If you’ve ever worn a piece of diamond jewelry to an airport, you probably know the answer to this question.
For those who haven’t – and for those who are just wondering about it – the simple answer to the question of “Do diamonds set off metal detectors?” would be:
No, metal detectors can’t be set off by diamonds.
As you all know, there are different kinds of metal detectors, from those you see at the airport to the ones security uses at the entrances of important buildings and the ones treasure hunters will use to find gold on the beach.
Although they look pretty different from one another, all these metal detectors work on the same principle – which we will talk about a little bit later in this article.
But, this information is helpful since the answer to our initial question won’t change depending on what metal detector we’re talking about here.
Regardless of this being a fact, there are things you should know about how metal detectors work and why they actually can’t detect diamonds. It’s vital in order to understand the answer we’ve given you a bit earlier.
So, suppose you’re interested in the mechanics behind this answer and keen on learning something new about diamonds, metal detectors, and the relationship between the two.
In that case, we highly suggest you keep reading!
Why Don’t Diamonds Set Off Metal Detectors?
The significant majority of you would like to know the answer to this question since there likely were some people who suspected metal detectors could actually detect diamonds.
Well, the answer to this question isn’t that hard to come by – but it isn’t that simple either. We’ll have to dig into some fundamental physics and chemistry to understand this process fully, so buckle up!
The explanation for this is much more straightforward than some of you would imagine: The truth is that diamonds don’t have any metallic properties, so that’s why they’re undetectable by metal detectors.
We’ll discuss what we mean by this in a few moments, so stay patient!
There’s no better answer to this question than the one we gave you because there’s not much to it other than the metallic properties – or the lack thereof.
When we say metallic properties, we don’t mean all of them, but just those that are important – or should we say relevant – when it comes to triggering metal detectors.
One metallic property that we’re interested in here is the ability to trigger magnets. Magnets work by attracting unpaired electrons from materials that have them, and those electrons all have to spin in the same direction.
That is interesting for another reason, and that’s because this same process is also responsible for turning metals into magnets, as well – not only attracting metals to magnets.
But, enough physics for now. The only thing that you have to remember here is that the metallic properties that are responsible for attracting metals to magnets aren’t found in diamonds.
No, scratch that. There’s absolutely NO chance for a diamond to develop those properties.
How Do Metal Detectors Even Work?
As we’ve mentioned before, there are numerous variations of metal detectors out there.
Now, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular and well-known variants and discuss what the differences between them and how they work in order for you to understand why they don’t pick up on diamonds are.
The first variant of metal detectors is the standing one or the ones that most of you will see at airports. These metal detectors are used for a general search for metal items and aren’t that accurate – but are the most popular ones.
All metal detectors work in a similar fashion, but these work a bit differently. They transmit an electromagnetic wave from the top part to the ground while constantly scanning for metal items.
When a metal item is detected, it glows on the screen attached to the metal detecting machine. These machines are the simplest – and easiest – to use but are also the least accurate.
If you’ve ever come across an article talking about how somebody managed to smuggle a metal object into a plane, here’s what probably happened: This kind of metal detector didn’t pick it up – and the person carrying it with them got away with it.
There are other metal detectors, though.
The most popular ones are the long staffs used to detect metals underground that some people use to find hidden treasures on the beaches. You’ve probably seen those folks before.
That’s actually the only way of finding a diamond with a metal detector or detecting a diamond with it: If a diamond is “attached” to precious metal, such as gold or silver, it could be detected by the detector. In these situations, the detector isn’t set off by the diamond but by the precious metals instead.
The finding of a diamond is only a consequence – but it still counts, right?
These metal detectors also send an electromagnetic field into the ground – and when that field touches an object with metallic properties, that same object creates its electromagnetic field.
Then, that field is detected by the search coil in the machine, and that’s where the weird – but widely known – sound (or beep) comes from in this case.
Metal detectors that work like this are much more accurate. However, they still can’t detect diamonds alone since their precision doesn’t change the fact that diamonds don’t have any metallic properties needed in order to “trigger” this kind of device.
The final form of metal detectors that we’re going to talk about today is the ones that are held in hand and used in entrances to important buildings – or when important events are in place.
Hand metal detectors work in a similar fashion to the metal detectors we’ve talked about before. The only difference is that they emit a much smaller electromagnetic field than the type of metal detectors used for searching the beach.
These metal detectors also make a sound that indicates they’ve located something with metallic properties – which, again, diamonds don’t have – and that it’s directly underneath them.
Read Also: Can You Bring Diamonds On A Plane?
Why Can’t Diamonds Have Metallic Properties?
Although it seems like a silly question, it certainly is not one. If metals can turn into magnets, why can’t diamonds have metallic properties?
Well, the answer is simple, but we need to explain it in order for you to understand the answer better.
Let’s go back and remember that diamonds are made out of carbon that withstands immense heat and pressure. Carbon is a chemical element that also doesn’t have any metallic properties worth mentioning when it comes to that topic.
Well, does that mean that carbon has some metallic properties? The answer – hold onto your hat – is yes.
When carbon bonds with oxygen to form polyatomic ions, it has a positive partial charge, and the electrons from carbon tend to have a greater density nearer the oxygen nucleus. That is a metallic character of carbon.
But, this character doesn’t matter that much since, in the process of becoming a diamond, this characteristic stops existing – and diamonds don’t “inherit” it.
Remember how we’ve said not all metallic properties are essential when it comes to the matter of diamonds setting off metal detectors? Well, that’s exactly what we meant when we stated that.
Some metal properties don’t matter when it comes to diamonds being detected by any kind of electromagnetic machine – especially metal detectors. Sure, diamonds do have a semi-complex chemical composition – but no part of it is related to this characteristic that carbon has.
That is not uncommon since many derivates of chemical elements drastically change their characteristics once they undergo a specific transformation process and become what they actually are. It sounds confusing, we know.
But one of these cases is related to our main topic – carbon and diamonds. We’re telling you this because it may seem confusing at first. We all know that Mother Nature sometimes works in ways that aren’t easy to explain, though.
Read More: Why Does Diamond Not Turn Into Graphite?
What Can Set Off A Metal Detector?
Now that we’ve established that diamonds can’t set off metal detectors, let’s look at what can. And, well, the answer lies in the name of these items: Metals are the only things that can set off metal detectors.
But not all metals can set off these machines – which may be surprising to some of you. Metals like cobalt, brass, or aluminum can’t be detected by metal detectors regardless of their metallic properties.
That only shows how little actual metallic properties mean when talking about properties that don’t have anything to do with electromagnetic force.
But we’re not here to talk about metals that can’t set off a metal detector. We’re here to discuss metals – and potentially other materials – that set off metal detectors.
First of all, you probably know that precious metals such as gold, silver, or platinum set off metal detectors with little difficulty.
What this means is that there are some instances where if you have a small amount of precious metal such as gold – and when we say a small amount, we mean less than one gram (or around that much) – there is a chance a metal detector won’t pick it up.
That goes for sterling silver, platinum, and fine jewelry as well.
But, if you have a large necklace or a big ring, that’ll most definitely set off an alarm. Maybe you have a diamond or two in those pieces of jewelry, as well.
Iron is the most commonly detected metal by metal detectors since this metal is used to make knives, axes, daggers, and any kind of close-range weaponry. And since these detectors are used primarily for safety purposes – well, you get the idea.
Cobalt and nickel are also detectable by both passive and active metal detectors – meaning all the sensors we’ve talked about earlier.
Diamonds are the complete opposite, and regardless of what situation we’re talking about, they won’t set off any metal detectors. Unless it’s covered in iron or any other previously mentioned metal, that is.
Our Final Thoughts On The Subject
If there are still some of you asking the question, “Do diamonds set off metal detectors,” we’ll give you a definitive answer right now. And that answer is:
No, regardless of what type of metal detectors we’re talking about and in what setting, diamonds simply do not possess any metallic properties that would interact with the magnetic fields of said metal detectors.
Suppose diamonds are a part of a piece of jewelry made from a lot of precious metals. In that case, that’s the only way a diamond finds its way to make a metal detector go “Beep!”
But that’s just because it’s embedded into a material that does set off a metal detector. The gem’s got nothing to do with it.
Diamonds simply do not contain any properties required to set off such a device. And no, there is no chemical experiment that could make them develop those properties.
But, you shouldn’t forget that there are even some metals that don’t set off metal detectors, either – well, at least in certain situations or under certain conditions.
So, if you have a diamond that you’re planning on traveling with, we certainly recommend you carry it with you. And know that you won’t have to empty your pockets because your diamond set off a metal detector!