The allure and beauty of amber is obvious, its charm is unmistakable, and it’s been that way for thousands of years. But what makes amber so dramatically different from other precious stones? Is amber even considered a stone? Let's answer some questions about amber to find out!
What is amber?
It seems unbelievable, but scientists actually argued a lot about it! Some thought it was some kind of a mineral or ancient honey that solidified with time. In the 19th century the scientists finally found out that amber is actually fossilized tree resin. But though now the scientists knew what amber was, they still had no idea what kind of trees produced that resin. It was clear though that not all kinds of trees could produce resin that could turn into amber. In fact, most resins are chemically unstable, so they simply decay with time. So, at first scientists thought that only one kind of ancient pine called Pinites Succinifer produced amber, but later they found out that there was a whole variety of ancient pines that grew all over Eurasia and even in Greenland! At the present time, there is only one kind of these ancient pines left (it is called Sciadopitys Verticillata), and it grows only in Japan, but they used to be everywhere.
Speaking from the chemical point of view, amber consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and over 40 other components including succinic acids. That's why it is also called succinite. Amber comes in a wide range of colors: from bright yellow to dark brown. Since Baltic amber is pretty old, people often find pieces of amber with various enclosures like water or air bubbles, plant seeds and even insects!
How is amber formed?
Amber is made from fossilized tree resin. Resin is not the same thing as tree sap! Resin gets secreted by a tree in response to injury as a way of preventing further damage. Resin is also secreted by trees as a result of rapid changes in climate or temperature. As the resin oozes down the tree, it picks up bits of plant and animal matter, which, if the conditions are right, will be trapped when the resin fossilized.
Eventually, after a little time passes (a few million years or so), you could find a piece of amber washed ashore that, after being crafted and polished, is ready to be set into a unique piece of amber jewelry. The substance it forms is very light. Because it weighs so little, this natural beauty makes great large amber jewelry pieces. Most amber used today is between 30-90 million years old. Amber deposits have been found that range between 360 and one million years old. The oldest known amber, found on the Isle of Wight, is 120 million years old.
So where does this Russian amber come from?
The right term for it is actually Baltic amber since it can be found all over the Baltic region, including Denmark, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Russian Kaliningrad oblast. The Baltic region actually has the largest known deposit of amber dating from about 40-45 million years ago. Sure it is not the oldest kind of amber in the world, but its beauty is simply stunning. By the way, people mostly use the amber that is about 30-90 million years old. Some of the oldest deposits of amber date from about 120 million years ago, but they are very rare and are not found on the Russian territory.
What is amber's history?
Amber was known and used since the New Stone Age. The archeologists find amber beads even in the Egyptian pharaoh tombs dating back to 3400-2400 BC. Amber beads were found at the place where the archeologists excavated Troy and the scientists found out that these beads were actually made from amber that came from the Baltic coast around 3000 BC. In Greece and in the Roman Empire amber was called "northern gold". During the Middle Ages the demand for amber was so high that only authorized people could collect amber. Anybody who tried to collect amber without a special permission was executed.
You would probably think that things have changed now and amber has become much cheaper. Well, not exactly. Do you know that even now certain pieces of amber can cost around 1,000 USD? And if there are inclusions in a piece of amber its price can go up to 100,000 dollars. The thing is that since amber is an ancient organic material its inclusions are extremely valuable and thus very expensive. People find amber with the species of different extinct plants, insects and animals inside. In fact, Wikipedia says that "Baltic amber includes the most species-rich fossil insect fauna discovered to date."
What is amber used for?
First and foremost, for jewelry: necklaces, rings, bracelets and more. You can find an extensive collection of exquisite amber jewelry in our store.
Amber has also been used for interior decoration. The most famous example of amber interior is the Amber Room in the Palace of Ekaterina the Great in Tsarskoye Village. Before the room was lost during the World War II it was often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. In 2003, the room was reconstructed and can now be seen in the Catherine Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Here are some pictures of the new amber room, reconstructed from black and white pictures of the lost wonder. It is splendid. There is definitely nothing like that in the whole world.
What else is amber famous for?
Hippocrates (460-377 BC) wrote about different medical characteristics of amber. His works were used by scientists and doctors in the Middle Ages.
In ancient Rome people used amber not just as adornment, but as a means of protection from sore throat, ear and eye diseases and stomach illnesses. They even believed that amber could cure mental disorders.
Some people believe even now that amber can draw negative energy and illness from the person wearing it. It can restore the wearer's health and wellbeing. Moreover, you have probably heard about amber teething necklaces. They say that these necklaces literally work wonders helping children to ease the pain during this hard time of their lives. The succinic acid inside amber is a natural pain reliever. Besides, it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and has a soothing effect on the central nervous system. That's why the demand for amber teething necklaces has been steadily growing as more and more people see how much these necklaces help their children.
Amber also has regenerative and restorative properties, so small pieces of amber are also used in skin care products.
Other interesting facts about amber:
- Amber floats in salt water but sinks in fresh water.
- Unlike the minerals and glass, amber is warm against the skin.
- When amber is burning it smells like pine.
- In the Roman Empire, especially during the reign of Emperor Nero (54-68 AD), a small amber statuette was more expensive than a good slave.
- The oldest amber dates back to 320 million years ago.
- Amber comes in more than 300 different shades! The most common colors are honey, green, cherry, cognac, citrine, and butterscotch.
- The Roman rulers valued amber so highly that they started wars in order to conquer areas that had large deposits of amber.
- In ancient China people would burn amber during big celebrations. Thus a host could demonstrate his wealth and at the same time show respect to the guests.
- Martin Luther wore a piece of amber in his pocket because he believed it could protect him from kidney stones.
- The term "electricity" actually stems from the Greek word "electron" which is the Greek name for amber because it can store static electricity.