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What is Amber?

Amber is the fossilized resin from ancient trees.

In the Dominican Republic, the tree is Hyemnaea (a leguminous trees). Most modern legumes are smaller plants that have nodules in the roots which contain bacteria that puts nitrogen back into the soil. Modern day legume trees are common in South America.

In the Baltic area, millions of years ago, either pine trees or eucalyptus (gum) trees probably produced the resin that turned into amber.

Resin from either of these types of trees, when placed in the proper conditions, turns into amber. There is an intermediate stage where the resin might look like amber, but is not changed enough (polymerized) to be considered real amber. This 'young' resin is called copal. Copal is always much younger than amber and has some characteristics which distinguish it from real amber. For instance, copal is generally less dense than amber.

Classification of Baltic amber (succinite) gemstones by the International Amber Association

Typical amber specimen with a number of indistinct inclusions
  • Natural Baltic amber – gemstone which has undergone mechanical treatment only (for instance: grinding, cutting, turning or polishing) without any change to its natural properties
  • Modified Baltic amber – gemstone subjected only to thermal or high-pressure treatment, which changed its physical properties, including the degree of transparency and color, or shaped under similar conditions out of one nugget, previously cut to the required size.
  • Reconstructed (pressed) Baltic amber – gemstone made of Baltic amber pieces pressed in high temperature and under high pressure without additional components.
  • Bonded Baltic amber – gemstone consisting of two or more parts of natural, modified or reconstructed Baltic amber bonded together with the use of the smallest possible amount of a colorless binding agent necessary to join the pieces.

 

Density is measured in something called specific gravity. Regular amber often has a specific gravity of 1.05 to 1.10 (where 1 is the same as water). Copal looks similar, but has a lower specific gravity of 1.03 to 1.08. A specific gravity of above 1.0 will cause the object to sink in fresh water. While amber and copal will both sink in regular water, salt water has a higher density. Amber and copal will both float in salt water.

Botanical origin 

Fossil resins from Europe fall into two categories, the famous Baltic ambers and another that resembles the Agathis group. Fossil resins from the Americas and Africa are closely related to the modern genus Hymenaea,[18] while Baltic ambers are thought to be fossil resins from Sciadopityaceae family plants that used to live in north Europe.[19]

 

Amber (fossil resin)

Chemical formula: C10H16O (succinite), bears succinic acid (3-8%), common fossil remnants of flora and fauna (mostly insects).
Colour: From almost colourless through yellow, red, brown, bluish to black (rare). Most common are yellow and orange ("amber") colours of various saturation, what depends on th admixture of the organic pigments. 
Hardness:

2 - 3 according to the Mohs's scale, sometimes as low as 1,5. Brittleness varies significantly. The values of the absolute hardness varies for succinite from 17.66 to 38.40 kg per sq mm, for the "bone" amber 20 kg per sq mm, for "bastard" amber 25 kg per sq mm, for Carpathian amber 26 kg per sq mm. Melting temperature of succinite is 340 to 360°C.
Density: 1.07 +/- 0.2; plastic.
Cleavage: absent.
Transparency: from transparent to opaque.
Shine: glassy, resinous, fatty.
Refractive indice: n = 1.540


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