Amber is the common name for fossilized tree resin that is appreciated for its inherent and interesting mixture of colors.
It is widely used for making jewelry and other ornaments.
Amber has been found throughout the world, but the largest and most significant deposits occur along the shores of the Baltic Sea in sands.
Most of the world’s amber is in the range of 30 to 90 million years old.
Amber can look different depending on its origin, and its geological history.
Amber occurs as irregular nodules, rods, or droplike shapes in all shades of yellow with nuances of orange, brown, and, rarely, red. Milky-white opaque varieties are called bone amber.
Amber can contain, in addition to the beautifully preserved plant-structures, remains of insects, spiders, annelids, frogs, crustaceans and other small organisms that became trapped while it was fluid. In most cases the organic structure has disappeared, leaving only a cavity.
Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects.
Ornamental carved objects, beads, rosaries, cigarette holders, and pipe mouthpieces are made from amber.
Most amber has a hardness between 2.0 and 2.5 on the Mohs scale and a melting point of 250 – 300 °C (482 – 572 °F).
The largest piece of amber weighs 50.4 kg (111.11 lb), owned by Joseph Fam (Singapore) and was measured by members of the International Amber Association (Poland) in Singapore, on 26 February 2017. The piece is a Sumatran amber found in Indonesia and its dimensions are 55 x 50 x 42 cm.
The Amber Room is a reconstructed chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. The room covered more than 55 square meters (590 square feet) and contained over 6 tonnes (13,000 lb) of amber. It was looted during World War II by the Army Group North of Nazi Germany, and brought to Königsberg for reconstruction and display. [Below: Hand-coloured photograph of the original Amber Room, 1931]
The Amber Road was an ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
The English word “amber” derives from Arabic ʿanbar عنبر via Middle Latin ambar and Middle French ambre. The word was adopted in Middle English in the 14th century as referring to what is now known as ambergris (ambre gris or “grey amber”), a solid waxy substance derived from the sperm whale. In the Romance languages, the sense of the word had come to be extended to Baltic amber (fossil resin) from as early as the late 13th century. At first called white or yellow amber (ambre jaune), this meaning was adopted in English by the early 15th century. As the use of ambergris waned, this became the main sense of the word.
The two substances (“yellow amber” and “grey amber”) conceivably became associated or confused because they both were found washed up on beaches. Ambergris is less dense than water and floats, whereas amber is too dense to float, though less dense than stone.
The classical names for amber, Latin electrum and Ancient Greek ἤλεκτρον (ēlektron), are connected to a term ἠλέκτωρ (ēlektōr) meaning “beaming Sun.” According to myth, when Phaëton son of Helios (the Sun) was killed, his mourning sisters became poplar trees, and their tears became elektron, amber. The word elektron gave rise to the words electric, electricity, and their relatives because of amber’s ability to bear a static electricity charge.
Amber has been used as jewelry since the Stone Age, from 13,000 years ago.
Amber has also been used as a healing agent in folk medicine.
Scientists value because it provides a three-dimensional window into prehistoric ecosystems through the myriad animal and plant inclusions it contains.
Semi-fossilized resin or sub-fossil amber is called copal.
Amberoid, or “pressed amber,” is produced by fusing together small pieces of amber under pressure. Parallel bands, or flow structure, in amberoid help to distinguish it from natural amber.