What is Amber?


Although it might not look like what is commonly thought of as a fossil, Amber is indeed a fossil. Much appreciated for its colour and beauty it is often treated as a gemstone and comes in a range of colours not just the classic amber colour. In fact it can range in colour from white through pale lemon yellow all the way up to Brown or even black. There are even more rare colours available such as red Amber (often called Cherry Amber) and even green and blue Amber. These other colours are rare and much sought-after. Amber itself can be completely transparent, cloudy or even opaque. Opaque amber is opaque because of the myriad of minute bubbles it contains.

So how does Amber form? What is it? As already mentioned Amber is a fossil. It is in fact fossil tree resin - not sap as it is often believed to be. Most genuine amber is between 30 and 90 million years old and usually comes from resin produced by coniferous trees although Amber can also be produced from resin secreted by deciduous trees such as the cherry or plum tree. Amber can also come from resin produced by eucalyptus trees and indeed many other types of tree. The resin is commonly secreted by the tree when it is under stress such as in periods of climate change. This resin becomes trapped and hardens over millions of years to form Amber. Younger resin is commonly referred to as copal, which looks very much like real amber but is not as yet changed sufficiently to become full Amber. Amber's chemical name is succcinite and the process by which it actually forms is a type of polymerisation of the natural organic compounds in the resin.

Where is Amber found?

The most common place to find Amber it is on the shores of the Baltic Sea or in the Dominican Republic although it is sometimes found in many other areas including washed up on the beaches of the east coast of the UK. Amber can be collected from these deposits washed upon the beaches but it can also be commercially mined. The Amber deposits of the Dominican Republic and the Baltic are believed to be the world's largest and hence most of the Amber used in jewellery comes from these sources.  If you are lucky you may even be able to find a piece of Amber yourself on the seashore. For the rest of us there is always eBay! Have a look at our other articles about Amber including our very useful Amber buyer's guide-don't get caught out and end up buying fake amber.


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