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Amber Stone: Preserver of Historic Life

Amber stone: A preserver of historic life
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What makes amber stone a great storyteller and window to the past?

Is it a gemstone, a rock, or a crystal? Amber has a rich history that dates back several million years ago. Perhaps it is because of this antiquity that many still hold speculations on what it really is and what it is not. Most jewelers would find it easy to focus on its mixture of warm colors, but it holds something more beautiful than its colors convey—a story.

What is Amber?

Amber stone is very far from emeralds, rubies, or sapphire. It is not a precious gemstone but what it lacks in chemical composition and crystalline structure, it makes up for in uniqueness and origin.

How amber stone formed

Amber is actually a fossilized tree resin formed over millions of years. Resin is a gooey hydrocarbon liquid that many plants and trees secrete. There are many popular theories discussing the formation of amber stone. One of the most popular tells that when those extinct trees decayed, they left their resin behind and it hardened into the amber that we now know.

Resin has many uses for the trees and most of them centered on its protective function. If you’d look closely through an amber, you’d notice some insect remains trapped inside the stone. These trappings relate closely to the resin’s protective quality. As the resin seals over tree wounds caused by insects, it flushes the organisms out and they become stuck and trapped in the seal. Over time, the resin hardens capturing whatever insect remains that got stuck in the process of protecting the trees.

The Romans were among the first to notice those insect trappings, which led them to believe that amber was once in a liquid form to be able to wrap around those organisms.

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A Life Trapped in Time

Amber stone captured with GemLightbox
Amber pendant photographed with smartphone and the GemLightbox Aerial kit

Many researchers have recorded significant fossil discoveries throughout the years. A few of these you’ll find below.

  • A plague-infected flea

We all remember the black death or plague as the deadly infection transmitted to humans by an infected rodent flea, but what many might not know is that this bacterium existed long before human evolution. Proof of this is the plague-infected flea found inside a 20-million-year-old Dominican amber.

  • A lice on a dinosaur feather

A prehistoric insect resembling modern lice? Why not!

In this another discovery, researchers investigated a 100-million-year-old amber stone encasing a dinosaur feather. This lice-like parasite of the Cretaceous period was the first discovery of its kind as none of its preserved forms have been found in other fossils. This discovery proves that humans are not the first to suffer from these blood-sucking, skin and hair-gnawing insects.

  • A scale insect caring for its young

Finding a fossilized insect behavior is not common; hence, when researchers and paleontologists discovered a scale insect exhibiting parental care for its young, it ultimately became the focus of attention. This fossil evidence of brood care was preserved in a 100-million-year-old amber found in Myanmar.

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Where is Amber Found?

Amber is found in both the Old and New World, but the Old World’s Baltic amber is the most popular. It has a high concentration of succinic acid; thus, earning its name “succinite.” Further, some amber stones from the Eocene epoch come from places like Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, and Northern Germany, among many others.

Amber Stone: Meaning and Uses

meaning and uses of amber

Amber is popular not only for its historical uses but more so for its metaphysical properties.

People believe that amber stone is a powerful healer that aids stress, balances emotion, and improves health overall. Different mythological beliefs also surround amber. For instance, the Chinese believed that amber came from the tears of the tiger as it breathed its last breath. Meanwhile, in Greek Mythology, amber was believed to have come from the tears of Heliades, the children of the sun. According to myths, Heliades were watching their brother drive their father’s chariot across the sky when it plummeted to his death. Heliades grieved. Their tears flowed into the ocean and came back as amber.

Aside from mythological tales, amber was also popular for its historical uses. For instance, in the 19th century, people used amber in tobacco pipes while the Europeans and the Greeks revered it for its medicinal use. They believed that people could extract ample benefits from amber by mere contact with skin. Such is its power that even today, people seek amber jewelry not only for aesthetic fashion but also for its organic remedy.

Interestingly, if you’ve seen the historical drama TV series Outlander or have read Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series, you would have probably caught the scene where Munro, Jamie’s friend, gave Claire a dragonfly encased in amber as a wedding gift. The dragonfly in amber is one of the many symbols used in the story and it’s quite interesting how the author wove amber into the narrative. The special gift, which symbolizes Jamie and Claire’s marriage, according to the author, metaphorically represents a thing of beauty preserved and exists beyond its time. Nothing encapsulates the meaning of amber more than that—a preserver of beauty and life.

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Quality Factors

While it’s not technically a gemstone, there are still 4Cs that dictate amber’s value.

Amber quality factors
  • Color

You’re probably too familiar with golden and yellow amber, but amber can actually exist in yellow, white, reddish, and orange-brown. However, the reddish amber is more valuable than the golden one while the latter is more valuable than the yellow amber.

  • Cut

Amber is usually cut in cabochon style, free-form shapes, and beads.

  • Clarity

If you’re sourcing amber, seek those with a transparent appearance, but don’t ignore the inclusion as it increases the value of amber. For instance, a rare and intact insect or plant inclusion fetches higher prices more than those pieces without inclusions.

  • Carat Weight

Amber is very light even in large pieces. As such, it’s very common to find jewelry pieces with very large amber stones due to their weight.

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Amber Stones Photographed and Captured Using the GemLightbox and a Smartphone

Photographing and taking 360 videos of amber are made easy with a smartphone and the GemLightbox, Turntable & Aerial set.

To start, simply position your amber jewelry inside the GemLightbox, open the GemLightbox app, and capture! Below are examples of an amber pendant and a loose amber stone we took from our workshop. Notice the interestingly beautiful inclusions!

Amber necklace captured with GemLightbox
A 360-video of an amber pendant taken using the GemLightbox Aerial set and an iPhone
Loose amber stone
An oblong-shaped amber stone photographed with the GemLightbox and an iPhone

You, too, can capture studio-quality amber stones, highlighting interesting inclusions! Click here to know the step-by-step process or watch the video below for a more visual experience.

Overall, when you hold amber in your hands, you also hold that epoch in the history of life. Quite fascinating, isn’t it?

What interesting or rare inclusions have you found in your amber, so far? Spill the treasure in the comment section below!

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