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Amber Value, Price, and Jewelry Informa on

Amber, Bal c Sea area (various cut gems and u lity objects). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Amber is the hardened resin of ancient pine trees. This organic substance is perhaps most well known for the incredible inclusions of insects and plant ma
can be found within it. People have been making jewelry from amber for over 10,000 years, which could make it the first gem material ever used. Our fasci
with amber con nues today. It's fairly common, easy to work, and a constant wonder to the eyes. Amber's most common colors are yellow, orange, and bro
various shades. Pieces with green, blue, or violet nts due to extreme fluorescence are rare. Amber also has a wide range of transparency. The transparent
is used almost exclusively for jewelry. Amber is o en used for beads (tumble polished or faceted), pendants, earrings, and rings. The opaque material is freq
carved into ar s c ornaments and inlays and prac cal objects such as pipe stems and umbrella handles. Amber is also burned as incense and used as an ing
in perfumes.

Amber Value
The highest values go to those pieces with clearly visible insect inclusions, light colors, and clarity. Since the Jurassic Park movie, the most popular inclusion
mosquitos. Inclusions of plant material, while of great interest to scien sts, add li le to the value of jewelry. (These inclusions are o en too small to be reco
easily). Very large amber pieces are extremely rare. Good quality material is seldom used for anything but jewelry.
Amber, Dominican Republic (with insect inclusion). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with
permission.

The Interna onal Gem Society (IGS) has a list of businesses offering gemstone appraisal services.

Amber Value via Gem Price Guide

Cabochons All sizes

With insect inclusions   -   per gram

Plain cabochons   -   per gram

Prices may be higher for pieces with inclusions of rare insects.

Faceted All sizes


See the en re Gem Price Guide.

Start an IGS Membership today for full access to our price guide (updated monthly).
See Plans and Pricing

Amber Informa on
DATA VALUE

Name Amber

Crystallography  Amorphous

Refrac ve Index  1.540-1.545, usually 1.540

Colors  Yellow, brown, whi sh yellow, reddish, cream color, orange shades. Rarely blue, greenish, viole sh.

Luster  Greasy.

Fracture  Conchoidal

Hardness  2 - 2.5

Specific Gravity  1.05 to 1.096, usually 1.08.

Birefringence  None.

Cleavage  None

Dispersion  None

Heat Sensi vity Very

Luminescence  Yellow in SW (Texas); bluish white or greenish in LW. Bal c amber may fluoresce grayish blue in SW. Inert in X-Rays. Sicilian amber is noted for its fluoresce

Wearability  Good

Transparency  Transparent to opaque.

Absorp on Not diagnos c.


Spectrum 

Formula Approximately C10H16O+ H2S. A mixture of hydrocarbons plus resins, succinic acid, and oils.

Pleochroism  None.

Etymology From the Arabic anbar.


DATA VALUE

Occurrence In sedimentary deposits and on shorelines, due to waves and currents bringing material up from offshore beds.

Inclusions  See "Iden fying Characteris cs" below.

This piece from the Dominican Republic is over 30 million years old and contains over 20
ant inclusions. “Orange Amber Ants” by Michael Rhys is licensed under CC By 2.0

Comments
Amber is an amorphous (non-crystalline) mixture of organic compounds, including hydrocarbons, resins, succinic acid, and oils. Most of this substance come
the preserved resin of the pine species Pinus succinifera. However, other ancient tree species have also produced the material. Amber has been preserved fo
least 30 million years. Preserved resin younger than that is known as copal (which is also a term used for organic gem material from the copal tree). Althoug
is commonly referred to as fossilized resin, it’s not a fossil in the strictest sense. Most fossils begin when an animal or plant is buried in the earth. Over mille
the organic material in fossils is slowly replaced with elements from the mineral kingdom. In contrast, amber’s organic elements haven’t been replaced. Inste
resin has undergone a chemical transforma on into a polymer, a natural plas c.

“Venus figure of carved amber (pendant)


from Eastern Europe,” Neolithic period
(around 10,200 to 4,500 BCE), by Lisby.
Public Domain.

Amber is o en confused with copal. These are very similar materials with nearly iden cal origins. The principal difference is age. Copal is just a few hundred
thousand years old.
Pressed amber or ambroid is created by fusing smaller bits of amber under heat and great pressure. Amber so ens at about 150° C and melts at 250-300°C

Varie es
Amber is classed into various types. The sea type is found undersea. The pit variety is dug up from the earth, especially from the Bal c region. Other types
clear, massive, fancy, cloudy, frothy, fa y, and bone.

“Amber (resinite) (Bal cs),” le piece is 2.7 cm across, right piece is 3.1 cm across, by James St. John is
licensed under CC By 2.0

Iden fying Characteris cs


Inclusions
Amber is noted for its inclusions, which are chiefly insects, pollen, leaves, and other organic debris. These bits were trapped in the s cky fluid that oozed fr
living pine trees millions of years ago. These inclusions offer a remarkable view of life in those mes. In some of the finer specimens, whole termite colonies
been trapped. The chambers of these structures, created with webbing, are s ll visible. Nursery chambers s ll contain egg sacks. Besides termites and mos
many varie es of beetles, spiders, mites, and other insects can be found. Some mes, a single piece can contain many kinds of these organic inclusions.

Star spangles, fla ened starburst shapes, are another type of inclusion. These internal fractures radiate from a central point and are caused by stress. While
a rac ve, most are human induced. Hence, they don’t fetch the same value as a good-quality insect.

Amber Tes ng Techniques


Ancient techniques for iden fying amber are s ll useful today. If rubbed vigorously on a piece of wool, the real deal will generate a sta c charge strong eno
pick up a small piece of ash. When it’s warm enough, it also gives off a dis nc ve, pleasant scent. These techniques may dis nguish the genuine material fr
plas c imita ons (and entertain inquisi ve children).
“Caribbean Green Amber,” Dominican Republic, by The Singularity is licensed under CC By 3.0

A specific gravity (SG) test can also help weed out the plas c imita ons. A handy homemade tes ng liquid can be concocted by boiling water and adding as
salt as you can dissolve in it. This will have a density of about 1.13. Amber, with a SG of 1.08, will float in this solu on. Most plas cs will sink. However, a fe
plas cs have a density as low as 1.05. Many can have a lower SG than amber if they have air bubbles inside. So, if your sample sinks, you can be sure it’s no
amber. If it floats, you need to conduct more tests.

Destruc ve Tests
Amber and plas c can share many visual characteris cs. They can both have a refrac ve index (RI) of 1.540, so an RI reading is not defini ve. Therefore, th
step is likely a hot point test.

This is a destruc ve test, but if conducted with care, it can leave no visible marks. First, find a place on your specimen where a mark would be as unobtrusiv
possible. (For example, on the bo om, an edge, or an area with exis ng scratches). Next, heat the p of a needle un l it glows red. Touch the selected spot
enough to release a ny whiff of smoke. Now comes the hard part. Smell the smoke. If it’s genuine, it will smell like fine incense. If it’s plas c, it will smell ch
and offensive. (This is another reason to make your test on as small a scale as possible).

Dis nguishing amber from copal is difficult. They share the same RI, SG, and most other proper es. Copal will fluoresce whiter. That is a judgment call base
having seen a sufficient number of samples to recognize the difference. If you’re unable to make the dis nc on based on fluorescence, you’ll have to resort
destruc ve test. On an inconspicuous area of the specimen, place a drop of acetone. Let it sit for three seconds, then wipe it off. Copal will have the surface
damaged by the acetone. Amber will show li le or no change from the brief exposure.

All destruc ve tests should be conducted only by professional gemologists.

Amber can be dis nguished from ambroid with a microscope examina on. Amber o en darkens with age to a fine red-brown color. Ambroid, however, may
white with age.

Synthe cs
Plas c and glass pieces are some mes used as simulants.

Enhancements
Amber can be darkened by hea ng. If done properly, this also creates star spangles . Dyeing is a common treatment.
The celebrated Amber Room was originally constructed in the 18th century in the Catherine Palace
near St. Petersburg, Russia. The room was decorated with panels made from amber and backed with
gold leaf. This “Eighth Wonder of The World” was looted during WWII and has disappeared. A
reconstruc on project was begun in 1979 and completed in 2003. This is the reconstructed chamber in
the Catherine Palace. “The Amber Room” by Dmitry Karyshev is licensed under CC By 2.0

Sources
The Bal c Sea Region, including Poland, Germany, and Russia: Most of the world’s amber comes from a region formerly known as East Prussia and now kn
the Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian enclave.

Sicily: Material may be opalescent blue or green.

United Kingdom: rarely found

Norway; Denmark; Romania

Myanmar: brownish yellow and brown varie es: also colorless, pale yellow, and orange.

Lebanon: scarce, from very old deposits.

Dominican Republic: Mined from sedimentary rocks. Yellow, orange, and red colors. This material o en contains well-preserved insects and some mes d
a strong blueish tone in reflected light.

Chiapas, Southern Mexico: produces golden yellow material.

Cedar Lake, Manitoba, Canada.

Point Barrow, Alaska.

“Big Chunk of Cedar Lake Amber,” Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg, Canada, by Mike Beauregard is
licensed under CC By 2.0
Stone Sizes
Fragments are normally less than half a pound, but pieces weighing several pounds have been found.

Care
Avoid rough handling, heat, and chemicals. Amber can be par ally dissolved by solvents, alcohol, etc. Never use mechanical cleaning systems. A damp cloth
warm-water detergent is recommended. Consult our jewelry cleaning guide and gemstone cleaning guide for more advice.

“Amber Tells The Past,” amber ring, by Chiara Cremaschi is licensed under CC By-ND 2.0

by Joel E. Arem, Ph.D., FGA, Donald Clark, CSM IMG

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