The Story of Gems: Amber
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The Story of Gems: Amber

This is about amber a semiprecious gem, amber, known since antiquity that is still in use today. The article also describes some uses for amber.

Amber is the fossilized resin that was exuded from trees millions of years ago it was buried under sediments where the action of heat and pressure drove off the volatile portions of the resin leaving behind a highly polymerized mass of amber. Although amber enjoys a worldwide distribution the area with the most production is in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia around the city of Konigsburg on the Baltic Sea. This area has produced amber for thousands of years. Even the ancient Egyptians were familiar with Baltic amber as some of the artifacts that were found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb were made from Baltic amber.

Another place in the world where amber is produced commercially is in the Dominican Republic where they mine some very rare blue amber. It is also found in the United States in sandy marls that date beck to the Cretaceous era along the Atlantic Coast from Martha’s Vineyard to southern New Jersey.

Amber occurs as chunks of material washed up from the depths of the sea by violent storms where it comes to rest on the shore. Amber is between 2 and 3 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. Because of the cross-linking that occurs during the polymerization process amber is hard possessing a high melting point along with a low solubility factor. It softens at 302° F. and melts at 482 to 662o F. Its specific gravity varies from 1.05 to 1.12; because of this amber is only slightly denser then fresh water.

In nature amber is found as masses, nodules or droplets of many different colors. The most common however are pale to golden yellow or orange with some specimens displaying fluorescence. After it has been exposed sunlight and air for years it turns deep red developing a number of cracks on its surface.

Mining amber takes many different forms; along the Baltic Sea it is washed up onto the shore where it is collected after storms. The largest deposits of amber in the United States are found in clay pits in the state of Arkansas. Other notable deposits of amber are found in the sand and clay of abandoned “pit mines.”

Amber is capable of being shaped by carving or turning in a lathe where it is used to make pipe stems, jewelry and other decorations. When it is finished it is polished using a piece of flannel cloth. Some amber is not suitable for this trade so it is dissolved in a solvent where it is used to make varnish. Since ancient times man has used amber as a medicine to treat various illnesses.

If you like to read about gems go here

References:

"Amber." How Products are Made. Ed. Stacey L. Blachford. Gale Cengage, 2002. eNotes.com. 2006. 30 Aug, 2010 <http://www.enotes.com/how-products-encyclopedia/

Amber, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber

You can see more pictures of amber on Wikipedia Commons.

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