Natural rough amber mined along the coasts of Baltic Sea from Poland

Amber (Indian: Kerwa; Italian: Ambra) is the hardened and fossilized resin of certain pine trees such as the Pinus succinifera. Amber is either collected from sea shores or fished off the waters, or it is mined by open – pit mining.

Natural ambers are very old from hundreds to millions of years. Inclusions like frog, butterflies, lizards, spiders, ants, mosquitoes and other insect species inside amber decides its worth.

Yellowish-brown or honey color is the best known color for amber which are fished or mined along the coasts of Baltic Sea, these are popularly known as Baltic amber.

Copal resin (kauri gum) has similar appearance (simulant) that of an amber stone which is generally confused with natural amber and mistakenly used in jewelry.

How to Separate Natural Amber from Plastic Amber?

Take a glass of water and add 3 – 4 spoon of table salt in it. Now stir it. Then dip amber and plastic inside the saturated salt solution. According to Archimedes Principle, if the S.G. of the stone is greater than that of the liquid it will sink and if the S.G. of the stone is less than that of the liquid it will float.

Particulars S.G. Remarks
Amber 1.08 floats
Salt Water 1.12 liquid
Plastic 1.20 sinks

Therefore, amber starts to float while plastic sinks. This test is only for separation of amber from plastic and confirms that amber floats in saturated salt solution. Natural amber having inclusions of insects may react differently to this test.

Amber Pictures

Rough red amber sourced from Myanmar Natural raw Baltic amber with insect inclusions Beautiful amber beads necklace Baltic amber beads

Yellow baltic amber with insect inclusions Brown rough amber gemstone

Chemical Composition :

C10H16O + H2S (approx.) as mixture of hydrocarbons, plus resins, succinic acid and oils

Classification / Type :
  1. Sea Amber: found in the sea or washed up on the shore.
  2. Pit Amber: dug up form pits.

Crystal System / Forms :

None. Amorphous.

Cuts & Uses :

Mostly as cabochons, beads, carvings, etc.

Dispersion : None
Hardness : 2 - 2.5
Lustre : Resinous or greasy.
Magnification :

Amber is noted for its inclusions which are chiefly insects and leaves, gas bubbles, flow lines, other natural inclusions such as pyrite, calcite, etc.

Optic Character :

Usually an aggregate (A.G.G.) or strong A.D.R. reaction. But, may show any reaction.

Pleochroism : None
Refractive Index / Birefringence :

±1.54 / Nil.

Simulants (with separation tests) :
  • Pressed amber (amberoid): May show elongated gas bubbles and flow lines, outlines of varying clarity of each of the pieces pressed may be seen. Under longwave ultra violet lamp it may show blue white fluorescence. It is not affected by ether or acetone.
  • Copal resin: A drop of ether or acetone will soften and form a stick path. Under shortwave ultra violet lamp it exhibits strong white fluorescence.
  • Plastic (bakelite, celluloid, etc.): Higher S.G. than amber. Peels with a knife and floats in a saturated salt solution.
  • Glass: R.I. & S.G.
  • Chalcedony: S.G. Structure

Sources :
  • Along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, where 90% of gem quality amber is fished or mined.
  • Other sources include Sicily, Romania, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Hawaii, Myanmar (red amber with higher S.G.), etc.

Specific Tests :
  • Amber floats in a saturated salt solution.
  • Amber, pressed amber and copal resin break away in powdery splinters or chips with a knife and exhibit static electricity when rubbed.
  • Amber, when burnt emits an aromatic odour.
  • Amber does not soften with ether.
  • Amber softens at about 150°C and melts at 250°C – 300°C.
  • Amber often darkens with age to a fine red brown color.

Spectrum :

Not diagnostic.

Synthesis :

Not commercially synthesized.

Transparency :

Transparent to opaque. Transparency depends on gas bubbles.

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