Sunday, August 18, 2013

BALTIC AMBER: "The Living Gem"

Along the shorelines of the Baltic Sea are the countries Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Finland, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden.  This Baltic region is home to the largest deposits of Amber, called Baltic Amber or Succinite, and the Amber is approximately 44 MILLION years old!  Amber is fossilized resin (not sap) from trees that are most closely related to today's Japanese umbrella pine.  As the climate became warmer, the trees exuded more resin, which achieved a stable state through oxidation.

Amber sometimes contains encapsulated insects or plants---species that have been extinct for millions of years.

Baltic Amber is harvested, or "fished", from the Baltic Sea.

Chemically speaking, amber consists of 79% carbon, 10.5% hydrogen and 10.5% oxygen. Studies with a mass spectrometer have shown that amber contains over 40 compounds as well as succinic acids (which is why it's called Succinite) and additive salts of potassium, sodium and iron.

Victorian Faceted Amber Necklace
Amber ranges from bright yellow to dark yellow or brownish-orange, depending on its age and where it is found, and rarely red or blue:

Honey Amber: by far, the most common color. Ranges from dark to light.  Called "sunshine" by Lithuanians, and known as the "stone of the sun" in many cultures.
Green Amber:  known as "earth amber" and has many inclusions, giving it a shimmery look.  Considered good luck.  UPDATE:  Natural green amber is very dark, almost black; however, it appears that most (if not all) green amber on the market is not natural, but pigmented,  heated, or otherwise processed.
Cherry Amber: rare deep red color
Cognac Amber:  can be almost black, with red glow  Is heat treated.
Lemon or Citrine Amber:  Yellow, bright
Butterscotch Amber: opaque yellow, rare

Baltic amber floats in sea water but sinks in fresh water.

And most interestingly, Amber is still alive because its internal metamorphosis is still incomplete!

Real or Fake? 
As with most gems, scientists have found ways to imitate precious Baltic Amber.  It's difficult to tell the real Amber from the fakes, so know who you're buying from (preferably directly from the Baltic region).  Fake Amber can be plastic, glass, celluloid, casein, or Copal.  Copal is resin from trees that are approximately 1,000 to 1 million years old---much younger than Amber.  People will melt Copal enough to insert insects!  Many artificial Amber beads are actually Phenolic resins (heat-formed plastic, like "Bakelite"), and can be identified by their perfect shapes---ovals, spheres, etc.  Casein is made from milk, and is used to make very cloudy yellow fake Amber.

Pressed Amber
When small remnants of amber are fused together using high pressure or heat, the result is called “pressed” amber.  It is genuine Amber, but should be disclosed by a seller.

In searching how to discover if Amber is real or not, I came across this adorable girl on youtube---she drops Amber into salt water, and if it floats, it's real!  So cute---check it out:

UPDATE:  October 5, 2014:  I received the following information in the comments section by "Noa".  This is some great information!  VERY informative, with interesting links, and I appreciate it! 

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