Amber Gemstone Information
About Amber - History and Introduction
Amber is a gemstone formed through the fossilization of tree resin. Amber resin is not the same as typical tree sap. It is sourced specifically from the Pinus succinifera tree. The fossilization of amber can be traced back to the Tertiary period, meaning that amber stones formed approximately 50 million years ago. Since amber is formed from soft and sticky resin, amber often contains animal and plant inclusions; mostly mosquitoes and other insect species. Amber that developed in coal seams is often called 'resinite', and specimens sourced specifically from New Zealand coal seams are referred to as 'ambrite'. Amber is one of the few varieties of organic gemstones. The most common varieties of organic gems include amber, pearl, coral and ivory.
The word 'amber' was derived from the Middle Persian word 'ambar'. It was originally used to describe a hardened waxy substance found within the intestines of sperm whales called ambergris. Ambergris is used in the production of fragrances because it has a very appealing aromatic smell. During the 14th century, the use of the term amber shifted from reference to ambergris to the gemstone. Amber and ambergris were often confused with one another because both can be found washed up on beach shores. The two are easily distinguished by density. Ambergris has a much lower density and floats in freshwater. Amber gemstones do not float in freshwater, but float in saltwater.
The formation process of amber begins with transformation of resin to copal. The transformation is triggered by high temperatures and pressure of overlying resinous sediments. The exposure to heat and pressure repels terpenes, which can cause deterioration and decay. Through time and resistance, the resin eventually hardens and becomes fossilized into amber. Many trees produce resin, but most will not actually produce amber. The tree resin must be very resilient and resistant to decay. The majority of resin deposits cannot handle prolonged exposure to sunlight, rain and extreme temperatures.
Unlike most other colored stones, amber has an amorphous rather than crystalline structure. Amber has a very low specific gravity, which means that it is exceptionally light. Amber's low density allows it to float in salt water. Amber is difficult to imitate because of its extremely low density. By way of comparison, the total size of a 5 carat amber gemstone is 2.5 times the size of a 5 carat zircon (one of the denser gem types).
The leading source for amber gems is just west of Kaliningrad, Russia. The amber from this region is found in clay about 30 meters below the surface. The second largest source for amber is the Baltic region. Baltic amber originates from the seabed and is often found washed ashore. Baltic amber is known for its fine golden colors.
The Dominican Republic is known to have rare blue colored amber. Amber from the Dominican Republic is considerably younger than other amber varieties. Italy, Romania, China, Japan, Burma (Myanmar), Mexico, Canada and the United States are also known to have amber deposits.
Buying Amber and Determining Amber Gemstone Value Back to Top
Amber Color and Hue
Amber occurs in a range of different colors, but it is mostly yellow, orange or brown. Golden-yellow amber is usually hard, translucent resin from evergreen pine trees. Amber can also occur whitish to pale lemon-yellow and brown to nearly black. The Dominican Republic is known to produce rare blue amber. There is also rare green and red colored amber. Red amber is sometimes referred to as "cherry amber".
Amber Clarity and Luster
Amber clarity ranges from transparent to opaque and it has a resinous luster. Most amber specimens have pockets of air bubbles and various other inclusions. Pyrite impurities can sometimes give amber a bluish color. Many amber varieties have a very cloudy clarity caused by numerous minute bubbles; these stones are known as 'bony amber'.
Amber with clear transparency is more desirable than cloudy specimens. The most valuable amber stones are those that contain insects, plants or pyrite inclusions.
Amber Cut and Shape
Amber is almost always cut en cabochon. Amber is very rarely faceted. In the past, amber was most often used for ornamental designs. Amber is very easy to cut because it is so soft. Like most gem types, lapidaries try to preserve as much of the gem as possible during cutting, so many amber stones will be finished with drop-like nodular shapes. Round and oval amber stones are very popular; other fancy shapes such as stars, hexagons, pentagons, trillions and heart shapes are also readily available.
Amber is not usually treated, but some amber stones have been assembled from two or more smaller stones. The smaller stones are united by smearing surfaces with oil, heat and pressure. Gemstone suppliers should always disclose this enhancement; this type of stone is sometimes referred to as "amberoid" or "pressed amber". Amber can sometimes be clarity enhanced by an oil-bath. Amber stones can be imitated using other resins such as copal or kauri gum. Baltic amber is sometimes artificially enhanced to create brighter colors.
||Yellow, brown, orange, red and others
||2 - 2.5 on the Mohs scale
||1.539 - 1.545
||1.05 - 1.09 (approximate)
||Transparent to opaque
|Double Refraction / Birefringence:
||Bluish white - yellow green
Amber Gemstone Varieties or other Similar Gemstones: Back to Top
There are many varieties of amber and most are grouped by origin or color. Amber from the Dominican Republic can sometimes occur in a rare blue and be fluorescent. This variety is considered to be the rarest amber and turns blue under natural and ultraviolet light sources. Under long-wave UV lighting, it has a very strong and near-white reflection. Approximately 100 kilograms of blue Dominican Republic amber is sourced per year, making it extremely valuable. There are a few similar organic gemstones by way of composition including jet, pearl, coral and ivory.
Most Popular Amber Varieties:
Baltic amber, bony amber and Dominican amber are the most common amber varieties.
Lesser Known Amber Varieties:
Blue Dominican amber, resinite, ambrite, amberoid and pressed amber are some of the lesser-known amber varieties.
Amber Gemstone Mythology, Metaphysical and Healing Powers
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Amber has been used for many generations as a medicinal gem, from the Middle Ages up until the early 20th century. Although it is an amorphous gem, it is still used for its crystal healing abilities. Since the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, amber and its resinous extracts have been used to cure and alleviate a variety of health ailments.
Amber was one of the first stones used in amulets throughout Asia. Amber is said to carry a 'sunny' energy, likely due to its natural golden color, and it is used to eliminate negative energy. Sunny dispositions and positive outlooks are enhanced by wearing amber stones. Amber gemstones are known to cheer up those who wear them. Amber is believed to be able to draw sickness away from the body and to eliminate negativity from emotional energy.
Disclaimer: Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers and Properties are not to be taken as confirmed advice. Should you have any medical conditions, please see a licensed practitioner. This information is not to replace the advice of your doctor. GemSelect does not guarantee any claims or statements made and cannot be held liable under any circumstances.
Amber has been used in jewelry since prehistoric times. Amber is believed to have been one of the first types of gems used in amulet jewelry. Amber ornaments have been found in ancient Mycenaean tombs, as well as other areas where ancient civilizations prospered across Europe. Still to this day, amber is popular and is used for ornamental designs such as glassblowing pieces.
Although amber is one of the softest gem types available, it is still frequently worn as jewelry. It is not recommended for wearing in cabochon ring designs, but with care, many people do use it for rings. Amber gemstones are best used for earrings, brooches, and pendants, but if properly taken care of, amber can be worn in a variety of different jewelry designs.
Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.
Amber Gemstone and Jewelry Care and Cleaning Back to Top
Amber is a fairly soft gem type, with a hardness rating of only 2 - 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. Although it endured millions of years of intense heat, pressure and weathering, amber is still very sensitive to acid, gasoline, caustic solutions, alcohol and perfume. Amber can easily burn and release a smoky incense-like odor. Amber should only be wiped using a soft cloth.
Ultrasonic cleaners should never be used to clean amber stones or amber jewelry. Soaking amber stones for extended periods of time is not recommended; prolonged exposure to water can ruin the polish. Amber can be easily scratched by other jewelry, especially pin stems, facet edges and jewelry edges. Protect amber stones by wrapping them in a soft cloth and always store amber separately from other gems and jewelry.