Amber Buying Guide


amber buying - amber and citrine pendant
Amber and citrine pendant in sterling silver and gold. © Caiazza Creations. Used with permission.

One of the earliest known gems, amber’s bright sunshine hues delight and enthrall. Amber often symbolizes life, due to the insects and other organic remains frequently found within it. Made of hardened tree resin, this material usually shows yellow to orange or brown colors. In rare deposits, it can even fluoresce blue. Whether you’re looking for a string of beads or a faceted statement piece on your next amber buying trip, understanding this gem’s quality factors will help.

Amber Buying and the Four Cs

The IGS amber value listing has price guidelines for cabochons with or without insects as well as rare faceted pieces.

Color

Most amber is yellow to orange or brown. Deep yellow colors command higher prices.

amber buying - cognac amber ring
A beautiful and bright cognac-colored Baltic amber ring. © Amber Design 8. Used with permission.

Natural cherry red pieces are very rare and sell at a premium. However, most red amber undergoes heat treatment to achieve this color.

amber buying - cherry amber dangle earrings
Baltic cherry amber earrings. © Amber Design 8. Used with permission.
Green Amber

While heat treatments can produce deep green hues, some yellow-green amber occurs naturally. Since this material contains large amounts of soil and other organics, its sobriquet of “earth amber” is certainly fitting.

amber buying - multi-color amber bracelet
Bracelet with decorative yellow, orange, and green amber leaves. © Amber Lucky. Used with permission.
Blue Amber

With a unique surface fluorescence, blue amber makes a delightful gem. Arising from only one extinct tree species, this rare amber appears blue on the surface but glows yellow to red within.

amber buying - blue amber
The blue color in this amber is due to surface fluorescence. You can see its true color with proper lighting. © Indoagate.com. Used with permission.

Clarity

Due to its origins as tree sap, amber often contains bubbles that reduce the material’s clarity. Highly transparent material is the most valuable. Opaque amber, on the other hand, is generally carved or even burned as incense.

Soils, plants, and animals may occur as inclusions in amber. Plants preserved in amber, while valuable to scientists, have no special value for jewelry. The inclusions that most commonly add value are insects, but other animals are also found preserved as well. To avoid scams, make sure your potential purchases don’t include “preserved” modern species.

amber buying - insect in amber
“Insect in amber” by Ryan Somma. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Cut

Amber beads and cabochons are common. If the piece includes an insect, a centered, well-featured bug will fetch the best price.

Some amber pieces are creatively carved, which can raise their value due to the increased labor involved.

amber buying - rose pendant
A carved amber rose on a silver pendant. © Amber Lucky. Used with permission.

Carat

Large amber pieces are rare. When searching for these, always purchase from a reputable dealer and ask about treatments. Much of the large amber material on the market is reconstituted from smaller pieces.

Jewelry Considerations and Care

Because of amber’s softness and sensitivity to household chemicals, pendants and earrings make the best jewelry choices for this gem. Furthermore, amber can create static electricity, attracting dust particles that may scratch it. Regular cleaning with a soft cloth can minimize the damage to this gem. Consult our jewelry cleaning guide and gemstone cleaning guide for more advice.

Amber Treatments

To improve clarity and color, amber often receives heat treatment. This can create red and green amber or produce “sun spots.” Coatings and dyes can also alter or improve color. However, these less durable enhancements can wear off with time.

amber buying - heat treated
This amber has undergone heat treatment. “Tear Drop Burning Amber Silver Pendant” by Choon Hong Yap. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Some pieces have copal or resin fillings to obscure cracks.

“Genuine amber” refers to melted or pressed together amber pieces. Also called ambroid, “pressed,” “reconstructed,” or “bonded,” this material holds less value for collectors. However, such pieces offer lower prices to consumers looking for large specimens. Buyer beware. Some dealers insert modern insects into this mix. This adds a “natural” appearance to the material, which may increase sales and, thus, profits.

Amber Imitations

Another tree resin material, copal is the most common amber imitation. While amber is at least 30 million years old, copal formed only thousands of years ago or even more recently.

Plastic and glass can also imitate amber.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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