"Thousands of years ago people were fascinated by the extraordinary, inexplicable properties of the golden pebbles found on beaches and in coastal forests. The stone burnt when cast into the fire, exuding a pleasant resinous smell and aromatic smoke, and, when rubbed, attracted various small light items towards itself as if by magic.
The stone interior would often hide small undamaged plants and insects, which must also have found their way inside by magic. That sufficed to arouse the curiosity of primitive man, with admiration & respect for this unusual gem. It is no wonder man started attributing magical powers to amber."
--excerpt from The Great Book of Amber by Elzbieta Mierzwinska
Quick Facts About Amber
What Is Amber?
Formed over 45 million years ago, Baltic amber is an organic substance, a “fossil resin” produced by pine trees which grew in Northern Europe - from southern regions of the present day Scandinavia and nearby regions of the bed of the Baltic Sea. The climate became warmer and trees started to exude big amounts of resin. Scientists say that amber is a fossil pine resin from this region that has achieved a stable state through oxidation.
Where Does Amber Come From?
The largest (and probably the most famous) deposits of amber are found in the Baltic region. In fact, these deposits represent approximately 80% of the world’s known amber. Natural Baltic amber can be scientifically dated between 35 and 45 million years old - No wonder it is one of the most precious substances in the world! And it certainly one of the most treasured gems, fashioned and refashioned into countless items in countless ways from amulets to jewelry to household items to great walls of artwork. The magic and mystery of amber lives on.
The History of Amber - Amber Defined
Baltic amber can be defined, in the simplest way, as a fossil resin from coniferous trees containing succinic acid. It is the succinate, which gives Baltic amber its pride of place among all other fossil resins. Other fossil resins, of which about 100 have been identified, either do not contain this acid at all or contain less than three per cent. Of course, some of them can also be worked like amber.
In nature, amber is found in natural, defined drip forms, similar to stalactites, drops, or as fillings in the crevices of the once richly resinous trees. Internal natural casts of amber are very revealing forms of fossils — the proof of the existence of trees of unbelievable size. There are pieces of amber weighing as little as 2 to 3 kg, while the biggest known lump weighs 9.75 kilos. Amber which was carried a long way, or was ground by the action of moving water, can be found in boulders or grains which are rounded to different degrees.
The rich history of the amber — from the time it is a fluid resin flowing from the trees until the time it is found on the beach — contributes to the exceptional beauty of the Polish Baltic amber. In comparison with the amber mined from the Sambian mines, which lies below sea-level for 40 million years in the conserving environment of the "blue earth," it is definitely more beautiful. The natural weathering enriches the beauty of the amber.
Natural and Rare Baltic Amber Colors
One of the most fascinating aspects of Baltic amber (second to insect, flora, and fauna inclusions) is its wide color spectrum. Most buyers are surprised when they see a display of Baltic amber jewelry from Poland and discover that the gem naturally occurs in 250 colors. WOW! This spectrum in amber jewelry complements almost any color of clothing.
Descriptive terms to name the colors of amber came from the antique trade. Picturesque names such as "goose fat," "egg yolk," and "cherry" were based on transparency and color. Other descriptive words include: "banana," "ivory," "milky," "lemon," "sunny," "custard," "honey," "cognac," "molasses," "greenish," "orange," "brown," and "black." The rarest colors of natural amber are blue, green, white, and "kumst" (sauerkraut color). Jewelers in the Polish amber industry have over 200 names for their national gem.
What determines the natural color of Baltic amber? The two factors are:
1.The microscopic bubble inclusions of gas within the gemstone.
2.The tree source.
The gas bubbles vary in size and quantity within each piece. In the space between these bubbles, the resin is clear. The bubble inclusions actually interfere with the passage of light through the amber. This interference results in the dilution and variations in color and turbidity (opaqueness). Studies have shown that a comparison between the colors of fossil resin and recent resin suggests that certain colors come from certain tree sources.
Brilliant Green Baltic Amber On Today's Market
At jewelry and gift shows throughout the country today, you will often see brilliant green amber gems set in sterling silver. This is Baltic amber, but it has been heat enhanced. As with most gems, there are enhancement techniques to enliven and brighten the stone. Remember, the natural green amber is rare and would not be so bright with inclusions and "sun spangles." Currently, jewelers are applying a dark paste (almost like a paint) to the backs of the amber gems. They then heat the amber in an autoclave to clarify it and cause the fractured discs. The illusion of the dark paste through the honey-colored gem causes the beholder's perception of green amber. Another heating method is used to create the cherry color of amber. The heated amber is still considered gem quality. Milky, creamy, and lemon amber are examples of natural colors which have not been heated—obviously, you don't see the "sun spangles."
Whatever amber color is your favorite—enjoy its special qualities because no two pieces are exactly alike!
What Amber Jewelry To Buy?
First time buyer? Keep it simple! Select a amber necklace or a amber bracelet and choose from the many colors beautifully captured in amber. Purchase your natural Baltic Amber (and most importantly make certain you are buying the real deal) and then you can get comfortable with the beauty of what you own first. Should you decide to expand your collection over time, again be certain to enhance your treasure trove with only genuine Baltic Amber as the value will grow and be retained.
Here is a list of some of the names for amber (amber, being an English word):
A-Shih-Mo-Chieh-P'o : China
Ambrosia: Modern Greece
Elektron: Ancient Greece
Yantar: Russia, Bielorus
Barnsten : Yiddish
Berenikis : Greece
Ching Peh: Thai
Borostyan: Hungary, Ukraine
Nka Pa: Africa (Ashanti)
Poh She:: Tibet, Korea
Wo Kuoh: China, Korea
Tun Mou: China, Vietnam
Sot : Armenian
Shih Chien: China
Care of amber
Amber is a delicate and gentle stone and must be treated with respect and taken good care of. There are certain rules that you have to follow to keep your amber jewelry in a perfect condition.
10 Golden Rules to take care of amber !
- Never leave your amber under direct sunlight.
- Keep your jewelry away from too much hot or cold temperature.
- Always apply your perfume and hairspray before wearing the jewelry.
- Never wash dishes or do laundry with your jewelry on.
- Do not cook or clean your house with household cleansers while wearing an amber product.
- Store your amber in a separate jewelry casket and protect it from getting in touch with other materials.
- Clean your jewelry every time you wear it.
- Ultrasonic or steam cleaner isn’t suitable for cleaning amber.
- Always clean your amber jewelry with a mild solution of soapy and slightly warm water and use a flannel cloth.
- Polish and make it shiny with olive oil and a soft cloth.
Test of Amber
There are several tests that will help you to distinguish between real and fake amber. These tests must be done in case of emergency only because it is rather easy to determine the difference between them visually.
Put some drops of alcohol on the surface of the stone and wait till it evaporates. If the surface doesn’t become sticky and alcohol evaporates easily without leaving any spots on it, then you can be sure, the amber is real. If the surface sticks to your fingers and you see your fingerprints left on it, then this amber is definitely fake
The next test must be done very carefully, because there is a chance you can spoil the amber. Take a pin or a needle and carefully scratch the stone. If the amber is real it will be scratched, if not it will remain undamaged.
The following test is rather difficult and needs the right sense of smell. Heat, then slightly cool down a tip of a needle and press it against the stone. It will produce a puff of smoke, the smell of which will help to estimate the validity of the amber. The real amber smells like smudge, the fake one, on the contrary, has a sweet and pleasant smell.
Fill a medium size pot with water, add seven teaspoons of salt, let it dissolve in the water and stir every 30 minutes for several time. As the salt solution has a high gravity, the real amber stone will immediately come out and start floating on the surface of the water, while the fake one will go down and begin sinking.