Amber Gemstone Guide: Clarity, Color and History
Posted on February 20 2021
The word amber makes us think of a yellow-golden color. But the name comes from a unique material that humans have used thru the years as amulets and jewelry. Originated from hardened tree resin, it encapsulates prehistoric species insects, plants, feathers.
We will find all there is to know about amber. From its composition to the uses and history that goes back to ancient civilizations. And a guide to find the right piece of jewelry.
Amber is an ancient organic gemstone formed from the resin of coniferous trees. Resin fossilizes, and it takes millions of years for it to harden. The stickiness of tree resin caught interesting species and adds value to amber.
One of the oldest amber pieces has over 300 million years old. Ancient civilizations used the stone found in burial sites. Vikings traded amber since the year 800. The Scandinavian region has been ever since a major source of this material.
Many years ago, amber had various purposes other than jewelry. Some civilizations thought it owned medicinal properties. They would make bead necklaces to help ease teething pain and burn amber near a newborn to help him grow strong.
Magical and metaphysical powers were also attributed to this old material. Amulets and small carved figures trace as far back as the Iron Age. Travelers and traders interchanged pieces of amber for its magical and medicinal value.
Pieces of amber are also found in burial sites. Many civilizations used it as a transition rite object. Healers would carry carved pieces for their rituals and travelers for protection. Midwives would burn it during birth to protect the new life.
Amber comes in many colors, and the most common is a distinctive tone of yellow and orange called amber. The origin of the stone can determine the color. For example, Blue Amber is found in the Dominican Republic.
- Yellow is the most common color, and it can range from brown to orange. 70% of the amber comes in this tone, and its source is the Baltic Sea.
- Red is rare and expensive. The color can be bright and rusty, even to a dark brown tone.
- Green is another rare color of this stone. The origin of the green tone comes from the presence of fresh flora.
- Blue is one of the rarest and most valuable. The blue effect comes from fluorescence that produces a bright blue color.
- Black is not precisely black but a dark tone of brown or red. The mix of soil and resin is the reason for this dark color.
A cabochon is the most common cut for amber. The natural shape of amber is often polished into a free form. Beads are common too. Round and oval shapes are popular for jewelry. The softness of amber makes it easy to cut.
Facets are not usual but possible. Since it is such a soft material, the best way to cut it is by accommodating the design to the piece's natural shape.
Usually, with gemstones, the lack of inclusions makes them more valuable. But for amber, inclusions increase their value. Clarity is important when a piece has a well-preserved inclusion. Cloudiness caused by trapped air is common.
Carat refers to the weight of a stone, and amber is a light stone. This characteristic makes it possible to create large pieces of jewelry. Compared to other stones, you will have a larger piece of amber for the same carat weight.
Treatments and enhancements.
Heat and dying treatments enhance amber's natural color and imitate more expensive tones. Air inclusions make amber less valuable. To solve it, jewelers boil amber pieces in oil to fill the tiny bubbles and remove inclusions.
Another common practice is applying a coat of black paste into a yellow piece of amber. By heating them together, they change the natural color into a tone of red or green.
Amber vs. Copal
Amber is often mistaken with copal. The main difference is that copal is a younger version of amber. Copal is resin with less than 30 million years in making, and it comes from the copal tree.
Since they are both similar, the only way to distinguish one from the other is by testing them. A fluorescence test with ultraviolet light will bring a whiter in copal. A destructive test is another alternative. Place a drop of acetone and let it sit for a couple of seconds, then clean it. Copal will present damage, while Amber will show no change in the surface.
This material had been around for many years in different forms. From tobacco pipes, umbrella handles, perfume, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. It was also used in medicine as a painkiller for teething babies. For ancient Germans, amber was more incense than a stone.
Amber has many different shapes, being beads and cabochon the most common. You will find beaded necklaces and bracelets, also larger faceted pieces. Colorful pieces create unique visual effects that provide contrast to each piece.
It is usually combined with silver to enhance the beautiful yellow tone. The bezel setting is the most common. Since amber is a fragile material, you should prefer a protective bezel to keep it safe while wearing it. Bezel also allows the creation of designs like butterflies or flowers.
Although it is not a popular choice for engagement rings, you can find many options. It would help if you preferred bezel designs.
Vintage designs are popular with amber since the original pieces had that style. It goes well with intricate metal bands. Multi-stone engagement rings are a great option. You can have a three-stone setting combining green, yellow, and brown, amber.
How to care for your amber stone jewelry.
The best way to preserve your amber stone is by taking care of it. Since amber is a soft material that rates only 2.5 on the Mohs scale, you must be aware that scratches are common.
Store your amber pieces separate from other materials, especially sharp ones. You can keep them in individual soft cloth bags to protect them from scratching. Since amber comes from resin, it is sensitive to abrasives. I recommend avoiding contact with acid, gasoline, alcohol, and other harsh chemicals.
High and low temperatures could crack the surface of your amber stone. Do not use ultrasonic cleaners; soft soap and water are more than enough to clean your stone. Also, keep in mind that soaking amber for long periods might damage the stone shine.
To enhance the brightness and shine of your amber stone, you can polish it with olive oil. Make sure you wipe off the excess to avoid damage. And finally, avoid taking showers with your amber jewelry on.
Is amber stone expensive?
It all depends on the specifics of the piece. A yellow or golden piece without inclusions can sell for a couple of dollars. In contrast, a piece of a rare color like blue or with a visible inclusion will sell for thousands of dollars.
Other valuable pieces are ancient carved sculptures. Most of them are part of museum collections and belong to the pre-roman era. Many pieces are small-scale replicas of larger sculptures.
Where to buy amber stone
Amber is a common stone; you can find it at many jewel stores. If you are looking for high quality or a specific characteristic, I recommend you look online. Ensure you are dealing with a professional seller since amber is easy to be mistaken for opal.
Amber is a unique material made from organic matter that has spent millions of years in the making. Its rareness lies in the fact that it encapsulates fossils and freezes them in time. The beauty of its color, and the accessibility to it make it a popular choice for jewelry.
The origin of amber makes it a soft material that is not recommended for active lifestyles. It preserves better in earrings and necklaces rather than rings and bracelets. But with the proper care, you can keep a beautiful ring for years.