Amber is the fossilized resin of an ancient pine tree from about 50 million years ago. The species of pine is Pinus Succinifera. Amber is found mostly in the Baltic area but some is also found in the Dominican Republic.
Baltic ambers can vary widely in their appearance. Yellows and browns are the dominant colors for amber, but amber can occur in a range of different colors: the usual yellow-orange-brown through a pale lemon yellow to brown and almost black. Some uncommon colors include red amber (“cherry amber”), green amber, and even a blue amber (found only in the Dominican Republic). Dominican amber is fluorescent. The rarest is Dominican blue amber and it’s highly sought after. This amber turns blue in natural sunlight and any other partially or wholly ultraviolet light source. In long-wave UV light it has a very strong reflection, almost white. this type of amber is produced in very limited quantities
Amber can be transparent to opaque. Inclusions, bubbles, and hair fine lines are common. Amber is rather soft with a hardness of only 2-2.5 on the Mohs scale, but it can be cut and shaped into cabochons of various shapes. Amber has been used for “eons” to create jewelry and religious and ornamental objects, but according to Gemstones of the World, only about 15% of the amber found is suitable of jewelry.
Amber has been used in jewelry and ornamental objects since the stone age and it has long been used in folk medicine for its purported healing properties. In ancient China, amber was burned during large festivities.
Imitation ambers can be made from younger resins or other fossil resins. Copal is such a resin that’s dried and solidified. It’s found in many places and is still produced today. Primary sources are Columbia and Madagascar. The resin is primarily from two different species of trees Some copals are very young (only a few hundred years old), others are millions of years old.
According to Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann, a pressed “ambroid” can be created by pressing small pieces of amber together under intense pressure (around 3000 atmospheres) at a temperature of around 480 degrees.
Here’s a good test for amber: make a saturated salt water solution (which means you add enough salt until it cannot dissolve further). Add the bead or supposed piece of amber. Solid plastic beads sink (hollow plastic beads will float) Genuine amber floats. Another amber test is to rub it vigorously until it gets really hot. Sniff it. It should have a pine-like, aromatic smell because it is after all fossilized tree sap from around 50 million years ago.