Amber Buying Guide
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.
Most amber is yellow to orange or brown. Deep yellow colors command higher prices.
Natural cherry red pieces are very rare and sell at a premium. However, most red amber undergoes heat treatment to achieve this color.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.