MINERAL: Fossilized resin
COLOR: Yellow, orange, and brown
REFRACTIVE INDEX: 1.540
SPECIFIC GRAVITY: 1.08
MOHS HARDNESS:2.0 to 2.5
Myanmar, Russia, Poland, Dominican Republic, Mexico.
Amber is nature’s time capsule. This fossilized tree resin contains remnants of life on earth millions of years ago.
Amber is an organic gem. Organic gems are the products of living or once-living organisms and biological processes. Amber formed tens of millions of years ago, when sap from ancient trees hardened and fossilized.
Scientists and collectors treasure amber that contains suspended animal or plant fragments. These fossilized bits of once-living things were trapped in the hardening amber, creating a fascinating time capsule.
Some types of amber are found in the ground. Other types have been freed and carried by tides, ending up on beaches or near-shore areas. The Baltic coast bordering Germany, Poland, and Russia is still an important source of amber.
Amber is sometimes called “gold of the North.” Its warm luster is featured in beads, carvings, pendants, and cabochons, as well as decorative items like cups, bowls, snuff boxes, and umbrella handles.
A related material, called copal, is also fossilized tree resin, but it’s far younger than amber, at less than a million years old.
Amber is probably best known for its insect and other types of inclusions. Millions of years ago, when amber oozed from countless plants, the substance acted as a sticky trap for ants, bees, termites, and other insects. Flower parts, leaves, and pine needles are also typical amber inclusions, along with gas bubbles.
Amber containing larger animals like scorpions, snails, frogs, and lizards can be very valuable—especially if the animal “inclusions” are preserved intact.
Insects embedded in amber formed the basis of the movie “Jurassic Park.” The story centered around the cloning of dinosaurs from DNA found in dinosaur blood sucked up by prehistoric mosquitoes that were subsequently preserved in amber. The movie generated great interest in the gem.
AMBER QUALITY FACTORS
Amber comes in more colors than “amber.” Rare pieces can even be blue or green.
Amber with insect or plant inclusions is much more valuable than amber with none.
Most amber is polished in free-form shapes, cabochons or beads. Amber is surprisingly light: in fact, it will float in a saturated salt solution.
Baltic amber is generally more expensive than Dominican amber. Pieces containing insect or plant inclusions fetch higher prices than clean pieces without such inclusions. For example, amber cabochons with no insect inclusions cost only a few dollars per piece, while pieces with easily seen or complete insect or plant specimens might sell for thousands of dollars.
Transparent amber is more valuable than cloudy material. An interesting plant or animal inclusion adds to the value of an amber specimen.
Treatment by careful heating in rapeseed (canola) oil can clarify cloudy amber somewhat. The resulting amber sometimes exhibits crack-like circular marks called sun spangles.
Amber is commonly polished into a free-form shape that follows the original shape of the rough. It might then be set into jewelry or drilled for stringing. Cutting styles for amber include beads, cabochons, and free- form polished pieces. Amber might be faceted, but this is rare.
Although consumers are most familiar with yellow and golden amber, the gem can be white, yellow, and orange to reddish brown. Reddish amber is more valuable than golden amber, which is more valuable than yellow amber. Rarely, strong fluorescence can give amber a bluish or greenish appearance, which when attractive can be highly valuable. Oxidation might cause the material to change color over time.
Cutting and polishing amber for jewelry makes it more susceptible to oxidation by removing or thinning the harder exterior surface. Fine translucent yellow or orange amber can gradually darken to reddish brown and eventually black.
The color of amber can be modified by heat treatment and dyeing.
Size and Weight
Amber has a lower relative density than salt water so it can feel very light, even in large sizes. This makes it possible to use fairly large sizes in amber jewelry.