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UV Light in Gemology (1):

Introduction of UV Light Types and the Importance of UV Filter

By Agianto Mutiadjaja
Probably none of us is unfamiliar with Ultraviolet light or in short UV light. We
would avoid the overexposure of sunlight because of the UV radiation that it
posses to avoid skin damage (sunburn or even skin cancer). UV light may also
cause premature aging of skin due to collagen degradation. Many things can
deteriorate (solarization and/or color fading) because of its irradiation. However,
some amount of it is essential for our body to produce natural vitamin D which is
needed for healthy bones and teeth. In the West, some may even go to salons
and beauty parlors for sun tanning using UV lamps.

In addition, UV light has also many other usefulness. It is often used for security
against counterfeits. UV black light is a bank teller’s best friend for detecting
counterfeit money. Criminal investigators and pest exterminators use UV light
because household stains (semen or saliva) and urine of mice and rats glow
under it. UV light can also attract insects and often used in insect killing devices.
In water treatment and other health care facility UV light is used for its germicidal
effect. Nowadays, UV curing, a photochemical process technology has been
more favorably used for the drying of inks, coatings and adhesives.

But what actually is a UV light?

UV light is part of the electromagnetic wave just like the white visible light we are
familiar with. But it has a shorter wavelength that has limited our eyes to see it.
Wavelength is the distance between two corresponding point on a wave (ex.
peak to peak or trough to trough) and is usually expressed in nanometers (1 nm
= 10-9 m). To be exact, UV light has a wavelength range of 10 to 400 nm, which
is in between the visible light (400 to 700 nm) and X-ray (0.01 to 10 nm).
However, most scientists often regard UV range as 200 to 400 nm only because
the range below 200 nm (known as Vacuum UV) is being absorbed by air, and
thus it does not exist practically.

UV light is further scientifically categorized into three types according to their

wavelength range: Near UV light (315-400 nm), Far UV light (280-315 nm) and
Extreme UV light (200-280 nm). Sometimes, mostly in commercial use, they are
named UVA, UVB and UVC lights accordingly. UVA light in the range of 345 to
400 nm is often called black light. In Mineralogy, they are better known as Long-
wave UV (LWUV), Mid-wave UV (MWUV) and Short-wave UV (SWUV) lights

In Gemology, we are more familiar with the SWUV and LWUV lights only. Some
gemstones fluoresce or glow a visible light under these UV light types. The
presence, intensity and/or color of the fluorescence (or luminescence) of a
gemstone may provide indication of locality, originality (natural, synthetic or
imitation) and treatment of the gemstone (will be discussed in other PDFs).

Wavelength is inversely proportional to frequency:

ν = c/λ
where ν is frequency (in seconds), c is the speed of light (3 × 108 ms-1), and λ is
wavelength (in meters).

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event (a wave cycle) at

certain point during a specific time interval and it is directly related to energy:
E = hν
where E is energy (in joules), h is Planck’s constant (6.62 × 10-34 Js), and ν is
frequency (in seconds).

Therefore, LWUV light has the least energy while SWUV light has the most
energy. In fact, SWUV light is ionizing – can break chemical bonds just like its
cousin X-ray but less intense. The effect of UV light on human skin: LWUV light
can cause sun tanning, MWUV light can cause sun burning and SWUV light can
cause cancer and mutation.

There are many commercially available UV light sources for gemstones and
mineral purposes. Most of them are big for display and/or field use with electrical
or rechargeable battery operation. At present, there are even many small UV
LEDs being offered.

Below are two small affordable handheld (battery operated) UV light source
which suffice for our discussion: on the left from UV-Tool and on the right from
UVP (they are chosen because of availability).
Below are 4Watts (or 4W) bi-pin (or 2-pin) UV light bulbs or tubes being used by
the above UV lamp assemblies: The first one (a special combination of SWUV
and LWUV) is used by UVP and the rest (2nd SWUV, 3rd MWUV and 4th LWUV)
are used interchangeably by UV-Tool.

These bulbs are low pressure mercury vapor (may also contain an inert gas -
argon) metal (tungsten) filament tube. They are different only on the phosphor
and glass used. The SWUV bulb (commercially called germicidal lamp) has no
phosphor on the glass envelope – and may emit a strong smell of ozone. The
violet UV-Tool LWUV bulb (commercially called Black Light Blue or just BLB
lamp) has an integral filter in the glass envelope (when the LWUV bulb is white
like the UVP - with no filter, it is commercially called Black Light or BL lamp).

So far there is no UV bulb that does not emit some visible light. The visible light
emitted may be reflected by the tested gem which may interfere with the
fluorescence light. For better judgment of the presence, intensity and/or color of
the fluorescence of a tested gemstone or mineral, a special UV filter is needed to
reduce (absorb) the visible light portion. And these filters may be the most
expensive part of a UV lamp assembly. Below are filters used by our chosen
UV-Tool uses a single SWUV filter while UVP uses two different kinds of filter
(SWUV filter and LWUV filter).

It is important to note that, not only the light tubes, these filters also do not last
forever. They may deteriorate due to solarization because of the transmission of
SWUV light for over a period (usually several thousands hours). Moisture can
also deteriorate a SWUV filter by creating white coating specks on it. These
deteriorations will reduce the amount of UV light transmission, making the
gemstone fluorescing effect not as bright as before.

To show the visible light emitted by the bulbs we have used a UV-VIS
Spectrophotometer to take the UV-VIS spectrum of each of the bulb. A UV-VIS
spectrophotometer (or UV-VIS spectrometer) is an instrument used to record the
emission (the luminescent light of an object) or the transmission (the light
transmitted through an object) of electromagnetic wave (depending on its
specification) in the range of 200 nm to 1100 nm as a graph (or stored as a
digitized spectrum for further processing). All the spectra taken are then
normalized (using Speckwin32). Normalization of a spectrum is the setting of the
highest intensity value (ymax) into 1 and the rest follows by dividing them with the
ymax. Normalization is done because the exact intensity of each bulb is not our
present interest. Our main interest is to compare the intensity of the visible light
(above 400 nm) against the respective UV light.

Below are the normalized UV-VIS spectra of the different types of UV light
emitted by the lamps (without their respective filter on).

Spectra of UVP SWUV and LWUV without the filter.

Spectra of UV-Tool SWUV, MWUV and LWUV without filter.

Below are the normalized spectra of the different types of UV light by the lamps
transmitted through their respective filter:

Spectra of UVP SWUV and LWUV with filter.

Spectra of UV-Tool SWUV, MWUV and LWUV with filter.


From the normalized emission UV-VIS spectra of the different types of UV lamp
(the first two spectra), the relative intensity (percentage) of the emission of visible
light against the intensity of the emission of UV light by the individual UV light
tube are as follows:
Peak in LWUV of SWUV of LWUV of MWUV of SWUV of
Visible UVP w/o UVP w/o UV-Tool UV-Tool UV-Tool
Region filter filter w/o filter w/o filter w/o filter
404.11 nm 20.4% 12.5% 5.2% 42% 20%
434.22 nm 56.0% 42.0% 1.1% 121% 71.1%
506.48 nm - 2.5% - - 2.5%
544.62 nm 33.9% 38.0% - 97% 40.6%
577.74 nm 7.3% 5.2% - 29% 7.9%

With the filter on (the last two spectra), the peaks in the visible region (400 to 700
nm) of each spectrum become almost flat.


There are three types of UV light: SWUV, MWUV and LWUV, which are
categorized by their wavelength range. UV light tubes are commercially available
for various applications. However, they all emit some visible light that may
interfere with the judgment of the presence, intensity and/or color of the
fluorescence of a tested gemstone. This is especially true for SWUV, MWUV and
LWUV (BL) light tubes. The use of a UV filter is very important to reduce this
problem for gemology purpose.