All About Amber - the gemstone that isn't.
Updated: May 30, 2021
Amber is a fascinating and popular gem, but whilst being a gem, it is anything but a gemstone. Here, you will find a list of some interesting facts about this wonderful material. To see all my amber earrings, you can click here or click any of the images.
1 – A gem, but not a stone.
Amber is not a stone, but an organic gem a bit like Pearls, Sea Bamboo or Jet. Amber is actually the fossilized resin of ancient long-gone trees. Resin is released by trees when they are damaged as a way to seal wounds and prevent infection. Amber is found in many places around the World, but the best Amber is found in the Baltic.
2 – It is old.
Most Amber we use was formed in ancient forests between 30 and 90 million years ago, but we have found specimens much older than that. The oldest piece of Amber discovered so far, is around 350 million years old and was discovered in a coal mine in Illinois.
3 – No new amber.
We have to make do with the Amber we have. The ancient species of tree which produced resin in great enough quantities to make Amber, no longer exist. So Mother Nature is not currently making any Amber to replace what we are using.
4 – It takes a long time.
Once a tree released enough resin to make a lump of Amber, the process of fossilization took between 1 and 10 million years. Also, the conditions for formation needed to be just right for the process to occur.
5 – Inclusions.
As resin oozed down the trunks of ancient trees, it occasionally trapped unfortunate creatures - mainly insects - entombing them and perfectly preserving them. Very rarely, it would trap other things such as amphibians and small reptiles; we even have a perfectly preserved feather from a Therapod dinosaur! This has enabled Scientists to gain a deeper understanding of ancient life. Tiny air bubbles trapped in Amber have enabled us to understand what the Earth’s atmosphere was like at the time the Amber was formed. The inclusion of creatures is rare though, only occurring in 1 out of 1000 pieces.
6 – DNA?
The blockbuster film, Jurassic Park, famously depicted a World in which scientists had successfully extracted dinosaur DNA from the bodies of bloodsucking insects trapped in Amber, enabling them to revive long lost species. Sadly, this has not proved to be possible so far, as the vast timescales mean that any DNA trapped in Amber has long since broken down completely. Some scientists, though, have not yet given up on the idea, so, who knows?
7 – A long fascination.
Our love of Amber has been a long affair. The earliest evidence that we were using Amber in the making of jewellery, dates from 11,000 BCE. It was also much loved by the Ancient Egyptians and we have discovered artefacts in Egyptian tombs dating to around 3200 BCE. The Egyptians associated Amber with the tears of the sun God, Ra.
8 – Shocking!
Around 2500 years ago, the Greek natural philosopher, Thales of Miletus, described how rubbing a piece of Amber could produce sparks and make the Amber attract things such as dust and hair. What Thales was observing, was static electricity. He named this force “electricity” after the Greek word for Amber which was “electron”
9 – It floats.
Amber is such a light material that it can float on water. Amber can be found washed up on the North Eastern coast of Great Britain, but it does not originate there. It actually starts out in the Baltic before making its way across the North Sea. Some eagle-eyed people go out looking for this Amber as a hobby. If you want to scour the beaches of Britain, you need to be sharp-eyed because, before it is polished, it looks rather dull, brown and ordinary and so it is easy to miss among all the other pebbles.
10 – So many colours.
Amber is usually thought of as simply being a lovely transparent “honey” colour. However, Amber can come in a wide range of colours which depends on the conditions in which it formed. Over 300 different colours of Amber have been identified so far. As well as being transparent, Amber can also be semi-transparent or even opaque.
11 – Easy to fake.
Amber has a very similar feel to plastic and has become very easy to fake. Some of the plastic versions look virtually indisguishable from genuine Amber. If you want the real deal, and don’t wish to pump more plastic into the World, there are a couple of good ways of telling if a piece of Amber is genuine.
The first way is to take a small, sharp blade and carefully scrape the Amber. If the material comes away in flakes it is probably made of a plastic resin. If, however, it produces a powder, then it is probably genuine Amber. If you are using this method, take care not to ruin your jewellery!
Another way to tell fake and genuine Amber apart, is to heat up a needle and stick it into a piece of the Amber. The difference in smell is obvious. Fake Amber will have the horrible smell of burning plastic, whilst the real Amber will still smell like tree resin - even after millions of years.
12 – Myths and beliefs about Amber.
Amber is not cheap and its cost per gram can be greater than that of gold! How expensive a piece of Amber is depends on a number of things such as its colour or transparency. It can so be much more expensive if it contains interesting inclusions. Today the most expensive Amber comes from the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Amber is mined in these regions by digging bell shaped pits which are both dangerous and risky which increase the price.eth in the past, which makes sense due the plastic nature of Amber. In the past, many people believed that Amber could provide protection against evil forces or witchcraft.
13 – Amber can be expensive.
Amber is not cheap and its cost per gram can be greater than that of gold! How expensive a piece of Amber is, depends on a number of things such as its colour or transparency. It can so be much more expensive if it contains interesting inclusions. Today, the most expensive Amber comes from the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Amber is mined in these regions by digging bell-shaped pits which are both dangerous and risky which increase the price.
14 – Caring for your Amber.
There are a few little tricks you can do to ensure your Amber jewellery remains in good condition:
Use a damp cloth to gently wipe your Amber jewellery clean, making sure that you dry it afterwards.
You can revive the shine of Amber by rubbing a little olive oil onto its surface.
Do not leave your Amber lying out in bright sunlight for any great length of time, as prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause your Amber to change its colour and grow darker.
Do not submerge your Amber in water for long periods, as there is a risk that it might absorb the water, weakening it.
15 – The Amber Room……. a mystery.
In 1701, work was started on the construction of an entire room made of Amber in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskaye in St Petersburg. On completion, it was so magnificent and sumptuous, it was described by many as being the eighth Wonder of the World. During the Second World War, the entire room was dismantled by German Nazi forces who showed it off for a while before it vanished completely. Many theories exist about where it might be, but none have lead to the rediscovery of this treasure. Other theories suggest that the room might have been blown up by a German bomb, or that is lying in a sunken German ship at the bottom of the sea.
In 1971, it was decided to reconstruct the Amber Room using photographic evidence to ensure it is as close to the original as possible. In spite of many stumbling blocks, and financial issues, the new room was eventually completed in 2003 and dedicated to Vladimir Putin.
Fortunaearrings is a handmade jewellery store featuring a wide range of unique earrings made of gemstones and sterling silver. As well as gemstone earrings which will appeal to the gemstone collector, you will also find a range of earrings made of Venetian glass lampworked at my Devon workshop. See my full handmade jewellery portfolio by clicking the shop link at the top of this page.