Friday, May 25, 2012

Gemstone Feature: Amber

What is it?
Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap) and technically not a gemstone but referred to as such (1)  Amber was first used as an ingredient in perfumes, then as a healing agent in folk medicine, and finally in jewelry. Originating as a soft and sticky resin, it can sometimes contain animal and plant material as inclusions. Amber occurring in coal seams is called resinite, and the term ambrite is applied to that found specifically within New Zealand coal seams.(2)

The English word amber derives from the Arabic anbar,  meaning “perfume. Amber from the Baltic Sea has been extensively traded since antiquity, and in the mainland, the natives called it glaes (referring to its see-through quality similar to glass.)(3)

Amber colors not only include the usual yellow-orange-brown that is associated with the color "amber", but can range from a whitish color through a pale lemon yellow, to brown and almost black. Other more uncommon colors include red amber (known as "cherry amber"), green amber, and blue amber, which is rare.  Much of the most highly-prized amber is transparent, in contrast to the very common cloudy or opaque amber. Opaque amber contains numerous minute bubbles. This kind of amber is known as "bony amber."
Tri-Color Amber & Pearl NP Clip Earrings

“Molecular polymerization(molecule is the smallest particle of a pure chemical substance retaining it chemical composition and properties while a  polymer is a long, repeating chain of atoms) resulting from high pressures and temperatures produced by overlying sediment, transforms the resin first into copal. (Copal is a name given to tree resin that is particularly identified with the aromatic resins.)  Sustained heat and pressure drives off terpenes (Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers) and results in the
formation of amber.(4) 

The overall chemical and structural composition is used to divide ambers into five classes, and Baltic amber is subclassified further. Best Field Indicators are color, density, toughness, softness and trapped insects. (5)(6)

If one wants to find out if their amber is natural or man made, the flotation test is recommended. Make a saturated solution of regular table salt and water and place the piece of amber in this mixture. If it floats, it is amber. If it sinks it is man made (some natural copals will also sink and you would need to make more scientific tests to make a determination).

Historically, the coast around Königsberg in Prussia was the world's leading source of amber.  About 90% of the world's extractable amber is still located in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia on the Baltic Sea (which was previously Königsberg in Prussia, before World War II.)(7)

Filigree Teardrop  & Amber NP Clip Earrings

Pieces of amber torn from the seafloor are cast up by the waves, and collected by hand, dredging, or diving. Elsewhere, amber is mined, both in open works and underground galleries.  Dominican amber, especially Dominican blue amber, is mined through bell-pitting (a primitive method of mining coal), which is dangerous due to the risk of tunnel collapse.(8)

Notable occurrences beyond all Baltic countries include Venezuela; Russia; Romania; Burma; in coal seams in Wyoming, USA, and the Dominican Republic.

Stone Age Findings
Amber ornaments have been found in Mycenaean tombs (dating 13,000 years ago) and elsewhere across Europe.(9) Baltic amber also in cupola tombs of Mycenaean culture built on Crete Island were found during 1600-800 BC.(10)
Tri-Color Amber Chandelier  NP Clip Earrings

Mystical Meaning & Healing Properties
Beginning during the Stone Age and continuing throughout history, many cultures attributed special meanings and mystical properties to amber. Greek and Roman poets described amber as sun-dried tears or drops of the sun that spill into the ocean, and they are washed onto the beach. Beyond their poetic descriptions of its beauty, the Greeks wrote of amber's electrical characteristic. When rubbed with cloth, amber becomes electrically charged and attracts particulates.

Other uses include amber teething rings for babies because the stone is said to be a natural pain reliever. Said to absorb any negative energies, it is credited with restoring positive balance. Since amber is believed by some to carry the force of life, people who feel lethargic can wear it to restore their energy. If you're suffering anxiety or depression, amber is attributed to comforting people, and if you feel a little like the stiff tin man in the Wizard of Oz, problems like arthritis in the hand are relieved by wearing amber bracelets.(11) has an eighteen different styles of amber non-pierced earrings which can be found by clicking this link Gemstones& Pearls - Amber Clip On Earrings. You can also do an Advanced Search and type in the word "amber."

Works Cited
(1-7: "Amber",, 05/25/12).
1.  Grimaldi, D. (2009). "Pushing Back Amber Production". Science 326 (5949): 51–2. Bibcode 2009Sci, p. 326.
2.  Poinar GO, Poinar R. "The Quest for Life in Amber", Basic Books, 1995, p. 133.
3.  Harper, Douglas. "Amber". Online Etymology Dictionary,, May 25, 2012.
4.  Rice, Patty C. (2006). "Amber: Golden Gem of the Ages". 4th Ed.. AuthorHouse.
5.  Jacobson, Douglas, 1997, TED Case Studies, “Amber Trade and the Environment in the Kaliningrad Oblast”, Case Number 451.
6.  Wilfred Wichard and Wolfgang Weitschat: "Im Bernsteinwald", Gerstenberg Verlag, Hildesheim, 2004.
7.  Anderson, K; Winans, R; Botto, R, "The Nature and Fate of Natural Resins in the Geosphere—II", 1992, "Identification, Classification and Nomenclature of Resinites", Organic Geochemistry 18 (6): 829–841. 

8.  "Mycenae Tombs",, n.p. 05/25/12.
9.  "Amber Routes",, n.p. 05/25/12.
10. "Amber",, 1995, Amethyst Galleries, Inc., 05/25/12.

11. Titus, Christa, "Amber Stone Healing" and "What Is the Meaning of the Amber Stone?", n.p., 05/25/12.