GO 340 Gemstones & Gemology
ES 567 Gemstones of the World
Dr. Susan Ward Aber, Geologist & Gemologist
Emporia State University
Emporia, Kansas USA



Burmite, amber from Myanmar, was fashioned by David Lamb.
Amber is a petrified tree resin that invokes a feeling of warmth and awe, from the insects who were lured into the thick resin, to the people who study and adore it millons of years later! Amber has a rich history of use, since prehistoric times through today. Amber's artistic use varies from jewelry and religious objects, to smoking accessories and amulets. In addition to art objects, amber is used in creating varnish and lacquers, and burned for its pine scented aroma. The two main sources for amber on the market today are from the Baltic states and Dominican Republic.
Amber has a composition that varies greatly depending upon its botanical source. It is often stated that Baltic amber originated from the a tree of the genus Pinus, such as Pinites succinifer (Schumann, 1997, p. 228). Beck (1999), Heuber (pers. comm., 1998), and Anderson & Crelling (1995) believe, in spite of finding what are believed to be cones and needles from these trees entombed in amber, the Baltic amber tree, based upon chemical research, was araucarian in origin or related to the modern day Agathis australis, the huge kauri pine tree found in New Zealand today (http://www.kauri-museum.com/).
Image taken from World of Amber.
The hardness of amber varies from 1-3, and it is transparent to opaque, with the cloudy turbidity due to air bubbles and inclusions. It has no cleavage, conchoidal fracture, and is tough to brittle (Baltic amber tends to be tough, while Dominican amber, brittle). The luster is resinous and amber fluoresces bluish-white, yellow-green, or blue (more fluorescence with higher sulfur content). The color of amber varies, with white, yellow, and orange common, as well as red, brown, green, "black" (deep shades of other colors), and bluish colors possible.

Amber inclusions are primarily air and water-filled bubbles, pyrite, tree debris, and insects. For gem purposes, the air and liquid bubbles are cleared and enhanced by boiling in rape-seed oil.

<<< Image left is burmite in gold. Burmite, amber from Myanmar, was fashioned by David Lamb, wire wrap design by Mildred Moore.

Special care should be given to amber jewelry in part because of its low hardness, but also because it is very sensitive to hair spray and perfume, which creates a whitish encrustation. Storing amber properly (do not let it rub against other gems and metals) and cleaning it occasionally with clean, lukewarm water and a flannel cloth, will help to maintain its beautiful polished luster.

Burmite, image right, is amber from Myanmar fashioned by David Lamb.>>>

The largest deposits are in Samland, near Palmnicken, Kaliningrad, Russia, formerly eastern Prussia. The amber is mined from a blue clay layer, but it has been estimated that only 15% is suitable for jewelry. The remainder is heated and pressed, termed ambroid, and used for technical purposes. Test your knowledge of amber by taking the amber quiz, then feel free to explore the World of Amber for more.

<<< Image left is Burmite amber from Myanmar and fashioned by David Lamb. The specimen on the far left is called root amber.


Return to the Syllabus or choose another gemstone below.

Alexandrite Amber Amethyst Chalcedony Diamond Emerald
Garnet Jade Malachite Opal Pearl Peridot
Ruby Sapphire Tanzanite Topaz Tourmaline Turquoise

This page originates from the Earth Science department for the use and benefit of students enrolled at Emporia State University. For more information contact the course instructor, S. W. Aber, e-mail: esu.abersusie@gmail.com Thanks for visiting! Webpage created: November 15, 2000; last update: September 21, 2011.

Copyright 1999-2011 Susan Ward Aber. All rights reserved.