|The Very Highest Quality Amber Information...|
Amber is one of the organic gemstones, being the time-hardened fossilized resin of pine trees, the now extinct pinus succinifera, and others. As such it varies from about 20 to 60 million years old, according to different sources. It appears surprisingly light and warm to the touch, and readily produces static electricity when rubbed. Indeed it was known to the ancient Greeks as elektron, and it is from this that we have obtained the word electron for the negatively charged particle, and also the word electricity. The metal electrum was so called because of its similarity in colour to amber. Amber is known in German as bernstein because in the middle ages, powdered amber was burnt as an aromatic incense.
Amber is most usually similar colours to honey, varying from golden yellow, through rich orange and red to brown, but some can be white, dark brown almost to black, blue or green.
The best amber is usually clear and translucent, but inclusions can enhance its beauty, rarity and value. Some amber containing a number of naturally occurring gas bubbles, has an appearance similar to goose fat, and is known as fatty, or in German flohmig. With larger quantities of bubbles making it appear cloudy is is known as bastard amber, although this is still a true amber. White or whitish amber is sometimes called bone amber. Some amber contains inclusions known as sun spangles, with the appearance of nasturtium leaves, although most of this is seen in treated amber.
Amber can be treated or processed in a number of different ways.
One treatment for cloudy amber is to heat it in rape seed oil (colza oil). This penetrates the air spaces, and increases the clarity. It can result in stresses in the amber known as sun spangles. Because these inclusions produce an attractive end-product, it may be produced deliberately rather than through lack of care.
Small pieces of gem grade amber are often pressed together under gentle heat and great pressure to produce pressed amber. Pressed amber may be identified by margins of different clarity in single a specimen, and by elongation of the gas bubbles it contains.
Staining or Colouring
Amber can be stained to enhance or change its colour, particularly from yellow brown to red, and also to green.
The most important source of Amber is from the Baltic area, particularly Königsberg previously in East Prussia, now known as Kaliningrad, and until recently part of the USSR. The variety coming from this area is known as succinite. It is found here in two sources, from the sea and by mining. The sea amber from this area is easily carried by the sea, and can also be found in all parts of the Baltic coast, even as far away as Norway, Denmark and the east coast of Britain.
There are many other sources of amber, usually with different characteristics and colours, and often regarded as different varieties.
Burmese amber is usually redder than Baltic amber and is known as burmite. It is harder, denser, and often contains calcite.
Amber found in Sicily, along the Simeto river near Catania is reddish brown, fluorescent, and is known as simetite.
Amber is found in many parts of Romania, is known as roumanite, and can be very variable in colour.
Amber found at Gdansk or Danzig is known as gedanite. This is softer and lighter than most other amber.
There are numerous small deposits of amber in the USA.
There are many imitations of amber, some natural and many synthetic. The natural imitations, known as copal resin, are very closely related to amber. They are also from fossilised pine resin, but from different varieties of pine trees, and also less ancient.
A variety from New Zealand is known as kauri gum, and is the product of the kauri pine (agathis australis).
Most copal resins, being younger than true amber, are more susceptible to attack by solvents such as ether.
Other synthetic imitations include plastics such as bakelite (phenol formaldehyde), celluloid, casein, urea-formaldehyde resin, perspex and polystyrene. Many of these can be coloured to create attractive imitations of amber.
Glass is also used to imitate amber, although it it too heavy, too hard, and has a cold feel, and is not particularly convincing.
Well preserved specimens of extinct insects and plant material, have been found in amber. These are valuable evidence for geologists and zoologists. They can also add interest to amber as jewellery. Insects are also found in copal resins, and have been used in pressed amber and other imitations for sale to collectors and tourists, sometimes fraudulently. Experts can distinguish fakes because they use extant rather than extinct insects, and there is often air trapped around the included insects, and other evidence of manufacture.
Amber in Jewellery
Because amber is soft, it may be thought to be unsuitable for use in jewellery, but as with other materials, we should explain that hardness is not always the same as durability. Amber is occasionally facetted, but is normally cut or polished en cabochon or as beads. Because it is relatively inexpensive and of light weight, it is often used as large stones in rings, pendants, bracelets and ear-rings, and is often set in silver. There is of course no reason why it should not be set in gold, we think it matches and complements the warm colour of gold, or even platinum.
Amber is often seen as large beads. Because of its light weight, it is excellent for this purpose. Also because of its soft warm feel, it has an uplifting spiritual quality, and makes excellently tactile "worry-beads".
Chemical Composition and name:
Amber is a complex mixture of several resins, succinic acid, and volatile oils.
Its chemical content approximates to C10H16O, but also contains some hydrogen sulphide, H2S.
Hardness: Generally 2 to 2.5, but can vary from 1.5
Refractive Index: 1.54
It is isotroptic.
Generally 1.08, but variable from about 1.02 to 1.12 or greater.
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