Summary
In today’s gem trade, treatments are almost ubiquitous. Keeping track of them can be difficult! This article briefly lists the enhancements commonly found in the most popular gems. Learn about these common gemstone treatments and print out our handy reference sheet.
Reading time: 10 min

If you’re sorting through a mixed lot of gems, keep these common gemstone treatments in mind. Otherwise, you might miss something that can affect their value. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Simrit Collections.

[toc]

Humans have treated gemstones for thousands of years. Much of the gem material currently on the market has been treated in some way before it reaches the consumer. As a gemologist, trader, or consumer, you’ll want to know the most frequently used treatments so you know what to look for and what questions to ask before purchasing or working with gems.

If you’re unfamiliar with gemstone treatments, check out our articles on heat treatment and radiation treatment, two of the most common gemstone treatments for enhancing color.

Agate

Colorful specimens of agate are likely dyed. Concentrated color in cracks and fissures is a good indicator of dye.

dyed agate - common gemstone treatments

Blue agate is almost certainly dyed. Image by Robert Ramsay from Pixabay.

Alexandrite

Treatments are rare for alexandrite. Some stones may have oil-filled fractures similar to emerald oil enhancement.

Amber

Common treatments for amber include heat treatment, dye, and reconstitution. Coatings and fracture fillings are less common.

Heat treatments darken the color and leave “sun spots.” These spots appear like glitter within the stone.

heated amber

The fracture spots in this piece of amber are evidence of heat treatment. Image by starbright from Pixabay.

For dye treatments, look for color concentration in pits and fractures and uneven color distribution.

Reconstituted amber consists of several pieces pressed or melted together. In some cases, the people creating reconstituted pieces add modern insects to the mix. Artificial resins as well as copal may also be added to the mix. Reconstituted gems often exhibit a mosaic structure, which may only be visible under high magnification.

Amethyst

Some amethyst undergoes heat treatment to lighten its color. However, this undetectable procedure is rare.

In other cases, purple dye in colorless quartz creates the observed color.

Ametrine

For pieces with both purple and yellow saturated colors, check for dye treatments.

Some ametrine may be heat treated to create the citrine half, but this procedure is undetectable.

Aquamarine

Nearly all the aquamarine on the market today has undergone heat treatment. This undetectable procedure reduces its yellow hue.

Read more about aquamarine heat treatment.

heated aquamarine

With aquamarine, it’s best to assume heat treatment. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Cat’s Eye (Chrysoberyl)

Cat’s eye stones rarely receive treatments. However, some stones may contain oil or dye, and others may undergo radiation treatment to improve their color.

Chalcedony

Bleach and dye treatments are common in chalcedony. So, check any brightly colored samples carefully.

In addition, heat treatments can improve the color in certain stones.

Chalcedony can also receive coatings, sometimes only on the back of a cabochon.

Chrome Diopside

There are no known treatments for chrome diopside.

Citrine

Since natural-color citrine is rare, most of the material on the market has undergone treatment. In fact, heating amethyst produces most citrine, in strong yellow or orangey hues, while heating smoky quartz can produce lemon-yellow hues. These treatments are undetectable.

In some cases, colorless quartz with yellow dye may imitate citrine.

citrine bracelet - common gemstone treatments

Natural-color citrine is rare, so it’s best to assume that any citrine is heat-treated. Photo courtesy of Fine Jewelry and Coin Liquidator and liveauctioneers.com.

Diamond

Treatments in diamond are rare. However, if you purchase a diamond, send it to a gemological laboratory to catch any possible treatments.

Diamonds may receive laser drilling, high-pressure/high-temperature (HPHT), coatings, fillings, and radiation treatments. Read more about these procedures in our articles on diamond treatments and HPHT treatments.

Emerald

Nearly all emerald gems on the market have an oil or resin filling to improve clarity. While these are typically colorless, some emerald fillers contain dye. Read more about emerald treatments.

emerald ring

This emerald has only insignificant oil enhancement, which likely means it has few surface-reaching fractures for oil to fill. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Freeman’s.

Garnet

Treatments are uncommon in most types of garnet. However, some demantoid garnets undergo heat treatment to enhance their color.

Jade

Most jade gemstones on the market, both jadeite and nephrite varieties, have undergone enhancement. So, some traders have adopted the following grading system to describe the level of treatment:

  • “A” grade jade is untreated, but may have a coating of wax to improve its luster.
  • “B” jade has undergone intense treatment. First, treaters soak the jade in acid to remove brown areas. Then, they impregnate the stone with polymer, resulting in improved transparency.
  • “C” jade contains dye. Check for areas of concentrated dye.

In addition, some jade is treated with acid and dyed polymer. This is sometimes called “B+C” jade.

Read more about jade treatments.

jade - common gemstone treatments

Any brightly colored jade with good translucence should set off some alarms. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Jasper

Some jasper stones receive dyes to create more intense colors. Check for concentrated color in cracks and surface pits.

Labradorite

There are no known treatments for labradorite that shows labradorescence. However, transparent feldspars may undergo heat and/or diffusion treatments.

Lapis Lazuli

Dyes are commonly used to hide white calcite inclusions in lapis lazuli. In addition to dye treatment, most specimens contain a coating of wax or plastic to seal in the dye. In some cases, plastic or wax may even be present in undyed specimens.

Malachite

Wax, resins, or polymers can help to hide surface cracks in malachite. Some epoxies also double as hardeners for this soft gemstone.

Moonstone

While moonstone is typically untreated, some specimens have artificial coatings. Dark coatings on the back of a cabochon can enhance adularescence. Some gems may also have a blue coating to enhance their color.

Morganite

Heat treatment enhances the pink color in morganite. This common treatment is undetectable.

morganite

This popular engagement ring stone often undergoes heat treatment to boost its color. © CustomMade. Used with permission.

Onyx

Dye treatments are common in onyx. Almost all black onyx stones receive a sugar and acid treatment to get their color.

Opal

Opal treatments are uncommon. However, matrix opal and hydrophane opal may receive treatments.

The matrix in matrix opals can undergo a sugar/acid treatment to get black body colors. Since they have crumbly textures, they may also undergo polymer treatment for stabilization.

Hydrophane opals can be dyed or smoked to alter their body colors. They may also have polymer or resin enhancements.

Any type of opal may be an assembled gemstone. Check for dark backings and clear caps.

Read more about these procedures in our in-depth guide to opal treatments.

opal doublet

Note the dark backing on this thin piece of opal. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Pearl

The most common gemstone treatments for pearls are bleaching and dyeing. Most pearls also undergo maeshori heat treatment to enhance their luster and a gentle polishing to coat them with wax.

Some pearls may also undergo non-routine treatments. These include color enhancements using dye, heat, or radiation, luster enhancements from buffing or coatings, and stabilization by epoxy filling.

Learn more about pearl treatments.

Peridot

Gemstone treatments in peridot are highly uncommon. Still, there are occasional reports of epoxy fillings.

Quartz

Any variety of quartz can undergo irradiation to form smoky quartz. Irradiation and heat can produce numerous colors, including yellow-green “lemon” quartz and yellow to red varieties.

Heat treatment of amethyst can produce prasiolite (green quartz) as well as citrine.

There are no known treatments of rose quartz.

Intensely colored quartz may contain dye. Keep in mind that dyed quartz can also imitate other, more expensive stones.

Read more about quartz color treatments.

Ruby

Virtually all rubies on the market today receive heat treatments. While dissolved silk is evidence of this, some rubies lack these inclusions, making it impossible to determine whether they have been heated.

Many rubies also contain leaded glass in surface-reaching fractures to enhance their clarity. Gas bubbles may be visible under a microscope, and darkfield illumination can reveal blue and orange flashes in such rubies.

In addition, some sapphires receive a diffusion treatment that makes them red like rubies.

Learn more about ruby enhancements and leaded glass fillings.

glass-filled ruby

Though it may seem like a typical ruby, this stone contains leaded glass in its surface-reaching fractures. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Last Chance.

Sapphire

Like ruby, most sapphire undergoes heat treatment. Dissolved silk, when present, indicates heat treatment.

Some sapphires may also contain leaded glass in surface-reaching fractures. While this occurs less frequently in sapphire than ruby, you should still check for these treatments.

Cobalt or beryllium diffusion treatments can enhance sapphire color. Evidence of cobalt diffusion in blue sapphire can be seen with a Chelsea filter and by immersing the stone in RI fluid. Beryllium diffusion can create numerous colors, and the easiest way to detect this treatment is by immersion.

Irradiation can produce yellow and orange colors in sapphire.

Read more about sapphire treatments.

Spinel

Although very rare, enhancements for spinels do occur, such as fracture filling with oil, resin, or glass. In addition, heat treatment can improve color or clarity in certain spinels.

Sunstone and Oregon Sunstone

Although there are no known treatments for sunstones or Oregon sunstones, some feldspars may be enhanced with copper diffusion. This treatment gives them an intense red color similar to some natural-color Oregon sunstones.

Tanzanite

Heat treatment produces the signature blue-to-violet color in nearly all tanzanites. This treatment is undetectable.

While some tanzanites may have filled fractures, this is uncommon.

tanzanite - common gemstone treatments

Heat treatment removes undesirable brown hues, leaving this gem a bright, pure blue. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Avis Diamond Galleries.

Tiger’s Eye

Tiger’s eye may receive treatment to improve its color. Heat treatment can help develop red colors. Bleach can lighten darker stones. In addition, dyes can enhance or alter the gem’s color.

Topaz

Heat and radiation treatments are common in topaz, and most topaz has undergone some treatment. These treatments can enhance traditionally prized yellow, orange, and red colors or create a range of blue colors more popular with contemporary jewelry.

In addition, coatings commonly create pink hues in colorless topaz, and metallic coatings create mystic and azotic topaz. Check the gem’s pavilion for scratches in these coatings.

coated pink topaz

The color pink is rarely a result of natural processes in topaz. Always check for coatings. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Circle Auction.

Tourmaline

Many red, pink, blue (including paraíba), and green tourmalines undergo heat treatment, some in combination with radiation treatment.

In addition, some paraíba tourmalines may undergo fracture-filling enhancements to improve clarity.

Turquoise

Numerous treatments exist for turquoise. Some turquoise stones (as well as turquoise imitations) contain dye. Some are reconstituted from small pieces and dust, then mixed with polymer to bind them. Others receive polymer or epoxy coatings to improve their hardness.

In addition, the proprietary “Zachery Treatment” involves soaking turquoise in a solution to reduce porosity and improve luster. This treatment is only detectable through spectroscopy.

Wax coatings are placed even on high-quality turquoise to prevent discoloration from skin oils.

Zircon

Nearly all zircon undergoes heat treatment. Treatment can improve clarity and, in some cases, alter colors. Popular colorless and blue stones generally originate as brownish rough. For more information on zircon heat treatments, check out our zircon gemstone page.

Common Gemstone Treatments Cheat Sheet

If you’re new to gemology, keeping all the different treatments straight in your head can be difficult. The following cheat sheet is the perfect reference for common gemstone treatments. Click here for a printable version.

Common Gemstone Treatments Cheat Sheet