Impurity Ions and Gemstone Colors

Step 2: Advanced Gemology

Lesson 4

“Beryl var. Red Beryl, Rhyolite” by Géry Parent is licensed under CC By-ND 2.0
“Beryl var. Red Beryl, Rhyolite” by Géry Parent. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.

I’ve faced many questions about the element chromium (Cr), the red coloration of minerals, and the gemstone red beryl. One of the many causes of color in gems and minerals is impurity ions. They are completely dissolved in the mineral and contribute to gemstone color.

The resulting color from an impurity in a mineral depends on the following factors.

  • The type of impurity ion.
  • The valence state of the impurity ion.
  • The concentration of the impurity ion.
  • The strength and symmetry of the crystal field on the impurity ion at the site at which it resides in the crystal. (This is determined by mineral type).

To explain this, I’ll use sapphire and ruby as my first gemstone examples. Chromium in corundum causes pink or red …

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