Glow-in-the-Dark Jewels

How the Hope Diamond's mysterious phosphorescence led to "fingerprinting" blue diamonds

Jeweler Harry Winston donated the famous Hope Diamond—the largest-known deep blue diamond in the world—to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. It arrived in a plain brown package by registered mail, insured for one million dollars. Surrounded by 16 white pear-shaped and cushion-cut diamonds and hanging from a chain with 45 diamonds, the rare gem attracts 6 million visitors a year to the Natural History Museum. (Chip Clark)

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Scientists also observed a markedly different glow in synthetic and altered diamonds.

The most immediate application of blue diamond fingerprinting could be distinguishing phony diamonds from the real thing, says Peter Heaney, professor of geosciences at Penn State University who also worked on the study.

Because fake diamonds are increasingly realistic, when you bring a valuable stone to the jeweler to have work done “you want to be sure that the blue diamond you are getting back is the same one you brought into a jeweler,” he says.

Post says that the method “could be very helpful” in tracking stolen diamonds by matching the diamond’s fingerprint with a suspected recut version.

The best news is that the fingerprinting method is non-invasive and will not damage the stone, Heaney says, which allowed the researchers to work with 67 valuable natural blue diamonds and three synthetic ones in the Smithsonian and private collections.

But Heaney says that because of the rarity of blue diamonds, especially those with known origins, it is uncertain whether the technology could be used in other applications, like identifying where a diamond came from. Knowing origins could help reduce the sale of conflict diamonds, whose trade fuels wars in parts of Africa.

Still, Post says the easy-to use, portable and relatively inexpensive spectrometer could be another tool for “checking and making sure that a particular stone has all the right characteristics of being a natural stone.”


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