Amber is an incredible example of the wide variety of gemstones that the Earth produces. In this case, the amber is the sap of a fossilized tree that often brings with it glimpses of a world far away from our own. Each specimen is a bit of history and collectors have a lot to learn.
Let's dive into the what, how and where of amber. It could just be the beginning of an amazing new journey.
What is amber?
Amber is a petrified form of tree resin. Essentially, the immense heat and pressure drives the aromatic components and moisture out of the resin, which eventually forms amacromolecular structure.
Amber is a strange material. If you've never dealt with this before, you're in for a surprise, especially if you're rock hunting. Real amber really does look like plastic, and in many ways,it isnatural plastic.
Amber is usually a warm orange color, but there is also a blue variety. Some ambers are also much deeper in color.
For most people, the attraction is not the mineral itself, but the various inclusions. Amber is famous for containing fragments of plants and insects that give us a real vision of the primordial world. The most common are pieces of plants, but insects can be easily found. For those willing to spend a few thousand dollars, some have even taken vertebrates such as lizards.
Amber was also ground and used for various applications, including perfume. Its industrial importance has declined over the years, with most pieces now being used for the consumer market as jewelry or display pieces.
What types of amber are there?
Amber is broadly classified by its exact chemical composition. The exact details are a bit beyond the scope of this article, but for those interested, there areresearch articlesdetailing the differences.
For a collector, the exact composition doesn't matter much. Different deposits are made up of different types, but what we look for is visual appeal and inclusions.
Most amber is named where it came from. Below are some of the most common types.
- baltic amber-This is the stone that most people consider to be amber. It occurs throughout the Baltic Sea in large numbers and is deep orange toin yellow color. Baltic amber is sometimes of great clarity and small specimens with insects are very affordable.
- blue amber-A striking amber found only in the Dominican Republic. These specimens are deep blue in color with fluorescence. Themchange color depending on the lightand they are highly sought after.
- Dominican amber-Dominican amber tends to be lighter in color than the Baltic material and generally occurs with great clarity. Specimens barely stained yellow or orange are common, and insect inclusions are very common.
- Smooth Amber-An amber from the Ukraine area, often dark in color. Currently it should be avoided as it is mainly undercontrol of the black market.
There are deposits all over the world, but most of the amber found on the market comes from the deposits of the Dominican Republic and the Baltic.
Most specimens must be evaluated on their own merits. Amber comes in a wide variety of clarity levels and colors, plus the possibility of interesting inclusions.
How do I know if the amber is fake?
Amber is a valuable material, so naturally there will be counterfeit specimens on the market.
Many of them are easily identifiable. If you see something with a big scorpion or lizard or tarantula on it that doesn't cost as much as a car... well, it's probably just a piece of resin. They are relatively common, especially online.
The best thing you can do to watch out for fake amber is to identify any inclusions. It doesn't cost much more to make a fake bug, but the price difference is huge. Fake amber is also devoid of any non-insect inclusions, real amber usually has bits of plant matter or air bubbles in addition to the insect.
Amber x Copal
The big exception to this is copal. Copal is comparatively common and is often sold as "young amber." That's right, copal is only a few thousand years old, unlike amber, millions of years old.
It's also cheaper for the most part.
Copal is soluble in alcohol, so clean part of the part with denatured or high percentage isopropyl alcohol. It will cloud the surface or make it sticky, making it easier to distinguish.
The chemical difference of amber is simple. Copal is not polymerized, so it is not amber, although it has the potential to become amber in a few million years.
There are some common tests that are used to help:
- Black Light - Amberglows under ultraviolet light, turning blue.
- heat test-Amber will smell like pine when burned. A red-hot needle works, but it's also a destructive reel you might want to skip.
- Saltwater-Real amber floats in salt water. Try adding 5-7 tablespoons of salt to a glass of water and place the piece inside.
- Electrostatic test-Rub the suspected piece of amber on a cloth for 30 to 60 seconds and hold it close to your hair. Real amber generates static after rubbing and attracts light objects like dust and hair.
Buying amber online is sometimes a bit sketchy, but most fakes are pretty obvious to someone who knows what to look for.
Use reputable merchants when purchasing samples. It is impossible to recommend a platform as a whole, but you will have to evaluate it for yourself. places likegemstone auctionsthey often shield their buyers from fake gems, but the usual suspects like Etsy and eBay often have good specimens as well.
Above all, when in doubt, do not buy the part.
Where can I find amber?
Although most of the world's amber comes from a few deposits, it is found all over the world. It seems that much of the land had trees that generate the type of resin that turned into amber over millions of years.
If you're hunting in the US, you're out of luck.
The following states have amber deposits:
- New Jersey
Arkansas has the largest deposits, but New Jersey is known forcomplex ecosystemof inclusions.
Unfortunately, there are no paid excavations open to the public when it comes to amber. You will need to find an area to work and make sure you get permission to dig. When searching for a site, it will try to identify sites that are rich in lignite, also called lignite. It commonly occurs together with amber.
Field Hunting Tips for Amber
Most of the amber in the US is found in clay beds. If you are lucky enough to find a place, you have a lot of work to do. On the other hand, if you're in certain locations, you can often find samples through normal beach searches.
Digging clay for amber
Once you've found a suitable site, you'll need to gather some basic digging equipment. In this case, you may not need a stone pickaxe, butOf courseyou need a good shovel and a small rake.
In many cases, the amber in these places is found in coarse clay, so you'll dig and spread the clay around to see what you can find. You can often find a few pieces on the surface, look for collected areas of small round balls of clay.
A careful examination may reveal small rounded nodules of yellow to brown material. Getting them wet often reveals their character, and a hot needle or knife edge can help you identify them.
Since amber coexists with lignite, you'll want to dig down to this layer for any meaningful specimens.
The brown coal is usually a few meters deep, but can be more than 1.5 meters in some areas. They look like small pieces of charcoal or burnt wood deposited through the clay matrix. It is down here where most of the larger pieces appear.
You'll quickly get used to figuring out which bits are amber. Most are quite small, so crawl well.
There's honestly no real hack to this.
If you are digging in the correct area, you will find amber.
If you dig deep enough you will find some good sized pieces of amber.
If you're lucky, you'll find amber with interesting inclusions.
Digging amber is relatively straightforward and easy to spot in the field. The problem is mainly finding the correct clay fields and getting permission to dig if they are not on public land.
Digging up clay can be a bit difficult, but some impressive specimens have been found this way. Or rather impressive for American amber.
Limpieza de playas para Amber
You won't find any amber beaches in the US, but it's not a bad idea to consider trying the beach if you're on vacation. Finding things on the beach was thesolohow amber has been found in Europe for most of human history.
The places where amber can be found are numerous abroad. If you're vacationing in South America, you'll be pleased to know that Dominican amber regularly washes up on the beach in the Dominican Republic, making it a prime location to collect.
If you're a regular bum, it's a piece of cake.
Most of us have some way of organizing the jumble of visual information on a beach, and once you get down to amber, you'll find pieces everywhere.
Marine amber tends to be easier to find than clay-contained amber. It will float with the tides and wash up on the beach, usually between rocks. Go dig and see what you can find, it is best to head out just after low tide to see what has been deposited.
You may not find amber on US beaches, but it's something to consider the next time you decide to go on vacation!
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Jeremy is a professional writer, but his true passion is rocks. With two decades of collecting and a decade of cutting, he loves to share his extensive experience and knowledge of rock hunting. Today he can be found in his workshop, placing the stones he dreamed of as a child. You can find his knowledge here and his work in his Etsy shop.
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