Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Glories of Amber - Part One: Origins
Given the complex history of each nugget of amber, it is no surprise that trying to navigate through the use of amber and amber imitations in jewelry is equally complicated. Especially since the amber "gemstone" isn't really a stone at all.
Amber begins as a liquid secretion from some trees. It is not derived from the sap of the tree, but instead comes from the outer layers. This is a natural hydrocarbon resin, and depending on the source, it can be used in creating lacquers, adhesives, and varnishes. The use of this substance to the tree is not clear; it might be a way for the tree to rid itself of material it does not need. Although in some cases it seems that this secretion may either repulse creatures that might eat the tree or attract beneficial insects.
Depending on the part of the world the amber originates, it is probably 40-50 million years old. The very oldest amber found *might* be as old as 130-140 million years. Part of the appeal of this lovely "stone" is the knowledge that it comes from a close genetic relative - trees - and is the product of living processes.
Image Credit: Insects in Baltic Amber, Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0
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