Natural Amber Gemstone | Amber Color | Amber Care and History
Origins and General Information of Amber Gemstone
Used by man even before the ice age, natural amber gemstone can be categorized as an organic gem material of vegetable origin. Amber is not a mineral, but time-hardened fossilized resin of the species of pine called Pinus Succinisera. These trees grew in forests around 45 million years ago, in the European main land known to us as the Baltic region today!
The early Germans called this Baltic amber by the name of Bernstein, due to the sweet smell it emitted when burnt. The Greeks called it Elektron due to its properties of developing static electricity when rubbed. Amber is known as Kerba in the local markets in India.
History of amber Gemstone
Amber gemstone was used by Palaeoliyhic man in Austria from 45000 -12000 B.C. The nomadic hunters of the Nesolithic age (12000-4000 B.C.) used amber to hunt animals. They carved phases of the moon, hunting seasons and the animals that they hunted on amber.
The Neolithic man (4000-1900 B.C.) started using amber as decorative articles and jewels. The rich people of these societies usually owned amber jewelry and used to gift it to their friends and relatives.
Later, towards the end of the eighth century B.C. the Greeks started using amber for inlay work in gold and ivory. Romans found use for amber only in the first century B.C to first century A.D, where they made rings and vessels out of amber.
Amber gemstone was believed to possess magical power, since it was warm to touch, light weight, produced static electricity when rubbed and smelled sweet when heated. Wearing amber as an amulet was highly recommended to safeguard the wearer from evil and from negative energy.
Composition Of Amber Gemstone
Amber is a hydrocarbon (C10 H 16 O). It is a complex mixture of several resinous bodies, succinic acid, volatile oil and also contains some amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Its specific gravity is 1.08 and refractive index is 1.54. It`s hardness on Mohs scale is 2 to 2.5, and is sectile (i.e it can be sliced or shaved). The Burmese amber is said to be hardest and the Dominican, the softest.
Physical Properties Of Amber Gemstone
The color of amber fossil varies from yellow to dark brown to almost black. Very rarely this gem may be found in green and blue-gray colors and hence green amber can be very rare. In addition, it is dyed in many colors like green, blue, pink etc. The color of this gem denotes the area from where it has originated. Baltic amber is yellow, Sicilian is reddish yellow, Rumanian is brown and Burmese is yellow to reddish-brown.
Amber gemstone is usually cut as beads and cabochons. Many times it is just polished and used in its crude rough shape. Opaque gems of big sizes are mostly used in carvings. Gems with inclusions are mainly fashioned as cabochons. Amber beads are popular choice for use in necklaces and bracelets.
Amber gemstone is usually sold by piece and not by weight.
Inclusions in amber gemstone actually serve to increase its value. Its transparency may vary from transparent to semi-translucent to opaque.
During the process of fossilization, a variety of flora and fauna tend to remain trapped in the amber resin and eventually become an integral part of the final gem i.e. amber. Over the centuries fauna like larvae, caterpillars, bees, flies, butter flies, spiders and even land snails have been discovered in amber.
Flora like wood fragments, leaves, flowers, other plant parts and ferns are also found in the gem. The more unique the fossils in amber, the higher its value. Other trapped flora and fauna, dust, small pyrite crystals and other minerals may also be found in this gemstone.
Pricing and Buying of Amber Gemstone
The price of amber gemstone, to a large extent, depends on the life form that is preserving in it. Amber pieces with intact insects, plants flowers etc are considered very valuable and are highly priced. An amber necklace with insect trapped inside it, such as a dragonfly amber stone, will have high demand in the market.
Also the period from which amber comes can makes a significant difference in its price. The older the stone, the higher is its price. Pieces with unusual flora and fauna are a collector’s item. Fossils in amber always increase its value and beauty. An amber pendant with inclusion is guaranteed to get a good price in the market.
An interesting piece of news about a piece of Dominican amber with inclusion is that recently, such a Dominican amber piece with a large lizard trapped inside it was sold for US$ 75000. Good pieces of wholesale amber beads can also be bought for as low as US$ 15. A carved amber ring is also very highly priced in the market.
In fact, the amount of history associated with such a rare amber ring would only serve to increase its market value. Similarly, antique amber jewelry or a genuine amber insect pendant is very highly valued in the market.
Markets and Producers
Gem quality amber gemstone is mainly found in the Baltic Sea region. The other regions where amber is found include Myanmar (Burma), Dominican Republic, Germany, Rumania, Sicily, North America, Russia and Malaysia.
Some of the popular jewelry is comprised of Celtic amber jewelry and blue amber jewelry. However, a honey colored amber ring is always sought after by many buyers – especially if it is a carved amber ring. Amber stone rings and amber mala are also very popular.
Due to the history of amber gemstone in the Baltic region, Baltic amber jewelry is very highly prized. Baltic amber jewelry like necklaces, pendents made out of amber beads fetch a good price in the market. There are many markets where wholesale Baltic amber jewelry is traded and sold worldwide.
Amber jewelry is usually made using silver, rather than gold because it gives the stone a very unique look. Small and large stones are fashioned into silver pendants and sold all over the world. The markets are full of various kinds of jewelry items such as amber earrings, amber bracelets, amber bead necklaces, and even amber stud earrings. A small piece of amber stone can be fashioned into a delicate silver wire wrap amber pendant. Depending on the design and the color, a number of great looking custom jewelry items can be created out of amber stones. These can make for wonderful gift items.
Taking Care of Amber Gemstone
Great care must be exercised while cleaning amber jewelry. It is essential that you do not wash the stone with hot or boiling water or keep it in a place where it can be exposed to high temperatures. Amber jewelry care also includes making sure that the stone is not exposed to acids or chemicals because this will cause the stone to deteriorate.
Treatments done on Amber Gemstone
There are many treatments that are usually carried out on amber gemstone like dyeing, heating, surface coating and amber reconstruction. Dyeing is done on the gem to give it an aged look, heating is done to increase the inclusions and enhance the color and surface coating is done to remove any blemishes or damages on the surface.
Small rejected pieces of amber are reconstructed by pressing them together with linseed oil at high pressure and temperature. This process is called amber reconstruction. The gem material obtained from amber reconstruction is called ambroid.
There are frequent attempt made in the market to sell amber simulants as natural amber gemstone. Simulants of amber include ambroid, copal resin, kauri gum, dammar, celluloid and plastic.
Copal resin is a fairly new type of resin obtained from a tree and sometimes even may be found in fossilized form. Dammar is another type of resin from Agathis dammara tree and is many times used for making varnishes. Kauri gum is the most recent resin obtained from the kauri pine tree and is mainly found in New Zealand.
Identification of Amber from its Imitation
Natural Amber gemstone is easily distinguished from its plastic imitations. Natural Amber gemstone floats in saturated salt solution but plastics sink, as it has a very low specific gravity - near 1.08. Also if heated or a contact with hot point, plastics give off an acrid odour, in contrast to the resinous smell of amber.
An amber imitation called amberdan (and sometimes as cultured amber) has properties fairly near natural amber. Its refractive index is about 1.56 (natural amber is 1.54) and its specific gravity is 1.23, also well above that of natural amber. The hot point gives an odor at once reminiscent of plastic and amber, suggesting a natural resin with a plastic binder.
Natural Amber gemstone is readily distinguished from more recent resins by the simple test. If it is dipped in ether and left for a few minutes, it is unaffected. While the recent resins soften.
Unlike natural amber gemstone, pressed amber is made by mixing bits of amber with linseed oil and compressing it. It is also softened by ether and has elongated bubbles and distinct flow structure. The bubbles in natural amber are spherical.
Interesting Trivia and other Amber Facts
One of the critical scenes of the famous movie Jurassic Park was of on an insect found inside a piece of antural amber gemstone. After this amber gemtone became very famous and was found everywhere. Amber is the birthstone for people born under the star sign Taurus.
The amber encountered in jewelry is usually Baltic, which is normally lighter in color than Sicilian, Rumanian, or Burmese amber gemstone.
2) Gemmology by Peter G.Read
3) Handbook of Gem Identification - Richard T.Liddicoat, jr
4) Gems and Crystals - From the American Museum of Natural History - Anna S.Sofianides and George E.Harlow.