Amber: A favourite gem throughout history
Amber is the fossilised resin from trees, at one time in history it was more valuable than gold and has an amazing range of uses. It can be an ingredient in perfume, has been prized in folklore as a medicine and is in great demand by jewellers as a popular gem used in jewellery for centuries.
A jeweller would describe Amber as an organic gem, and the fact that it is the only material we know which can perfectly preserve small insects forever, makes it more intriguing. Amber dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and does contain a variety of insects, seeds, pollen and even spiders. It has been carbon dated to anywhere from 250 million to 40 million years ago. Younger resins (only thousands of years old) that have not yet fully hardened are termed copal and much of this material is being represented to the unsuspecting public as amber.
The best Amber is known to come from the beaches along the Baltic seas, namely along the Polish and Russian seashores. In the Middle Ages when Amber was considered very valuable, any person collecting Amber along these shores would have been put to death. Another key location is the Dominican Republic. The Amber from this nation is noted for its transparency and an unusually rare blueish tint, much of which fluoresces under UV light. It is also revered for the high number of interesting inclusions.
Amber is a remarkable material and it has exerted a fascination upon man for thousands of years. The earliest occurrence of worked Amber by man date back to Palaeolithic times and Amber was a favourite gem of the Egyptians, Greeks and Celts and Romans. With all this history and intrigue it is no wonder it captures the imagination, inspiring artists and craftspeople to create a intricate jewels and enthusiasts to collect this remarkable and beautiful material.
Tanja M. Sadow G.J.G.
Dean and founder of the Jewellery Design and Management International School