Amber is fossilized tree resin (not tree sap), which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since its discovery.   Amber is used in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and in jewelry.   There are five classes of amber defined on the basis of their chemical constituents. Because it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, Amber sometimes contains animal and plant material as inclusions.
The Jurassic Gem
Dinosaurs have been more popular than ever since their starring role in the film, Jurassic Park.   The film's popularity has created a worldwide surge in demand for Amber jewelry.   Although Amber's use in adornment is probably as old as mankind itself, in recent times it has had a limited market.   That was before millions of people saw dinosaur DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in Amber in the film, Jurassic Park.   Millions of people learned from the film that Amber (fossilized pine tree resin) is ancient and valuable, like a historical artifact.
Demand is especially strong for Amber which has trapped insects inside it.   Author of Consumer Guide to Colored Gemstones, David Federman, wrote, "Amber is like a time capsule made and placed in the earth by nature herself."   More than 1,000 species of insects have been identified in amber, many of which are extinct today.
The two main sources of Amber on the market today are in the Baltic States and in the Dominican Republic.   Amber from the Baltic States is older (which is preferable) and also more widely available, but the Amber found it the Dominican Republic is more likely to have insect inclusions.
The largest mine in the Baltic region is in Russia.   Baltic Amber is found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia, and occasionally found washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea as far away as Denmark, Norway, and England.   Less prolific, but certainly not to be discounted, are sources found in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Lebanon, Sicily, Mexico, Romania, Germany, and Canada.
The desire for Amber is not new.   Some of the oldest Amber artifacts have been found in what is now Germany and Denmark.
Made by the Sun
The Assyrians, Egyptians, Etruscans, Phoenicians and Greeks used it in pagean worship.   Between 1895 - 1900 A.D. over one million kilograms of Baltic Amber were produced for use in jewelry.
There are many myths surrounding the origin of Amber.   Ovid wrote that when Phaethon, a son of Helios, the sun, convinced his father to allow him to drive the chariot of the sun through the heavens for a day, he erred too close to the earth, scorching it.   To save the earth, Zeus struck Phaethon with a thunderbolt and he died, plunging out of the sky.   His mother and sister turned into trees in their grief but still mourned him.   Their tears, dried by the sun, were believed to be Amber.
The Greeks called amber 'elektron' (sun-made), whether because of this story or because it becomes electrically charged when rubbed with a cloth and can attract small particles, we do not know.   In The Odyssey, Homer mentions amber jewelry (earrings and a necklace of amber beads) as a princely gift.
The Romans sent armies to conquer and control amber-producing areas.   The Emperor Nero was a great connoisseur of amber.   During Nero's time according to the Roman historian, Pliny, the price of an Amber figurine, no matter how small, exceeded the price of a healthy slave.
Heating amber will soften it and eventually it will burn.   The ancient Germans burned Amber as incense, calling it 'bernstein', or 'burn stone'.  Clear colorless Amber was considered the best material for rosary beads in the Middle Ages due to its smooth silky feel. Certain Orders of Knights controlled trade and any unauthorized possession of raw Amber was illegal throughout Europe by the year 1400 A.D.
What Secrets Might Amber Hold?
Could a mosquito trapped in Amber really contain dinosaur DNA?   Most Amber just is not old enough, having post-dated the dinosour age, but in 1994 A.D., Dr Raul Cano of California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, a molecular biologist, reported in the British journal, "Nature", that he and his colleagues had extracted DNA from a weevil trapped in Amber when dinosaurs did indeed roam the earth.   This Amber was mined in the mountains of Lebanon south of Beirut by Aftim Acra, who has a collection of amber pieces containing 700 insects which include termites, moths, caterpillars, spiders, pseudoscorpions and midges, all of which suck their host's blood.
GB Jewelers, Inc.
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