Russian Gemstones Encyclopedia

Vladimir Bukanov. Russian Gemstones Encyclopedia



AMBER (Bernstein—Ambre—янтарь), from Arabic “anbar” – ambergris, because the smell of rubbed amber resembled that of ambergris. Germ. name Bernsteincombustible stone, after its property to be burning. Russian name came from Lithuanian gintaras – protection against illnesses; Finnish name merekivi – sea stone. Its property to attract straws just after rubbing of amber gives the Persian name kahraba, from “kah” – straw, “ruba” – thief. From that source came the Turkish name kechribar. The same meaning is in the Danish – raf, Icelandic rafl – robber, Lithuanian latres – robber, and in Russia it was called – white burning alatyr, stone, or latyr’. In Ancient Greece, amber was called electron after its luster, from the sun – “elector”, that was the reason for Lat. electrum. In Greece, there is another name for amber – berenixe, after the color of the hair of Egyptian Queen Berenicea II, the mother of Ptolemy IV Philopator. Romans called amber lyncurium – “lynx’s urine” after a legend of its origin. Composition & Properties. Carbon ~ 78%, hydrogen ~ ten %, oxygen ~ 11%. Bioorganic formation of the group of phloragenic jewelry-ornamental materials. Amorphous. Hardness 2-2.5. Density 1.05-1.12. Resin luster to wax one. It is electrified from rubbing. Warm by touch. Combustible. The melting temperature at 280°C. Beside amber, among viscous resins there are amecit, burmite, delatynite, Dominican amber, rumanite, cedarite, simetit, succinite and others. From these amber-like fossil resins amber is the most precious and popular bioorganic gemstone. In the group of amber, there are also fossil refractory viscous resins, which have passed the period of deep petrifaction with producing of succine acid. They are easily processed with mechanical methods and are used in jewelry. Names of many of their varieties were given after the discovery locations. As a jewelry-ornamental material, of the most interest is Baltic amber, or succi-nite with the content of 3-8% of succine acid, as well as Romanian amber, Sicilian, Burmese, Dominican and Mexican ambers. They often find varieties of amber-like fragile resins and soft resins together with amber (See resins, App. 18).

Amber is formed from natural resins of the gymnospermous plants. Sometimes, it is found in the form of rather large fragments of irregular shape, up to 12 kg. The age of amber is from late Cretaceous to Neogen. Transparent to non-transparent. Color: light yellow to brown, greenish because of the admixture of iron (Fe3+), reddish because of Iron oxides, bluish because of the admixture of titanium, light blue because of light refraction when there are smallest inclusions in it, white because of fine-dispersed calcite, black because of bitumen. Amber is of multiple color varieties. One of them is amber with nacre luster – sidef. Rarely, they find amber, which displays the effect of cat’s-eye in cabochon. Brown amber is often characterized with clear light-blue fluorescence in UV-rays. Under the heating up to the temperature of 130-270°C out of access of air amber gets plasticity, and under the temperature of 350-410°C – fluidity. This property of amber is used for its clarification and for manufacturing of pressed produce. After the prolonged staying into the open air amber is oxidized and its color gets darken. A typical feature of amber is the presence of different inclusions of fragments of flora and fauna, which are of special interest for researchers and collectors. According the level of transparency, Baltic amber from the Primorskoye deposit, Kaliningrad (form. Königsberg) Region, is classified into the following grades. Klar, Germ. – transparent, from colorless to dark brown. Smoky amber – half-transparent, from yellow to dark yellow, more rarely red and light blue, it is well polished. Bastard –of middle transparency, of spotty yellow color, well polished. Osseous amber – non-transparent, white, looks like ivory, can be polished. Red amber – non-transparent, can’t be polished. Layered amber – white, can’t be polished. Foamy amber – non-transparent, white, looks like frozen foam, can’t be polished. Overburden amber, or pit amber – translucent, red, with oxidation crust, can be polished with big difficulties. Ornamental varieties take about 12% of the volume of the amber extracted there, pressed amber takes 7%, and the main part of the general volume, more than 80% takes lacquer amber, which can be used only in the manufacturing of varnish because of-the small size of its grains.

Deposits. Unlike the fossil resins, linked to carboniferous sedimentary layers, amber is found also in sea sediments, represented with sandstones and clays. The main industrial type of its deposits is marine and coast-marine placer. In Russia, amber-bearing placers of the Upper-Eocene and Oligocene age are known in the Kaliningrad (form. Königsberg) Region. There is the Palmikenskoye deposit and the neighboring Primorskoye deposit, discovered in 1951-1952. The capacity of industrial layers at these deposits reaches 7 m. The content of amber varies from 0.5 to 2 kg./m3 . The exploitation of the Palmikenskoye deposit was started in 1650. In 1781, they have passed the first underground mine, and the following year they have opened an open-cast mine for fast working out, which has been existing till nowadays. By 1930, the total volume of the extracted amber reached 7,000 tons. In the east of Russia, in the southern part of the Sakhalin Is., on the beaches of the Patience Gulf, they find amber rather often; this variety is called Japanese amber sometimes. In that region, by the settlement of Starodubskiy, amber is found at deposits of bituminous coal of the Palaeogene age. The output of gem-quality material is extremely low there, dominating varieties are: a kind of pressing amber and rough material for varnish manufacturing.

There are less in size deposits of amber of the Baltic coast of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, South Sweden, as well as those of Belarus and the Ukraine similar the Palmikenskoye deposit to. They form the Baltic-Dnepr amber-bearing subprovince. In Lithuania, in the region of Klaipòda, and in Poland, in the Gdaƒsk and S∏upsk regions, they collect amber on beach-placers on the Baltic Sea coast. Here, at Sobiezhevsk Is., in 2004 the piece of amber in weight of 0.94 kg. was found. In Germany, a lake placer of amber was discovered in Usedom, Stettiner Haff, Baltic Sea. In the Ukraine industrial resources of ambers are researched at the Kliosovskoye and Yazovskoye deposits. In the Rovno Region, at the Kliosovskoye deposit, which was researched in 1979-1991, fragments of amber reached 15 cm. in cross-section and 0.7 kg. in mass. According the color, they classify local amber into honey-yellow, wax-white with yellowish tone and reddish. In the Fore-Carpathian Mts., at the Yazovskoye sulfur deposit, the average size of fragments of amber reached 10 cm., and the biggest were up to 22 cm. with the weight up to 0.4 kg. Besides, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, in shales Delatino locality of the Upper Oligocene age they found delatynite. In Kazakhstan, small quantities of amber were found on the coast of the Aral Sea, in the Kumsat Gulf, and in Uzbekistan – on the western coast of the Aral Sea. In coaly sediments of the Oligocene age, they find fragments of yellow amber usually not more than 8 cm; some fragments were up to 20-25 cm. in cross-section and up to 0.5 kg. in mass. In Azerbaijan, in Cretaceous deposits, by the settlement of Gorchu, they registered findings of viscous fossil resin – rumanite.

In Romania, near the southern extremity of the Carpathian Mts., in sandstones of the Oligocene age, they find fossil fragile resins. The largest mine works were spent at the Kolti mines in the upper reaches of the Busau River, where they extracted transparent reddish-brown rumanite – sidef. Its biggest fragments were of the weight of 2.4 and 3.2 kg. Among other places of active extraction of rumanite, we should mention the Ploe¸ sti Region, Prahova Dept. They found olive-green variety of rumanite – piatra and black one – almaschite there. In Germany, one of the best deposits of amber is situated in the country between the rivers Elbe and Mulde, near their junction in the Bitterfeld and Bernburg localities, Sachsen-Anhalt. Amber is represented there together with fossil fragile resins, the most part of it is used as a chemical rough material. In France, in rocks of the Cretaceous age in the south of the country, near Daks and Landos, as well as near Anjou, Loire river and Tragenie Lake, they registered findings of amber up to a human’s head in size. In North Italy, amber was extracted under the trade name Apennines simetit; it was extracted in several river valleys, including that one of the Po River. On Sicily Is., at placers of the mouths of the Simeta and Salso Rivers, because of washing away of sandstones of the Neogen age, Sicilian amber – simetit is accumulated. It was found also on beaches of the Catania region and Jela. Color of simetit can be ruby-red, yellow, green and blue. The size of its isolations is not more than 10 cm, and rarely it reaches the size of an orange fruit. It was well-known in the 16-17ss cent., but by nowadays, it is almost completely extracted. It was high evaluated because of its strong fluorescence in the day-light, which gave it green, blue and violet tints. However, in time this fluorescence is disappearing. In the antique times, Sicilian amber was called lyncurion, or lynx  stone, because they supposed it to be petrified urine of lynxes.

In Nigeria, amber is extracted from Eocene rocks; there are fragments up to 10 cm. in cross-section and 0.4 kg. This variety of amber of yellow, dark red to brown color is known under the trade name amecit. In many countries of South-East Asia, amber is known under the name Burmite. In Myanmar (Burma), its deposits have been exploited since the Middle Ages. It was extracted in the north of the country from sandstones and clays of the Eocene age in the Mainkuan Region, in the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers. They found its accumulations in pockets – up to 30 cm. in cross-section. Burmese amber is more solid and hard than Baltic amber. It is cherry-red to thick brown in color, it displays strong fluorescence in light blue and green tints. In neigh-boring Thailand, they also find amber in small quantities, which differs from burmite with more transparency and with domination of golden tones in its color.

On the American continent, findings of amber, mainly in coaly sediments of the Cretaceous age, are known in Canada and in some states of the U.S.A. In Canada, there are more than 50 deposits. The largest one is situated in the Manitoba Prov., near Cedar Lake; it has been exploited from 1895 till 1937. Amber – cedarite from that deposit in fragments up to 4 cm. in cross-section was pale yellow to reddish-yellow and dark brownish. In the U.S.A., the best deposit of amber is situated in New Jersey, where amber is extracted as an additional material together with marl. Another well-known deposit is situated in Arkansas, in the Hot Springs Co. There were other numerous findings of amber, but more or less stable industrial processing of amber never existed in the country. On Alaska, amber has been being extracted by Eskimo on the Arctic coast of the Barrow Cape, in the delta of the Yukon River and on the Aleut Iss. for centuries. Alaska amber is golden-yellow to dark brown in color; its fragments are up to 3-5 cm. in cross-section. It is placed in coaly sediments of the Cretaceous age, too. In Mexico, findings of amber has been known since the pre-Columbian times. They were made in the region of San Cristobal, Chiapas. Earlier amber was used there as an aroma substance for religious ceremonies and even as a fuel as well. It is found in fragments of the size of a fist among calcareous sandstones and siltstones from Upper Oligocene to Lower Miocene age. Mexican amber is classified as simetit, it is golden-yellow in color and displays unusual fluorescence, it is extracted in small quantities and it is processed without exporting. In Dominican Rep. on Haiti amber, classified as simetit, is found in coaly sediments of the Miocene age in the eastern part, near the Samaná Bay, and also near Palo Quemado; and in the northern part of the country – near Santiago and Puerto Plata, at the Arco deposit. Dominican amber is transparent mostly; it is golden-yellow in color and it is characterized with blue fluorescence and bright oily luster. The usual size of its fragments is 2-3 cm., but some fragments reached the weight of 4.8 and 8 kg. In Chile, amber, resembling succinite in the composition, is found in the southern part of the country.

Unique findings. Isolations of amber, more than 1 kg. in mass, always treated as a great rarity. Pliny the Elder described one such finding about 13 pounds (6 kg.) in weight. In 1576, the Emperor Rudolph II has received a fragment of amber about 11 pounds (5 kg.) in weight. In 1848, on the Jutland Penin. they found a fragment of amber about 6 pounds (3 kg.) in weight, and according legends, they found fragments up to 27-30 pounds (13 kg.) there. In the 19th cent., on the coast of Prussia, they found fragments of amber 9.75 and 6.75 kg.; now they are exhibited in the Museum of Natural History, Berlin, Germany; and in the Museum of Göttingen, there is a fragment of Baltic amber 3.8 kg. in weight. In Yantarnoye, in the Museum of the Kaliningrad Amber industrial complex there is a fragment of amber 4.28 kg. In Lithuania, in the Amber Museum, Palanga, a fragment of amber more than 2 kg was stolen. In the Ukraine, in the L’viv Region, they found a fragment of amber, 31x22x12 cm. in size and about 6 kg in weight. It was taken for brimstone and was broken in pieces. In the British Museum, London, they perform a fragment of Romanian amber more than 10 kg. in weight. There is also the biggest ever found in the world fragment of Burmese amber 15.24 kg. Another big finding is a fragment of thick brown Dominican amber 13 kg. The biggest pieces over one meter long are from the Merit Pila coal mine, Sarawak Distr., Malaysia. Among unique findings with inclusions, we should mention a fragment of amber with three bees, which was gifted to the Pope Urban VII. in 1623. Even greater rarities are findings of lizards in Dominican amber.

Synonyms. Aidstein, Germ. | Alamashite, obs. | ~ amber: Austrian ~, black ~, (because of admixture of bitumen, syn. rumanite); block ~, blue ~, cabbage ~, Carpathian ~, syn. Rumanite ~; Chinese ~, syn. Burmite, after the place of selling; clear ~, cloudy ~, coastal ~, Danish ~, decayed ~, syn. gedanite; earthen ~, from an open-cast mine; fat ~, Finnish ~, after the discovery location; flower ~; gold ~, ice ~, Indian ~, mellow ~, syn. gedanite; muddy ~, Norwegian ~, Persian ~, after the processing location; Prussian ~, after the discovery location; rock ~, root ~, Sambian ~, after the discovery location on the Sambian Penin., Kaliningrad (form. Königsberg) Region, Russia; San Domingo ~, after the discovery location on Haiti; from the Ukraine; Scythian ~, sea ~, Siamese ~, from Myanmar; stone ~; Swedish ~, after the discovery location; water ~ | Amberit, obs. | Amecit, after the discovery location in the layer of Ameka in Nigeria | Angstein | Bernstein, Germ. | Bodenstein, Germ. | Burmite (birmite), after the discovery location in Burma (now Myanmar) | Burstyn, Polish | Catanite, syn. simetit | Chemawinite, syn. gedanite | Chryselectros, obs. | Compost – milky-white | Delatynite, after the discovery location by Delatino, Carpathian Mts., Ukraine | Dragon blood, Japan., after its red color | Amber earth | Sea frankincense, after its property to Gedanite, from Gedanium – a Lat. name for Gdansk, Poland | German gold, obs. | Northe gold, obs. | Karabe (karuba) | produce an aroma under melting | Ligurius (ligurio) | Myrrites, by Agricola | Red coniferous resin | Petrified resin | Rumanite (roumanite), after the discovery location in Romania, often it is a general name for fossil resins of the Carpathian amber-bearing province | Sacal, in Egypt | Simetit, after the discovery location on the Simeta River, Sicily Is., Italy | Yucatan simetit | ~ stone: cathy ~, obs., grave ~, obs., stream gravel ~, obs., jewish ~, obs., sea ~. | Succin | Succinite, from Lat. “succinium” and “succus” – juice, after the tint | Baltic succinite | Chilean succinite | Kievan succinite | Pseudo-succinite.

Quality improvement. According Pliny the Elder, in Ancient Rome, it was known how to dye amber red with purple; such amber was worth with its weight in gold. Nowadays, amber can be colored in different tones. Wide-spread is so called clarifying of amber with the method of thermo-processing in oil with admixture of natural dyers. Turbid amber was clarified also with dry baking in sand – red hot amber. Nowadays, they use autoclaves for this purpose. Clarified amber can be discolored and then dyed from the surface with oxidation. Such product is called skin-deep colored or rainbow amber, because fast cooling during the clarifying of amber leads to the solar spangles effect – appearance of disc-shaped iridescent cracks, resembling fish scales. In the presence of fine, fan-like cracks there is play of color in amber – it is sparkling amber. Sometimes, these cracks are colored additionally. Among the methods used for quality improvement of amber, we should mention the following: boiling in honey to receive red color, boiling of turbid pieces in petroleum, restoration of amber with pressed material, covering with hard transparent material of the type of epoxy resin and varnishes to strengthen its surface. Fragments of amber can be made supple under the temperature 140-250°C and pressure up to 3,000 atm. without the access for air, usually with linseed-oil as a sticker; after this procedure fragments are transferred into pressed amber. It looks like natural amber and is known under the trade names ambroid (ambroite), amber jade, yantaroid, smelted amber, reconstructed amber, sunstone. A variety of pressed amber of greenish color is called jade amber.

Treatment. Amber was known in ancient civilizations from the Mediterranean Sea to the Baltic Sea. Unprocessed fragments of amber, amulets and adornments from this material were discovered in burial places and at cave sites of the epoch of Paleolith on the territory of Austria, Great Britain, Romania, France, Czech Rep.. In the Ukraine, during the excavations on the Ros River, in the layers of the age of 17-20 thousands years, they discovered fragments of amber among other objects. In the north of Europe, numerous findings of adornments from amber are found at sites of Mesolithic, left after the end of glaciations on these territories. In Latvia, in burials of late Stone Age, they have discovered 1319 objects from amber, and by Novgorod, in burials dated to the 1st millennium B.C., – 267 adornments from amber. In the Kiev Region, they have found a carved lion’s head from ivory with amber eyes, which had been made about 800-600 B.C. Findings of amber are not rare even in burial places of the Arabian Penin. and in tombs of Ancient Egypt. It is known, that Egyptians used amber for the mummification of Pharaohs. Amber was evaluated especially high in Ancient Greece before 600 B.C.; it was widely used in incrustations together with gold and ivory. Its descriptions under the name electron can be found in works by Homer, Plato, Hypocrite and others. Homer in “Odyssey” declared that among the gifts to Penelope was “a chain of big ambers mounted in gold with a wonderful art clear as the Sun”. In the times of the Roman Empire, amber came in fashion; it served as a symbol of luxury. It was obvious under Nero (56-68 A.D.), whose crown was richly decorated with amber. For amber processing they used lathes, because the weight of the biggest fragments of amber, according Pliny the Elder, exceeded 4 kg. In the 6-5ss cent. B.C., in ancient Italy amber processing was well developed. Many carved produce, such as different pendants and big figures, are still kept in collections. In the 7-8ss cent., in Mexico, the culture of the people of Maya reached the highest point of it’s flourishing. These masters left mosaic amber masks in numerous tombs. In the Ukraine, in burials of the 10th cent. A.D., they find carved adornments from amber, the most often – crosses and pendants up to 7 cm. wide. In Great Britain, the first carved work of art from amber was a bowl, 6.4x8.9 cm. in size, discovered in a burial in Hove and dated to 1500 B.C.

In the epoch of the Renaissance, there was a new flourishing of amber in jewelry. In 1457, a Polish King has given special grant rights to masters working with amber and also he has refused a state monopoly on amber. Centers of its artistic processing were: in Poland – Gdansk, in Germany – Lübeck and Königsberg, in Belgium – Brugge. Among household products, there were settings with amber handles. The peak of amber mastery came to the years of the Reformation. In museum collections, there are more picturesque work of art such as relieves from amber with depictions of personages and scenes from the Bible. In the 16th cent., in Germany, the Union of Amber Guilds was organized. Masters made from amber not only church utensils, but also vessels and cups, tables for different games and other objects. Many of them are kept in numerous museums now. By 1600, the glory of the best center of amber processing has been assigned to Königsberg. They made carved figures, altars, bowls, caskets and cases, decorated with mosaic from amber there. In one of museums of Munich, there is an amber mug, 20 cm. high. In the Grün. Gew., Dresden, there is a case, 59x41x26 cm. in size, and in Gdansk (Danzig), there is a sculpture group carved from a complete piece of amber, 13.5 cm. wide. There amber produce with wooden base was invented: amber was fixed with organic glues. An altar, made with this method in 1669, is still kept in Florence.

In Russia, amber has been in honor since long ago. In fairy tales it was called bel-goryuch kamen’ (white and combustible stone), alatyr’ and latyr’. Amber adornments were an indispensable part of a wedding costume of a bride and a traditional detail for wet nurses. The peak of the fashion on amber has come in the reign of Alexander II (1855-1881), and then, in 1913. In the Armory Museum Kreml., Moscow, there are nine amber candle-sticks and an amber vase with exquisite carved ornament.

Amber can be easily polished and it gets darken during this process. It is widely used for manufacturing of beads, rosaries, necklaces, produce of small forms and jewelry insets. Transparent amber is faceted sometimes. On the base of amber they produce golden varnish for metal produce. Amber tailings are processed for manufacturing of pressed amber and varnishes.

Unique work of art. Among them, there is the crown of the Polish King Jan Sobessky, which was made from a complete piece of amber in the 17th cent. Among these produce there are former royal regalia from Myanmar (Burma), too. They are represented with a figure of a duck, 28x15 cm. in size, from dark brown burmite, in the shape of a vessel with walls about 2 cm. thick; and with a ball from transparent burmite, about 10 cm. in cross-section. In one of the churches of Paris there is a crucifix, 1.37x0.46 m. in size, made from a complete piece of amber. A unique piece of art is the “Master’s Crozier” decorated with amber, which was gifted by a Duke of Kurland to the Moscow Patriarch Filaret in 1632. This crozier is 124 cm. long, it is composed with 340 amber parts and it is kept in the Armory Museum Kreml., Moscow now. In the same place, there are also ambassadors’ gifts to Russian Tsars, made from amber: a bowl and a mug, chess-plates with figures, nine candlesticks and several vases. The biggest monument from amber in the world was the “Amber Cabinet”, 55 m.2, made by Germ. masters G. Thurau and E. Schacht according the order of Friedrich Wilhelm I, which was gifted to Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) in 1716. In 1760, in the Catherine Palace of the Tsarskoye Selo, on its base B. Rastrelli has created the Amber Room, 144 m.2, for which 600 kg. of additional amber were used. There was also a rich collection of amber work of art in this chamber. During the World War II the chamber disappeared, and by the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg it was renovated. In Latvia, in LiepÇja they have composed unique amber beads, 123 m. long, and 60 kg. weight.

Legends. According a Greek legend, amber was called Heliades tears, which were formed from resins of the poplars, into which sisters Heliades had been turned (they were bewailing their brother Phaeton). Possessing some healing properties, amber is a universally recognized amulet, which protects against different diseases and an “evil eye”. As a talisman, it gives luck and prosperity for those, who were born under the sign of Leo. Amber is a national symbol of such countries as Germany, Romania and Sicily Is. in Italy.

Similarity & Imitations. In outer characteristics and color amber resembles meerschaum, marble onyx, sphalerite, fluorite and citrine. The widespread imitation is pressed amber, as well as modern natural soft resins – kauri copal with admixture of amber, or after a special processing. For these purposes they also use plastics: antique amber from celluloid, leucorite from bakelite, including red bakelite; bernat (Germ.) – plastic of amber color with inclusions of insects and plants; polybern – small parts of natural amber pressed into colored polystyrene and galanit, as well as into glass.