Amber is a treasure, a jewel, a gem that I first encountered over 20 years ago and have been in love with ever since.
Amber is also a hardened old fossil. Amber is special like that.
Sometimes I meet a woman named Amber, and I ask her, “Did you know that you’re named after petrified tree sap?” I usually get the smile, don’t make eye contact, back away slowly reaction.
But amber isn’t just a girl’s name or the color of waves of grain in a patriotic song. It’s a rare and precious thing, a thing that brings beauty and delight, a thing to adorn with and admire.
A gem, by any other name. And my favorite one.
Technically, amber is not a gemstone. It’s not a stone at all, or tree sap, really. It’s tree resin, for all the difference that makes. It’s millions of years old, sometimes contains insect parts, and is therefore famous as an important plot point in Jurassic Park.
To me, the best thing about amber is that it can be made into jewelry and other decorative items. I began collecting amber years ago, when I first saw some at a science fiction convention (it’s also often sold at Renaissance Fairs). A dealer known as The Amber Fox from Rochester, MI, had cases of the stuff, lovely clear yellows like fine pilsner beer, warm golds like orange blossom or buckwheat honey, lustrous brown and gold mixes, cloudy opaques and translucent wonders. Even a few pieces of deep red cherry amber were on display. They were carved and polished and fashioned into necklaces, earrings, bracelets, animal figures, boxes, and dice.
Soon my nose prints were all over the glass cases. And soon I started to buy. I started out small, with earrings. Since then I’ve bought many more earrings, a variety of necklaces, some pins, and a bracelet and ring for special occasions (amber is too soft to hold up well where it will be bumped or scratched, though a minor scratch can be polished out with toothpaste).
And the collection includes three special items: a carved amber rabbit and a box made of tiny amber squares that my husband bought for me, and a carved amber bear that I bought for him. Both of us had to save a long time to afford them and they are among our most precious possessions.
We don’t own the most expensive kinds of amber, though, nor green amber, which I don’t particularly like. Amber is more expensive and valuable when it contains insect parts and especially when it includes whole insects, trapped at the moment of their death and preserved for millions of years in gorgeous stasis.
Amber is also more valuable when you have a whole room made of it. One was constructed in St. Petersburg, Russia, but it disappeared during World War II – stolen by Nazis, hidden so well that no one has found it, or destroyed in transport either to safety or to Hitler. In the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, a replica of the room has been made. Images of it are too spectacular to describe – mirrors and lamps amplify the colors and textures. The primary item on my “bucket list” is to travel to St. Petersburg to see it.
I love and collect other gems and semiprecious stones, both jewelry and carvings. Forget diamonds being a girl’s best friend. My best friends include malachite, amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, blue lace agate, sodalite, iolite, unakite, hematite, rose quartz, moss agate, and aventurine. But amber is my true love.