Sir Willaim Cookes, a gem connoisseur as well as a chemist and physicist, was the first to discover radiation's effects on diamond color when in 1904 he conducted a series of experiments using radium salts. Diamonds enveloped in radium salt slowly turned a dark green; this color was found to be localized in blotchy patches, and it did not penetrate past the surface of the stone. The emission of alpha particles by the radium was responsible. Unfortunately radium treatment also left the diamond strongly radioactive, to the point of being unwearable. A diamond octahedron so treated was donated by Crookes to the British Museum in 1914, where it remains today: it has not lost its color nor its radioactivity.
Nowadays a diamond is safely irradiated in four ways. Irradiated diamonds are all some shade of green, black, or blue after treatment, but most are annealed to further modify their color into bright shades of yellow, orange, brown, or pink. The annealing process increases the mobility of individual carbon atoms, allowing some of the lattice defects created during irradiation to be corrected. The final color is dependent on the diamond's composition and the temperature and length of annealing.
Cyclotroned diamonds have a green to blue-green color confined to the surface layer: they are later annealed to 800°C to produce a yellow or orange color. They remain radioactive for only a few hours after treatment, and due to the directional nature of the treatment and the cut of the stones, the color is imparted in discrete zones. If the stone was cyclotroned through the pavilion (back), a characteristic "umbrella" of darker color will be seen through the crown (top) of the stone. If the stone was cyclotroned through the crown, a dark ring is seen around the girdle (rim). Stones treated from the side will have one half colored deeper than the other. Cyclotron treatment is now uncommon.
Gamma ray treatment is also uncommon, because although it is the safest and cheapest irradiation method, successful treatment can take several months. The color produced is a blue to blue-green which penetrates the whole stone. Such diamonds are not annealed. As with most irradiated diamonds, most gamma ray-treated diamonds were originally tinted yellow; the blue is usually modified by this tint, resulting in a perceptible greenish cast.
The two most common irradiation methods are neutron and electron bombardment. The former treatment produces a green to black color that penetrates the whole stone, while the latter treatment produces a blue, blue-green, or green color that only penetrates about 1 millimeter deep. Annealing of these stones (from 500?900°C for neutron-bombarded stones and from 500?1200°C for electron-bombarded stones) produces orange, yellow, brown, or pink. Blue to blue-green stones that are not annealed are separated from natural stones in the same manner as gamma ray-treated stones.
It should be noted that some irradiated diamonds are completely natural. One famous example is the Dresen Green Diamond. In these natural stones the color is imparted by "radiation burns" in the form of small patches, usually only skin deep, as is the case in radium-treated diamonds.
Other guides relating to jewelry and gemstone buying which you may find helpful are as follows: