Your cart

Your cart is empty

What is Amber? Information From the Gemological Institute of America

What is Amber? Information From the Gemological Institute of America

Did you know that all amber is over a million years old? In addition to having a beautiful glow and a wonderful scent when rubbed or burned, this fossilized tree resin tells us a lot about ancient ecosystems. Around 1,000 extinct animal species and types of plant matter have been found in amber.

This particular amber from Poland weighs a whopping 135.5 carats and contains two scorpions and a few insects.


The oldest amber dates to the Upper Carboniferous Period (approximately 320 million years ago).


The Amber Room, a 1716 gift presented to Russia’s Peter the Great, was made from six tons of amber.


1,000 extinct animal species as well as various types of plant matter have been identified in amber.


  • Organic, not mineral: Fossilized resin




Assessment of the following characteristics determines amber’s value.


quality factors

Amber comes in more colors than “amber.” Rare pieces can even be blue or green.


quality factors

Amber with insect or plant inclusions is much more valuable than amber with none.


quality factors

Most amber is polished in free-form shapes, cabochons or beads.


quality factors

Amber is surprisingly light: in fact, it will float in a saturated salt solution.

Baltic amber is generally more expensive than Dominican amber. Pieces containing insect or plant inclusions fetch higher prices than clean pieces without such inclusions. For example, amber cabochons with no insect inclusions cost only a few dollars per piece, while pieces with easily seen or complete insect or plant specimens might sell for thousands of dollars.

Although consumers are most familiar with yellow and golden amber, the gem can be white, yellow, and orange to reddish brown. Reddish amber is more valuable than golden amber, which is more valuable than yellow amber. Rarely, strong fluorescence can give amber a bluish or greenish appearance, which when attractive can be highly valuable. Oxidation might cause the material to change color over time.

Cutting and polishing amber for jewelry makes it more susceptible to oxidation by removing or thinning the harder exterior surface. Fine translucent yellow or orange amber can gradually darken to reddish brown and eventually black.

Green Amber
Green amber’s color can be produced by treatment with heat and pressure. - Courtesy Treasure Green Amber, Ltd.
The color of amber can be modified by heat treatment and dyeing.

Rare Amber
Some rare amber specimens turn blue in fluorescent light. This striking example is from the Dominican Republic. - Courtesy Ambar Azul
Transparent amber is more valuable than cloudy material. An interesting plant or animal inclusion adds to the value of an amber specimen.

Amber Insect Inclusion
This large, elongated amber bead contains a fairly intact insect inclusion. The gem weighs 93.87 carats.
Treatment by careful heating in rapeseed (canola) oil can clarify cloudy amber somewhat. The resulting amber sometimes exhibits crack-like circular marks called sun spangles.

Amber is commonly polished into a free-form shape that follows the original shape of the rough. It might then be set into jewelry or drilled for stringing. Cutting styles for amber include beads, cabochons, and free-form polished pieces. Amber might be faceted, but this is rare.

Amber Shapes
Amber can be fashioned into a variety of shapes. Many people think of amber as transparent, but it can also be opaque. - Courtesy Ginger Moro
Carat Weight
Amber has a lower relative density than salt water so it can feel very light, even in large sizes. This makes it possible to use fairly large sizes in amber jewelry.

Amber Beads
Amber beads come in a wide variety of shapes and can be quite large due to their light weight. - Irena Misevic/Shutterstock
Green Amber "Glow Bug" Gregore Morin Designer earrings    available
Amber Necklace available on available
Amber information and images courtesy of Gemological Institute of America
Previous post
Next post