Amber is the ancient and fossilized resin of trees that grew in forests millions of years ago. Over the eons, chemical and physical changes occurred, fossilizing the resin to produce the amber we know today. Research indicates that amber ranges from about two million to 360 million years in age, although most gem quality amber ranges from 10 million to 50 million years.
|Amber is very soft and can be attacked by solvents and perfumes. Avoid prolonged exposure to bright lights and heat. Clean with a soft cloth.|
|Golden yellow, pale yellow, deep cherry red to dark brown. |
|Usually free forms, cabochons and beads, but can be faceted. |
|Depends on size, evenness of color, clarity, treatment, and special inclusions.|
Just the Facts
When you rub amber, static electricity is generated. In fact, the word electricity is derived from the ancient Greek word for amber, elektron or “sun made.” Although amber is a fossilized plant resin that generally consists of organic hydrocarbons, the chemistry varies depending on the type of plant that produced the resin.
The process and transformation of tree resin from copal (young amber before it is ripened) into amber is not fully understood. However, there are two elements which are recognized essential -polymerization (the formation of more complex molecular chains) and evaporation of volatile oils (volatiles are substances that can evaporate out or be readily vaporized). The addition of heat and pressure can speed up the process. Variations in local conditions affect the rate at which copal matures into amber.
Distinguishing between copal and amber is a contentious issue among amber experts because there is no method of quantifying the maturation level in relation to age. Carbon-14 and other means of dating resins are costly and only reveal part of the picture. Certain locales are known to produce either amber or copal of a known age range. Baltic ambers are known to be between 10 and 50 million years old, while the significant copal deposits in Colombia and South America are typically less than 1,000 years old.
The inclusions commonly found in amber include plant debris, small animals and a variety of prehistoric insects. These ancient creatures are predominantly extinct ancestors of today’s ants, flies, centipedes, crickets, millipedes, etc... These preserved life forms were trapped by fresh, sticky resin that oozed from coniferous trees millions of years ago. Preserved in the amber, the insects are visible in almost perfect condition, capturing the moment in history when they were trapped.
The best known variety of amber for manufacturing jewelry and decorative objects is Baltic amber. Baltic amber is also known as succinite, after its parent pinus succinifera, a common tree 50 million years ago. At present, the primary source of Baltic amber is the various deposits around the Russian port of Kaliningrad, it is located on the southern Baltic coast between Poland and Lithuania. It is sometimes called the Yantar Special Economic Zone (yantar is the Russian word for amber). Below 98 feet of sand around Kaliningrad there is a 30-foot alluvial layer of amber containing clay called “blue earth.” It is mined from the surface in open pits with dredging buckets. The blue earth is then washed and the amber picked out by hand.
Typically yellow, golden or brown, Baltic amber can be treated to red and green shades. Careful heat treatment can induce a spangled effect and also darken the surface. The color of amber is influenced by age and exposure to the atmosphere, light, and heat. Incredibly light, amber will float in saturated salt water and Baltic amber is sometimes transported long distances by the sea, having been found as far away as the beaches of England and Scotland. Important secondary sources include the Dominican Republic, Burma (Myanmar), and Mexico.
Since the Jurassic Park movies, interest in amber with insect and animal inclusions has exploded, making it highly collectible. In regard to the film Jurassic Park, the alleged source of the dinosaur DNA was Dominican amber. Dominican amber is thought to be about 25 million years too young to truly contain dinosaur DNA. However, other amber sources from around the world could potentially contain material from the dinosaur era.
Legend and Lore
In classical times, amber was used medicinally and was also believed to offer a magical light for the deceased as they progressed through the underworld. Given this association, amber was once believed to provide magicians and sorcerers with special powers.Other attributes associated with amber include love, strength, luck, healing, protection and the ability to calm stressed nerves.
Amber is a unique gem. In addition to its beauty, amber bequeaths humankind valuable scientific data through its ability to act as a window on the past. Its unique ability to preserve prehistoric life forms is valued by both gem collectors and scientists.