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Can Ultraviolet (UV) Light Destroy A Diamond?

Can Ultraviolet (UV) Light Destroy A Diamond?

Diamonds have two defining characteristics – outstanding beauty and hard-to-beat hardness. 

But that doesn’t mean that diamonds are invincible. There are, in fact, several ways you can destroy a diamond. But is shining a UV light at a diamond one of them? Can ultraviolet light destroy a diamond?

That’s the question we’re trying to answer today. The answer to this one is quite interesting. 

Technically speaking, yes, UV light can destroy a diamond. But what exactly happens when you expose a diamond to UV light? Should you hide your diamond ring from the sunlight because of this?

In this article, we’ve covered everything you need to know about diamonds vs. UV light. Let the games begin!

Diamond’s Description 

Diamond’s characteristic crystal structure and composition make it a unique representative of the mineral kingdom. 

Diamonds are the only precious stones that are made of a single element. It’s usually 99.95% carbon; the other 0,05% may include one or more trace elements. 

Now, these elements are atoms that aren’t part of diamond’s essential chemistry. Some of these elements could even impact a diamond’s color, shape, and other properties.

The way diamonds form helps determine their identity: They’re formed under extremely high pressure and temperatures that exist only within a specific depth range beneath the Earth’s crust. 

Diamond’s structure is isometric, meaning that the carbon atoms are bonded in essentially the same way in all directions. 

You could argue that graphite also contains only carbon – but its crystal structure and formation process are very different. The result is that graphite is the much softer material – you can write with it, after all – while diamonds are so hard that only other diamonds can scratch them.

Without any of these characteristics, diamonds would be just another mineral. 

But luckily enough, this combination of the formation process, crystal structure, and chemical composition gave diamonds the qualities that make them so exceptional.

Diamonds are graded by their cut, clarity, color, and carat – the most important characteristics of a diamond. However, diamonds can exhibit some additional characteristics, like fluorescence. 

Understanding Diamonds Fluorescence 

You’ll find the term “fluorescence” under the GIA grading report. Some – but not all – diamonds exhibit effects under the black light, also known as UV light. 

Fluorescence won’t be an issue for most people who opt to buy diamonds, but some might get confused by the term. So, let’s go over it together, shall we?

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What Is Diamond Fluorescence?

In its simplest form, diamonds fluorescence is the effect that UV light has on a diamond

Do you know how, when you stand under a black light, you can sometimes see your teeth glow? Well, this is pretty much the same effect that diamonds have under ultraviolet rays. 

Fluorescence is the visible light diamonds emit when they’re exposed to UV rays.

On a GIA grading report, fluorescence alludes to the intensity of the diamond’s reaction to the long-wave UV – which is, by the way, an essential component of daylight. As long the diamond is exposed to the UV source, the light will be emitted from the diamond.

See Also: Do Diamonds Emit Light?

Is Fluorescence Common?

Of all the precious stones submitted to GIA over the past decade, about 25% to 35% showed some degree of fluorescence. 

Still, only 10% of those exhibit strengths of fluorescence that’ll impact a diamond’s appearance. In more than 95% of the diamonds that show fluorescence, the color visible under UV light is blue. 

The blue color is the complementary color to yellow, the most common tinted color in diamonds. Therefore, fluorescence can make yellowish diamonds look colorless or white.

Does Fluorescence Have An Impact On The Appearance?

Studies conducted by the GIA show that the intensity of fluorescence has no widely perceptible effect on appearance for most diamonds. Even more so, it was found that the average person likely wouldn’t be able to distinguish a diamond with and without fluorescence.

In many cases, appearance-wise, observers will prefer diamonds that have medium to strong fluorescence. Very rarely, diamonds with extremely high levels of fluorescence may appear oily or hazy. 

Only less than 0.2% of the fluorescent diamonds exhibit this effect, though.

Can Fluorescence Compromise Diamond’s Structural Integrity?

Diamonds that exhibit fluorescence have the same structural integrity as ones with no reaction to black light. Submicroscopic substitutions and shifts in the diamond’s structure can prevent fluorescence – or cause it. 

But either way, that doesn’t weaken the diamond or counts as “unfavorable” for it. 

Are Fluorescent Diamonds Cheaper?

Diamonds that show fluorescence trade at slightly different prices to the ones that don’t show fluorescence. 

For example, I through M color diamonds with strong fluorescence traded at around a 2% price premium to non-fluorescent diamonds with similar color grades. D color diamonds with strong fluorescence trade up to a 15% discount to diamonds with a similar color. 

Diamond prices fluctuate due to supply and demand but also because of the characteristics of the diamond. 

While you can get a modest discount because of the fluorescence, you’ll also end up with a whiter diamond than you might be able to afford otherwise. We tend to think this is a win-win situation.

Should You Purchase A Diamond That Exhibits Fluorescence?

As a diamond’s appearance must be taken as a whole, the preference to purchase a diamond that exhibits fluorescence is an individual one. Other factors – such as the diamond’s cut – can influence color appearance more strongly than fluorescence. 

So, don’t overthink this bit too much. 

Read Also: Why Do Diamonds Turn Blue In Blacklight?

What Can Destroy A Diamond? 

Diamonds are famously known for their hardness, but they are not indestructible, as we pointed out earlier. Due to their hardness, diamonds are generally immune to scratches – unless you use another diamond to do it, that is. 

However, diamonds are vulnerable to chipping and breakage. 

Once a diamond is damaged, it can’t be repaired – only cut or polished. That results in a smaller gemstone. 

It’s fairly easy to smash a diamond into pieces by using a hammer. Shocking, right? Granted, it’s true only if the hammer is durable enough and the surface is hard, but the point remains.

Diamond and graphite are both made out of pure carbon, and they differ in the configuration of their atoms. Interestingly enough, graphite is more chemically stable than diamond at standard temperature and pressure on the Earth’s surface.

That means diamonds will eventually degrade into graphite. 

However, it takes mind-blowing amounts of energy to break the diamond’s chemical bonds and cause them to reform as graphite. The degradation under normal atmospheric conditions occurs at such a slow pace that it becomes insignificant in any time frame relevant to human existence. 

When a diamond gets hot – when it’s used as a cutting edge to drill through hard materials, for example – the diamond degrades at a much faster pace and can flake off as graphite. 

Since diamonds are made of carbon, they most definitely burn; everything else made of carbon does. At about 763 degrees Celsius, diamonds begin to oxidize – the pure carbon interacts with oxygen and disappears. As a result, you get the formation of carbon dioxide.

So, if a diamond burns, it will be damaged – as in, there will be less of it at the end of the process than at the beginning. 

How To Minimize The Risk Of Damaging Your Diamond?

Chips or cracks typically occur when the girdle or point of the diamond strikes something hard. Common causes of damaged diamonds are kitchen and bathroom countertops and any jewelry items where diamonds are worn next to each other.

Here’s some advice that can help you prevent future damage to your diamond:

  • Avoid shapes with points or sharp corners – oval, round, and rounded-corner don’t have that point of exposure.
  • Avoid girdles with thin sections; a thicker girdle is more challenging to damage.
  • Use caution with tension setting (it keeps a diamond in place using a groove cut into the metal that the girdle fits into)
  • Regularly inspect prongs for damage; prongs that hold the gem in place can become broken or bent, resulting in damage to your diamond.
  • Avoid wearing a diamond that is already damaged; there is an extremely high risk of getting damaged far worse

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Diamonds Lose Mass In Sunlight 

Studies have found that even though diamonds are among the hardest materials known, they’ll start to lose atoms when exposed to direct sunlight. 

But before you start panicking, here’s the good news: The rate of loss won’t significantly bother the average person with a diamond ring.

However, the discovery could prove a bonus for researchers working to tap into these precious stones’ exceptional electronic and optical properties. 

Many of the new uses of diamonds, such as laser light emission and quantum communication, require micro or nano features to be integrated into the surface of the diamond. 

Diamonds are typically etched by laser in the process called ablation. The laser burns carbon atoms from the surface and leaves behind a rough, damaged area. That area looks more like graphite than a diamond.

Scientists show that by cutting the pulse power of the laser with excited carbon atoms popping of the surface to leave behind the smoothly etched diamond. 

This effect was discovered by accident while developing a diamond-based laser. 

Scientists wanted to show that diamonds can operate at wavelengths that other materials can’t, and UV is one such example.

The team successfully produced a diamond laser that emitted UV light. However,  this lasted for about 10 minutes, after which it stopped working. As it turned out, they were desorbing carbon atoms, making tiny holes in the diamond’s surface. 

Despite this experiment being awful news for diamond laser performance, it was good news for other research directions. Exactly how the desorption process works is yet to be determined, but scientists have some theories. 

The first one would be that the process requires the diamond’s surface to be coated in oxygen atoms.

The second theory is that it requires two photons to release one carbon atom. Two photons produce an excited electron-hole pair when they hit a diamond. That occurs inside the diamond, where it could set a carbon atom free.

It’s also possible that the UV light is exciting the surface directly, resulting in bond breaking and carbon monoxide coming off, too.

Previous research indicates that diamonds can be etched in this way. Furthermore, the process seems to have no lower threshold, which means carbon loss will occur even in ambient sunlight. 

However, the loss rate is extremely slow. Even a typical UV lamp would take approximately 1000 years to remove one microgram of the diamond. Additionally, it would take billions of years for a diamond to be visibly affected under very bright sunlight. 

The slow atom loss rate limits its use as a technique for etching features into diamonds surface. 

That doesn’t mean it’s not practical, as it’s more of a polishing technique rather than a scribing technique. However, you might be able to combine it with mentioned ablation to polish the etched surface. 

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If you aren’t sure what’s the correct answer to the question, “Can ultraviolet light destroy a diamond,” let us sum it up for you real quick.

Diamonds are one of the hardest materials known. Despite their incredible hardness, they aren’t indestructible. Their toughness isn’t that impressive; a swing of a hammer, for example, can be enough.

Another method of destroying a diamond is exposing it to extreme temperatures. 

But there’s a significant difference between a hammer and light, wouldn’t you say? 

So, what happens when you expose a diamond to UV light? They exhibit visible light, usually in the color blue – something known as fluorescence. And yes, UV light can technically destroy the surface layers of a diamond, too. 

The process of atom destruction is extremely slow, but the damage is still there.

Learn More: Can A Diamond Destroy A Diamond?