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How gemstones get their colors

How gemstones get their colors

Gemstones come in so many different colors.

But how do the gems get their colors? What are the causes of this great variety of shades?

Idiochromatic, allochromatic and wavelengths of light

The color a gemstone will have depends on the stone’s absorption of light. Us humans can only perceive wavelengths between 380 and 750nm and in that spectrum we have the colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. How the gemstone absorbs the light depends on their chemical structure or what type of trace elements that are found in the stone.

Idiochromatic gemstones

Idiochromatic gems are called self-colores stones. It is due to the chemical structure of the stone that decides how the light will be absorbed. These type of stones are never found colorless, and it is only allochromatic stones that can be completely clear. Peridot is an example of an idiochromatic gemstone. The color is caused by iron ions that are replacing magnesium ions in some parts of the structure.

Allochromatic gemstones

The most common gemstones are the allochromatic ones. Trace elements, also called impurities, causes the colorization in the gems. It is not as simple as saying that one trace element will cause one specific color; it is more complicated than that. It depends on how the trace element reacts with the crystal structure of the gem. To give an example, traces of chromium in Beryl is what makes the emerald green, but in corundum, the chromium makes the gem red, and we know those as rubies. If there are no trace materials in the gemstone, it appears colorless.

Wavelength of light

As mentioned before, we can only perceive wavelengths between 380 and 750nm. If a gemstone absorbs all wavelengths of light except the ones in the red spectrum, the stone will appear to be red. In colorless stones, all the wavelengths of light are reflected, which means that a black gemstone absorbs all visible light.

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