Amber has fascinated humans for thousands of years. As sticky resin oozed from ancient pine trees, small objects such as insects and plant material became entrapped in the path of the flow. Over time, the resin was solidified through a process of heat and pressure to become amber. At least 214 plant species have been identified through morphological analysis of amber. This is why amber has been called a “window to the past.”
Hardness: Amber is very soft and is ranks between 2.5-3 on the Mohs scale of hardness.
Color: Amber can range in color from dark brown to a light, almost clear, lemon yellow. Most amber is translucent, but some is transparent. Less common colors include the highly sought after red amber, green amber, and blue amber.
Birthstone: The gemstone Amber is one of the birthstones for the Sun Sign of Taurus.
Scarcity: Amber is fairly common but high quality amber is scarce. From the greatest to least commonly occurring colors, are yellow, black, green, white, red, and blue.
Value: Amber increases in value with the rarity and perfection of the object trapped inside. Complete insect specimens are rare but when they exist, they command a high price. Much of the most valuable amber is transparent, in contrast to the very common cloudy and opaque amber. The period from which amber comes can also make a significant difference in its price. The older the stone, the higher is its price. Of all the colors, blue amber fetches the highest price, as it is extremely rare.
Most Common Cuts: Amber gemstones are usually cut into beads and cabochons and opaque gems of big sizes are mostly used in carvings.
Chemical Formula: Amber’s general formula is C10H16O.
Synthetic Varieties: There are many synthetic varieties of amber including ambroid, copal resin, kauri gum, dammar, celluloid and plastic. Fortunately, there is an easy way to determine if the amber is natural or a simulated variety. Many use a flotation test as only natural amber floats, and the rest sink.
History: Amber has been used since the Stone Ages with deposits found that range between 360 and one million years old and belong between the Carboniferous and Pleistocene geological periods. Large deposits of Neolithic artifacts made of amber (beads, buttons, pendants, rings, and plaquette figurines) have been found at the Juodkrante and Palanga sites in Lithuania, both dated between 2500 and 1800 BC, and both of which are near Baltic amber mines. Amber ornaments have been found in Mycenaean tombs and in other places across Europe. The ancient Greeks called amber elektron, or sun-made. Smooth, lightweight, and warm to the touch, amber was often used for rosary beads in the Middle Ages.
The two main sources of amber on the market today are the Baltic States and the Dominican Republic. Amber from the Baltic is older and more valuable. The largest mine in the Baltic region is in Russia, west of Kaliningrad. Baltic amber is found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia, and occasionally washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea as far away as Denmark, Norway, and England. In modern western times, the movie Jurassic Park caused a surge of popular interest in this gemstone.
Amber from the Dominican Republic is more likely to have insect inclusions. Other amber sources include Myanmar, Lebanon, Sicily, Mexico, Romania, Germany, and Canada.
Rumored Healing Properties: There are many powers attributed to amber. These include love, strength, memory, luck, healing, and protection. They have been said to calm hyperactivity and reduce stress helping one find humor and joy. Amber is also said to protect health and has been used to treat eye disorders, glandular swellings of the throat and lungs, teeth disorders, bronchial disorders, headache, rheumatic pains, and jaundice. Because of its power to absorb, amber has been said to absorb and turn negative energy into positive.