Amber is an organic gemstone formed from fossilized tree resin, specifically some kinds of pine tree. It takes millions of years for Amber to form and genuine Amber found on the market is typically about 50 million years old. Since Amber comes from an organic source, it is obviously not really a mineral but is still considered to be a gemstone. Due to the way its formed, it’s not uncommon to find Amber specimens with insects from millions of years ago trapped inside the material – the most famous example of this is the fictional piece of Amber from Jurassic Park which contained a mosquito inside of it.
Etymology & Sources
The term amber is comes from the old Persian word ‘Anbar’, which was the word used for the substance now known as ambergris. Ambergris is the aromatic substance that comes from Sperm Whales that is often used as an ingredient in perfumes, though the connection between the two materials is not entirely clear, possibly because they can both sometimes be found on beaches. Amber was known as ‘electrum’ in Ancient Greece, and was often said to be connected to the sun due to its color. The major sources for Amber in the modern day are Russia and the Baltic region, and the Dominican Republic is known for being the major source of the rare blue variety of Amber. There are also smaller deposits of Amber found in many other countries.
Amber is typically ranges from yellow to brown in color, and these are the shades most often associated with the organic gemstone, but in fact blue, red, and even green Amber can also be found, although they are much less common. Amber can range from transparent to almost opaque, but transparent stones are quite rare and are much more valuable than the typical cloudier specimens. Amber also occasionally can be found with living things like insects or plant remains trapped within them – these are the most valuable of Amber and are highly prized. Amber has a resinous luster and most Amber is quite cloudy due to trapped air bubbles within them.
Amber is extremely soft, reaching only 2.5 on the Mohs scale. It also has low density of about 1.05-1.10, and has a refractive index of 1.540-1.545.
Amber is rarely cut into the standard gemstone shapes and is much more often found in cabochon or bead form. Teardrops and other oval shapes are also relatively popular. Due to its high softness, Amber should not be worn in rings, bracelets, or other items that will experience a high amount of wear and tear. As such, Amber is much more commonly found in necklaces or earrings, which are much less likely to come into contact with harder materials and get scratched or damaged.
Amberoid – Larger Amber gemstone fused from smaller pieces of the material via heating and oils. Also known as Pressed Amber
Baltic Amber – Amber found in and around the Baltic region. This is a large source of Amber, and it is even occasionally found washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Blue Amber – Rare blue form of Amber sourced from the Dominican Republic
Bony Amber – Translucent and cloudy form of Amber caused by many small air pockets within the material
Amber is not typically treated, but sometimes smaller pieces of the material are fused together to form Amberoid/Pressed Amber. Occasionally, oils or other lubricants are used to improve the luster of the material.