What is Amber?
Amber is a semi precious gem which differs from most others in that it is of vegetable origin. It is usually yellow or orange in colour.
Amber is formed from resin produced in the bark of trees which then fossilizes over time. The two trees which produce the resins which could fossilize into amber are the Kauri pine in New Zealand and the Hymenaea in East Africa and South and Central America. The resin hardens and becomes incorporated into the soil and sediments. The forming Amber then undergoes a process called polymerization. This process can take millions of years until the resultant Amber is formed and often transported by rivers to be found in places other than those where it originally formed.
The name Amber derives from the Arabians who called it ‘Anbar’. It has also been named, ‘Gold of the North, Stone of Victory, Sun Stone and Adornment of the Daughters of Rome.
The Greeks gave it the name ‘Electrum’ (sun made) and this gave rise to the word ‘electricity’ as Amber was found to produce an electromagnetic charge when rubbed.
Amber was considered by the Romans and Greeks to have magical and healing properties and so was used to treat asthma, rheumatism and digestive problems. It was thought that Amber brought good luck and protected against enemies and sickness and witchcraft. Hippocrates stated that Amber helped in the treatment of delirium and over the centuries the perceived healing powers of Amber have included epilepsy, the plague, jaundice, kidney and gall bladder complaints. It has also been thought to act as an aphrodisiac and also to accelerate birth.
Mohammed felt that prayer beads should be made of Amber and more recently, Martin Luther carried amber with him as a protection against kidney stones.
As Amber is comparatively soft, it should be treated carefully. Contact with hard objects should be avoided as should contact with any chemicals such as perfume or hairspray. It should also be kept away from household cleaners. Amber scratches easily and so should be kept in a soft bag which is not airtight as it needs to ‘breathe’.
Amber can be cleaned in soap and warm (not hot) water and then polished dry with a cloth. If the Amber is old and has lost its lustre, this can sometimes be restored by using olive oil on a soft cloth
Caring for Amber (Summary)
• Avoid contact with chemicals or hard objects
• Wash in soap and warm water
• Polish dry
• Keep in soft fabric bag
Amber is described as ‘an amorphous, polymeric glass’. Amber consists of about 79% carbon, 10% hydrogen and 11% oxygen as well as a small amount of sulphur. It is not a hard substance (similar to a fingernail) and measuring 2 on the scale and the specific gravity at 1.04 -1.10 is only slightly more than that of water.
Amber tends not to melt under extreme heat but rather to turn black and burn. Amber will produce static electricity if rubbed and is warm to the touch.
Amber is distinguished by features which are only found in Amber and not in other stones. Circular, radial cracks are found in modern amber and Baltic amber can contain hairs from the flowers of oak trees as well as insects.
There are different types of Amber – all showing different colours – i.e., Burmese Amber is dark orange or red; Lebanese Amber is yellow; Sicilian Amber is orange, red or sometimes green, blue or black; Chinese Amber is transparent, orange or red and Borneo Amber is very dark red.
Genuine Amber can be identified in several ways including the salt water test where Amber will float when other substances will sink.