Amber, which is in fact a fossil, is often held in the same class as semi-precious stones such as turquoise and jade because of its ornamental uses. Unlike these stones, amber is not mineralized. Rather, it is simply the fossil of resin. Most that exists today is between 30 and 90 million years old. Resin that is only semi-fossilized is referred to as copal or sub-fossil amber.
This fossilized resin ranges from pale yellow to deep orange in hue. Some actually has a lovely green cast to it. Furthermore, amber can have smoky, even opaque swirls within, and some enthusiasts prefer it with such milky inclusions. Because amber is made of tree resin, it often includes insects that were trapped within the pitch many millions of years ago. A piece with a visible and well-arranged insect is often prized over a piece with no such inclusions.
Amber can be found on the shores of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The main producer worldwide is Russia. In fact about 90% of the world’s available amber is located in the Kaliningrad region of Russia, which is located on the Baltic. Here, the resin is washed up on the coast after being dislodged from the ocean floor by years of water and ocean currents. It can also be found in the forests of Ukraine, and that found within the marshy forest floor in the area surrounding the Volhyn-Polesie border is prized for its wide range of tones and colors.
The resin has been valued as an ornamental material for centuries. It has been found in Mycenaean tombs and Neolithic remains. In England, artifacts from the Bronze Age have been discovered with amber inclusions. In fact, a beautiful Bronze Age cup made entirely of amber was found in Hove, a town on the south coast of England. The cup now resides in the Brighton Museum. Historians have found that it was also prized as a material for amulets by the Anglo-Saxons.
Amber is still widely used in jewelry and ornament today. Many jewelers who create stately designs enjoy working with the resin because such large pieces are available. Furthermore, it is significantly less expensive than gemstones. Because of the color range, a necklace made of amber beads can include a stunning arrangement of tones and hues.