One of the earliest “gemstone” used by humans, ambers have fascinated mankind for thousands of years with their warm glow. However, one of the most fascinating trait of this organic gemstone is serving as a time capsule to the history of our planet.
Although not a stone, considered as one because how they resemble gemstones in jewelry. Ambers are fossilized tree resins from extinct conifers. Insects and plants can be trapped inside the fresh resin and locked in time. High temperatures and pressure from being encased under sediments and debris, transform the resin into copal – not fully fossilized – after thousands of years. After tens of thousands of additional years, fossilization is complete through the process of polymerization, resulting in amber.
Ambers have an amorphous structure, not a crystalline structure; giving amber stones a lower density than other gems. The low density allows amber gemstones to float in seawater, but not in freshwater. A useful property, as many amber gems are washed up on shore after a storm loosen them from seabeds, especially in the Baltic region. In addition, they are warm to the touch, since they do not conduct heat and have electrostatic properties.
As for color, ambers can come in various different colors, but the popular ones are warm colors that represent the sun. The most common, and classic, color is orange-yellow, which happens to be called amber. Colors can be various shades white, yellow, orange, brown, red, light black, blue, and green. Red tinted amber stones are sometimes called cognac or cherry amber. Green and blue colors are rare and highly valuable. Some rare ones have blue tinges cause by fluorescence.
Although found transparent to opaque, transparent with good luster is the common clarity. Not usually treated, clarity can be enhanced, however, with heated oil baths, which reduces the cloudiness.
Inclusions, like air bubbles, are very common, but unlike other gemstones, inclusions are welcome additions. In fact, depending on the inclusion, the value can drastically increase, especially after Jurassic Park. Intact insects and arachnids are prized by both scientists and collectors. Flowers and leaves can also be quite beautiful. Impurities of pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, sometimes changes the amber to a blue color.
In terms of cutting, most are cut into cabochons. They are rarely faceted, but are polished, however. Round, teardrop, and oval shapes are popular to preserve as much of the amber as possible.
With only a hardness of 2 to 2.5 Mohs, amber is more suited for earrings, brooches, pendants, and necklaces to avoid sharp hits and scratches. Bead necklaces are a popular option as well. Like any soft gems, care must be taken when wearing jewelries active body parts, like rings and bracelets.
Buyers should know that some stones are assembled together from smaller pieces with oil, heat, and pressure; called amberoid or pressed amber. Amberoids are usually disclosed to the buyer.
Imitations are common using resin and plastic, but they are quite easy to spot because these are too clean. Any inclusions with large creatures are too good to be true. Also, most green ambers are artificially created. Copal and kauri gum are sometimes pass as amber gems.
The baltic regions currently still produces the most ambers, especially Kaliningrad, Russia where they are found in clay. Baltic ambers are known for their golden-yellow color that are harder than other varieties. Dominican Republic, although not a leading producer, produces some of the most exciting ambers. In addition to producing the rare blue amber, Dominican Republic ambers are more likely to have specimen inclusions. Romania, Italy, China, Japan, Mexico, Myanmar, Canada, and United States of America produces these fossilized resins as well.