Amber is technically not a gemstone or mineral, but instead is fossilized tree sap from prehistoric trees that grew as far back as almost fifty million years ago. When a tree is injured or is subjected to a radical climate change, it will produce resin. The radical climate change took place millions of years ago. Sometime in periods between 10 and 100 million years ago, these resin-bearing trees fell and were carried by rivers to coastal regions. Trees and their resins became covered with sediment, and over millions of years the resin had gone through a number of changes over millions of years. The result of this metamorphosis is an exceptional gem with extraordinary properties. It is exploited and used by both craftsmen and scientist.
The most famous and sought after is Baltic Amber from the Baltic Sea which is generally accepted as the finest Amber in the world. Although large part of Amber stones are sea born, meaning that rivers and streams carried them to seas and oceans, the major share of worldwide amber resources is hidden deep in the underground similar to that of minerals. The center of amber presence is Kaliningrad (Russia), which holds about 90% of the world's available amber resources.
However amber is also found on the coast of Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and Poland after being dislodged from the ocean floor by years of water and ocean currents and washed up to the shores. Amber is also extracted in Ukraine. Ukrainian amber is known for its wide range of tones and colors, however it is not considered to be as precious as Baltic amber.
Amber in medicine
Baltic amber has been historically significant dating back to prehistoric times. Small pieces of amber have been found inserted under the skin of ancient Egyptian mummies. The Egyptians believed in amber's power to stop destruction and decay. The ancient Romans and Greeks believed in the magical power of amber, they even buried people with amber necklaces as a symbol of influence and power. The earliest accounts of amber's healing properties are found in the works of Hippocrates. He documented that a short string of amber beads worn around the neck brought relief to the wearer in some cases of severe head, neck and throat complaints. Wearing amber bracelets was thought to be beneficial to sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis and reduced fatigue and feelings of general weariness. A similar effect was said to be achieved by rubbing the body with a fairly large piece of the mineral. Various other creams, balms and infusions of amber steeped in alcohol were also recommended for external use. All manner of concoctions, of which amber was the main ingredient, were also widely used to remedy respiratory complaints, asthma, bronchitis, bowel and bladder disorders, heart problems and ailments of the circulatory system.
Scientific research has determined that amber worn against the body releases natural oils onto the skin that are then circulated into the bloodstream. These oils induce a calming effect and have analgesic (pain relieving), antispasmodic (eases the muscles helping relieve colic and gas), and febrifuge (fever reducing) properties. That is why Baltic amber necklaces are commonly used to relieve teething pains for babies.
From a chemical point of view, amber consists of 79 percent carbon, 10.5 percent hydrogen and 10.5 percent oxygen. Studies with a mass spectrometer have shown that amber contains over 40 compounds as well as succinic acids and additive salts of potassium, sodium and iron. Amber extends over three groups of compounds: volatile terpenes and sesquiterpenes, soluble, organic acids and also non-soluble polyether. It ranges from bright yellow to dark yellow or brownish-orange, depending on its age and where it is found, in seldom cases it is either red or blue. Only a small quantity of amber is clear, because of the effects of the sun, most of it is opaque. It takes an electrical charge when it is rubbed and develops a pleasant resinous smell when it is burnt.
Amber has always been widely used in jewelry, arts, design and medicine. Many jewelers who create outstanding designs enjoy working with amber because of its unique feature to spread the warmth. It is also a relatively soft material with various color shades that is never the same. Because of the color range within amber, a piece of amber jewelry can include a stunning arrangement of tones and hues.
For more information on Baltic amber, you can read this article.
Threats of 21st century
Since the oldest times word "amber" had only one meaning - the Baltic amber. However the processes that influenced the formation of amber have left their traces in different parts of the globe because they had an effect on not only resins of coniferous trees, but also on resins of leaf-bearing trees and even leguminous plants. Although 150 types of fossil resins are known in the world, these resins are not amber but its relatives. They are mostly found in Europe and America and each of them has its own name.
The biggest threat to amber today is the expanding market of amber substitutes marketed as real amber. Copal, plastic, glass and man-made amber are all used as amber substitutes and are indistinguishable from genuine amber to unfamiliar buyers. With the low price and recent improvements to modifications methods of Columbian copal it is the hardest to identify. Since raw amber prices increased dramatically during the last twenty years in the international market falsification of amber became a widespread phenomenon.
For further details on fake amber, please read the following page.