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Blue Topaz: A Path Forward
Jewelry Scene

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has pledged to “work with the industry to find a solution” to make sure that existing stocks of blue topaz jewelry can be legally sold this holiday season and that future imports of the inexpensive blue gem can continue “if we can be assured that the public is adequately protected,” says Scott Moore, NRC deputy director of the division of materials safety and state agreements.

But millions of carats of London and Swiss blue topaz, and all other neutron-irradiated blue topaz, are still in legal limbo and likely to remain there for the rest of the year. Why? Importing neutron-irradiated topaz for distribution requires a NRC license and no one has one, so it’s likely that the vast majority of topaz on the market has not gone through proper channels.

Sky blue topaz and other electron-irradiated topaz will join the rest of irradiated blue topaz in that legal limbo in November, when this type of treated topaz also comes under NRC regulations requiring that importers of accelerator-irradiated topaz also be licensed.

The blue topaz controversy started in May when the NRC sent a letter to some large retailers to inform them of the widely disregarded and unenforced licensing requirement that has been in place since the early 1990s. In response to the uncertainty of the legal status of the gem, many retailers like Sterling and J.C. Penney and wholesalers like Stuller pulled blue topaz from their cases.

“Trade has been severely interrupted,” Cecilia Gardner, general counsel of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, told the NRC. “Retailers have taken this product off the shelves and in some cases returned it to their suppliers seeking refunds. In some cases they are telling their customers who bought a necklace and want to buy the matching earrings that they’re just not available.”

Gardner made that comment at a public meeting the NRC called to discuss the issue with industry representatives on July 26. At that meeting, the NRC agreed to a path forward to resolve the issue. The path has two major steps.

The first requires that the industry come into compliance with NRC’s requirements for exempt product distribution. This means that at least one company or institution must be licensed to test and distribute blue topaz after insuring that the gems meet NRC requirements. (And that all blue topaz entering the country then be tested and released by a licensee.) The second requirement, which is a prerequisite to allowing existing inventory to be sold, is to confirm that the blue topaz on the market does not present a health and safety issue.

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blue topaz jewelry
Complying with NRC regulations may make it difficult to import blue topaz jewelry since testing will likely require that the gems be loose.
Photo by Noel Mendez.