Amber gemstones may not feature in the list of most sought after items but they remain popular among gem collectors. Derived from resins, amber is actually a polymeric substance with little or no mineral crystal within it. Despite wide-spread availability, there is one amber family that is considered mystical and superlative in its existence. It is the group of Baltic ambers.
Here are some enticing facts about Natural Baltic amber gemstones.
Amber is anyways a natural fossilised tree resin. Despite its heterogeneous composition, natural amber gemstone shows a distinct colour and composition consisting of plant cellulose, saps and polymeric acids. Chemically, they resemble terpene family.
What is a Baltic Amber?
Also called Succinate, Baltic Amber gems contain 8% of succinic acid. The origin of most of these gemstones lies in Miocene era, nearly 44 million years ago. Largely comprising fossilized plant resin, Baltic Amber also contains animal and insect inclusions giving them a rather colourful hue, distinct from other amber gems. Dominican Amber is one of the sub-species of Baltic Amber.
How to identify true amber?
Intensity of colour and transparency are clear cut factors that represent the purity of natural amber. The accepted colour range varies between clear citric limes to golden brown cognac. Expensive amber varieties resemble egg yolk yellow with minute red rutile. There are translucent and opaque varieties of amber too that contain higher quantity of acids.
There are 5 coloured amber gemstones sourced to the market.
Yellow amber (contain nearly 70% plant resins)
Red Amber (Also called Cherry Amber, it forms only 2-3% of the total availability)
Green Amber (known as Caribbean amber, it is also a very rare variety and is probably the costliest in the lot)
Blue Amber (Dominican Blue Amber is rarest in the family and has percentage of petroleum hydrocarbons)
Black Amber (Often extracted alongside Ammolite and Korite)
Heat treatment on Amber
The colour and consistency of appearance of amber is improved by subjecting them to heat treatment and subsequent dyeing. The agents used are natural plant oils and solvents like canola oil. It often results in circular cracks, known as sun spangles.
How to identify pure amber
Unlike a mineral stone, amber is warm. Its density is lower than sea water, so it will float on the surface. The purest amber gemstone is called ‘antique’ which bears a butterscotch-like honey colour.
Distinction between Copal and Amber
The biggest mistake you can make while buying natural amber gemstones is to place copal in the same category. Yes, copal is also derived from tree resins, but it is exclusively produced by the polymerization of aromatic ingredients of copal tree- Protium copal.It is often confused with the Caribbean Amber and the Dominican Amber due to the sparkling green red colouring.
While amber gemstones have an origin timeline dating back to millions of years, copal will be only a few centuries old. A radio carbon dating in lab establishes the age of the gemstones before tagging them for gem market.