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Baltic Amber Jewelry
Amber is a rare semi-precious gem. It is actually not a stone, gem or mineral but the fossilized resin (not sap) of giant coniferous trees, larger than our present-day redwoods, which lived from 40 to 65 million years ago. At the time, the region where these trees grew was within a sub-tropical temperate climate, and primeval forests grew plentifully.
Today scientists have named the now-extinct tree Pinus Succinifera. While it is believed that most Baltic amber resin found today originated with these trees, the actual chemical composition varies and it may have come from any number of species of trees including deciduous ones. According to the experts, true amber is only found in the Baltic Sea; however “amber” from dozens of other countries is sold, even though officially it should be called copal or gums. Often this “amber” is actually a much younger resin we call gums or copal and come from tropical regions such as The Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, Brazil, Columbia, Burma and New Zealand. Much of this amber comes from bean trees and does not have the fine qualities that Baltic Amber possesses.
Thick “amber forests” covered much of present-day central and northern Europe millions of years ago. The fossilized resin that we call Amber has undergone myriad physical and chemical processes through the eons, finally resulting in amber. Baltic amber can be defined, in the simplest way, as a fossil resin from coniferous trees containing succinic acid. Amber is not fossilized tree sap (which is the lifeblood of a tree – carrying water and nutrients) but is resin – which differs from sap in that it is a defense and healing mechanism of the tree – repairing broken branches and gumming up insects.
Some trees produce excess resin as part of their natural lifecycle (think cherry trees if you’ve ever seen one with sticky reddish sap on the trunk or pine trees). Through cataclysmic events (flash floods, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis), the trees and the resin becomes buried in oxygen poor environments – eventually being buried so deep that heat from the planet’s core and intense pressures form it into what we know as Amber. The organic part of the tree eventually decays but due in part to its plastic-like polymers and anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, the resin under certain circumstances is “fossilized”, however it is not actually replaced by minerals like most fossils. Essentially amber is natures' plastic - it is fully polymerized - that is, all the liquid components have been eliminated (condensation polymerization).
Amber is one of the few precious substances on earth we consider a gem which is not of mineral origin. Diamonds and jet - both derived from various stages of coal - and amber are the only gems of vegetative origin. The valuation of any gemstone is tied directly to its rarity. The level of succinite contained in amber as well as the rarity of its color determines its quality and value. Baltic amber contains the highest level of succinic acid, and thus Baltic amber is the most highly valued form. Amber can be found in incredible varieties as it comes in 256 defined colors; ranging from the traditional honey amber one thinks of, to green, cognac (reddish in color), orange, yellow, champagne, white (milk)and even butterscotch. Cherry amber (red) does not occur naturally and has been heat treated or is a reproduction of glass or plastic, including bakelite.
Amber was transported by rivers from Scandinavia and what is now the Baltic Sea, and deposited in the so-called "blue earth" of the delta between Chlapowo and the Sambian Peninsula in the Baltic regions. This large delta, from Karwia near Chlapowo in Poland spread up the Sambian Peninsula and made deposits in the northern, shallow shelf of the epicontinental marine basin of the Eocene. It can and is mined from these deep layers, but much amber also works its way to the surface of the ocean bottom and is churned up by storms and geological events and floats to the surface and is eventually washed ashore (and is sometimes found in fishing nets!). The fact that amber floats in seawater surprises many people but it's true!
Baltic amber, which is sometimes also known as succinite (only the latter is used in Polish goods) comes from the quaternary beds which are in Polish territory, and the tertiary beds on the Sambian Peninsula in Russia. Other fossil resins, of which about one hundred have been identified, either do not contain succinite acid at all, or contain less than three per cent.
Certain varieties of this “young” amber, properly called copal or gums may also be worked like amber but usually have inferior characteristics. Insect inclusions in Baltic Amber are quite rare – about one in every 10,000 pieces whereas insect inclusions in tropical (younger) copals are closer to one in ten pieces.
Imagine a redwood forest today – very quiet, with few animals and insects. Now imagine the opposite – a tropical rainforest and you can understand why insects in Baltic amber are so much rarer! Those found in Baltic amber are usually tiny and all alone while pieces from the tropics typically are larger and have lots of insects in a single piece. Everyone thinks of Jurassic Park when they hear about Amber, and while yes, the insects are largely preserved intact for millions of years, it is questionable and improbable that DNA (even fragments) can be preserved over such long time periods. Some scientists have claimed finding DNA, but most have been contaminated samples.
In nature amber is found in naturally defined drip forms, similar to stalactites, drops, or as fillings in the crevices of the once richly resinous trees. Internal natural casts of amber are very revealing forms of fossils — the proof of the existence of trees of unbelievable size. There are pieces of amber weighing as little as 2 to 3 grams, while the biggest known lump weighs 9.75 kilograms (22 pounds). Amber carried a long way from its source, or ground by the action of moving water, may be found in boulders or grains which are rounded to different degrees. Often a crust will form on the outside of raw amber pieces, both protecting and hiding the natural beauty within that must be carefully worked to be brought out. This amber is know as "rind amber" and is highly regarded for fine jewelry.
The rich history of the amber — from the time it is a fluid resin flowing from the trees until the time it is found on the beach — contributes to the exceptional beauty of Polish Baltic amber, as it lies below sea-level for 40-60 million years in the conserving environment of the "blue earth”. Natural weathering and exposure to heat, pressure and mineral presences enrich the beauty of the amber. Amber of various qualities may also come from other Baltic Sea states and may also be found in East Africa from beds in the Indian Ocean. By far the best quality amber comes from the beds just north of Gdansk, a Polish town near the Baltic Sea.
Scott of Zanzibar Tribal Art first discovered amber and its allure on a trip to Poland back in the early 1990s. Scott made his first buying trip to Lithuania in 2005 and a small percentage of our Amber is from here – esp. the faceted pieces (which is a closely guarded secret as to how it is done!) Prior to World War II, amber was commonly available in the west; following the closure of Russia and Poland during the Cold War, Amber became very scarce. With the fall of the Iron Curtain amber is once again coming from the Baltic in modest quantities. Though quality varies, we hand select all of the amber pieces we offer, assuring only the highest quality. We attempt to sell only natural ambers and avoid heat treated, linseed oil boiled, dyed, recombined, pressed or other treated ambers that are commonly offered by other sellers. Buyer beware! If we see 100 clients wearing "amber" entering our store, 99 out of those 100 are wearing fake amber!
Most of our amber is crafted by several small family-owned workshops in the seaside community of Gdansk in northern Poland with some pieces also from two family run workshops in Lithuania. We hand-pick about 75% of our pieces on buying trips and the remaining 25% we leave to our artisans to create and send to us.
Most of our inventory is made of one-of-a-kind pieces.
CARING FOR & CLEANING YOUR AMBER JEWELRY:
Care should be taken when wearing and or cleaning your amber jewelry, as amber is a soft fine gemstone and can be damaged by improper wear or the use of gritty cleaning pastes or ultrasonic cleaners.
It is not brittle or fragile but should be treated with the respect it deserves! You should treat your amber jewelry as you would a fine piece of jewelry: Do not strike it against hard surfaces and do not drop it. You should avoid wearing rings while washing your hands or doing dishes and remove amber jewelry before showering, bathing or swimming – water doesn’t harm the amber but soap and chlorine does.
Keep it out of sunlight when not being worn. Sweat and oils can also cloud amber so it should be removed during workouts.
We recommend polishing the silver part of the jewelry with a soft jeweler’s cloth to keep tarnish down. You can also gently wash away dirt and grime from the amber with the same cloth, lightly moistened or under running water (dry with a soft cloth).
Do use ionic cleaners (not sonic cleaners).
Do NOT use jewelry cloths with polishing compounds (it might scratch the amber).
Do not use chemical cleaners or a mechanical sonic or ultrasonic cleaning machine to clean your amber jewelry.
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