What is Amber?

Amber is a natural, prehistoric polymer – amazing, mysterious and beautiful. The amber of today was formed millions of years ago from the pine trees resin, which hardened and fossilized over thousands of millennia. This resin was secreted by the amber trees Pinus succinifera in reaction to tree wounds and pest invasions, in order to heal and protect itself. The resin promoted regeneration of the tree tissue and had antimicrobial and antifungi properties.

Amber comes in various shades of the natural color of honey - between light yellow (almost white) through warm yellow, orange and even dark brown. It can be translucent or opaque. There are also some more rare types of amber that have a blue shade and have the unusual ability to fluoresce under ultraviolet light. But the real beauty of amber is in its natural imperfections: shadows, reflections, gas bubbles and even prehistoric, organic inclusions. Over the centuries amber was strongly believed to have magical and medicinal powers.

History of Amber
The age of amber depends on its origin. The oldest deposits are more than 100 - 300 million years old, while the most prominent Baltic amber is between 35 and 60 millions years old. The Dominican amber is younger – around 24 -30 millions years old. Copal, on the other hand, is a resinous substance, not amber, and it is much younger and not fully polymerized and fossilized.

Amber was always part of the human history. Amulets and charms made of amber were used already in the Stone Age. They represented small discs or plates with primitive depictions of animals or human figurines, simple geometrical ornaments, dots, zig-zags. No one is able to understand the meaning of these symbols today, but the archeologists believe that these amulets were to bring success in hunting and the discs were part of the cult of the Sun. Over the millennia amber was believed not only to protect people and households against evil and misfortune, but it was also was used in myriads of medicinal remedies.
Amber from the Baltic Sea has been extensively traded in Europe for the past 2000 years.

Properties of Amber

Although amber is often called a gemstone, it is neither a stone nor a mineral, and yet it is quite precious to those who love it.
Amber is a fossilized resin, and therefore it is composed of polymerized molecules, consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, as well as sulphur and trace amounts of other elements and minerals. Baltic amber has a characteristic component of succinic acid and it is therefore also known as succinite.
Amber has many interesting properties. One is that it is relatively light and it is able to float in saturated salt water, while it usually sinks in freshwater. This is the reason for the amber “mysterious” appearances dated from ancient times, where it was found floating on the waters of the Baltic Sea or North Sea after stormy weather, or it was washed upon the beaches. The Baltic legend says that amber represents tears of the underwater Princess Jurata, who lost her love for a young fisherman. Pieces of amber can be found on the beaches of the Baltic Sea even today after a storm, particularly in April and November. The amber comes from deposits on the sea floor.
Amber has a warm feeling, warmer than any other gemstones. Moreover, after being rubbed (for example on a natural cloth, such as wool or silk) it has the ability to attract small pieces of paper or dry grass. This amazing property was observed many centuries ago and the word” electricity” came from the Greek name for amber – “Electron”. The reason for attracting small pieces is the build up of the electrostatic charge on the surface of amber. The charge is of the negative type, which is believed to explain some of the medicinal benefits of amber. Electrical and thermal conductivity of amber is low and isotropic (i.e. the same in all directions).
Natural amber has often an interesting internal structure, including gas bubbles, changing colors, thin layers, cracks or even crystalline phases. The fracture of amber is very characteristic - exhibiting a scale or shell-type relief. Interestingly, amber is the only “living” gemstone that still undergoes changes. It is relatively sensitive to sunlight and oxidation and should be properly cared for.
Amber is relatively soft. The hardness of amber is between 2 and 3 on the Mohs scale, and its microhardness equals on average between 19.9 and 29 kg/mm². Therefore, amber is easy to shape and form, it can be easily polished and sculpted, to create impressive intaglio and cameo artifacts.
Heated pieces if amber become soft, with the softening temperature of about 150°C and melting temperature of about 300°C. Rapidly heated amber breaks into scales and it can burn with a bright, yellow flame, giving a very pleasant resinous aroma. It was used by ancient Greeks to either improve the light from the oil lamps by introducing the amber pieces, or to induce the resinous pine aroma by introducing powdered amber to the burning candles or oil. Dry distillation of amber (without air) yields the amber acid (succinic acid) and oil of amber and a black residue which is known as "amber colophony", or "amber pitch". It can be dissolved in oil or turpentine to form "amber varnish" or "amber lac". Amber boiled in vegetable oil becomes soft and it can be molded.
Amber does not entirely dissolve in any of the known solvents. It can be partially dissolved in certain organic solvents, for example: in methanol ( 20-15%), in ether (18-23%), in chloroform (20,6%), in benzene ( 21%) and turpentine (25%).