How to Identify Amber Jewellery
We are starting a new series of Blogs at Mayveda about gemstones. This vast topic can be a little daunting so we wanted to give you the best bits. Each week we will be launching a new gemstone with some fascinating facts and figures to broaden your jewellery knowledge. We start at ‘A’ with that resinous glow of ‘Amber.
V&A, 1765 German Amber Necklace )
Amber is millions of years old, research indicates it could be anywhere from 10 million to 300 million years old. This precious material is actually a tree resin which seeped from the bark of the tree millions of years ago, depositing in sediments. These Amber sediments over time become fossilised.
Interestingly organic matter such as animals, insects, spiders and plant debris can be seen inside Amber gemstones. The tree protects itself from insects by secreting resin.
Insect bearing Amber can be found in the Baltics and the Dominican Republic. These fascinating types of inclusions within Amber, allows palaeontologists to view insects which often belong to an extinct species. They can even figure out where these insects spent most of their time, it may have been feeding on leaves, scavenging in ponds or pollinating flowers.
Amber is very light in weight, under a loupe you can often see tiny insects, plant debris and gas bubbles giving the gemstone a boiled sweet appearance.
Amber can often be treated to improve its appearance for example heating, this can reduce air bubbles although can cause stress cracks. These cracks can look attractive and are sometimes induced on purpose. Other treatments include burning to alter the colour of the Amber making it appear green/black and for very soft Amber Epoxy resin is used to toughen the material.
Don’t be fooled
Glass and plastic can be used to mimic Amber. Pay close attention to the lustre of the piece, glass has a higher lustre than Amber which looks more resinous. Plus glass will often have mould marks which is due to the glass being poured into moulds. Plastic also have mould marks.
(Pictures - Bakelite Plastic Bangles)
Testing for Amber
Gemologists have a number of ways to test for Amber and some of them can be done at home.
Specific Gravity - The SG of Amber is lower than most plastics such as bakelite. A saturated solution of salt in water provides an SG of 1.12. Unset Amber should float, plastic will sink.
Hot-Needle - Warning this is a destructive test, so if you are going to perform this be very careful not to ruin your jewellery. Taking a hot needle to the Amber should give off a pine like smell not an acrid smell of plastic.
Sectility - Warning this is a destructive test, so if you are going to perform this be very careful, try in a hidden area such as a drill hole. Using a knife try to gently slice the Amber, if it is plastic it will slice off in ribbons but Amber will crumble or chip.
Electricity - Rub the Amber vigorously and it should attract dust or a piece of paper. Amber is a strong insulator and becomes electrically charged.
Fluorescence - Do not do this at home, only use this method if you have been properly trained as it can damage your eyes. Amber glows blue-white under LWUV and pale green under SWUV.
Where can I find Amber?
Amber can be found in the United Kingdom, along the East Anglian coast of England. Amber deposits are found on the shores of Norfolk and Suffolk countries. The Amber found here is most likely from the Baltic region, Amber is naturally transported great distances in the sea.
Commercially Amber is sourced from the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, Dominican Republic, Poland and Mexico.
Caring for your Amber
- Clean with lukewarm water and dry with a soft cloth.
- Avoid direct sunlight
- Amber is soft and can be easily abraded.
- Avoid solvents (Perfume, hair spray, makeup).
- Do not soak your Amber jewellery in jewellery cleaner.
* Always store your jewellery away in a box, just like our Mayveda box.
This ancient gemstone is thought to have healing powers, during the medieval period they believed it would protect from the plague.
Written by Tiffany
Tiffany is the Founder of Mayveda Jewellery.