment by  Richard Hughes
  • “The Skin Game” - article for by Richard Hughes
  • Article on beryllium diffusion treatment of sapphire by John Emmett and Troy Douthit for the AGTA (September 2002)
  • News update, October 2003 by  the Australian Gemmologist on Beryllium treatment to create orange sapphires.
  • Bibliography of corundum diffusion - Gems and Gemology (GIA)
  • Contributions to Gemology Issue 4 , Dec 2005 (GRS): Beryllium Treatment
  • Beryllium-Treated Blue Sapphire by Garry Du Toit, Richard W Hughes and John I. Koivula (AGTA Press Release, March 29 2006)

News Reports on beryllium treatment:

  • Colored Stone news report Jan 2002: New Sapphire Treatment Still a Mystery
  • Colored Stone news report Jun 2002: Mystery Sapphire Treatment Unmasked
  • Colored Stone news report Oct 2002: Diffusion Sapphire Study Continues
  • Colored Stone news report Apr 2003: Medical Aspects of Beryllium Use in Gemstone Enhancement
  • Colored Stone news report Apr 2003:  Giving Orange a Bad Name
  • Colored Stone news report Apr 2003:  Researchers Close in on Be ID
  • Colored Stone news report Oct 2003: New Treatment found in Blue Sapphire
  • Colored Stone news report Jan 2004: No Reports of Diffusion on Blue Sapphire from Sri Lanka
  • Colored Stone news report Apr 2006: Beryllium-diffused Blue Sapphire?
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