Types of Baltic Amber


Amber is a naturally occurring fossilization of Pinus succinifera resin. The age of Baltic amber is estimated at 40-60 millions years.
It is used for jewelry and medical/beauty purposes.
The majority of the world's amber is found in the Baltic Sea region (hence the

Inclusion in Baltic Amber (picture from Wikimedia)
name -- Baltic amber). Other kinds of amber, added to the classification quite recently, only from 1950s when amber was found in Dominican Republic, make up only 2% of the total yearly production of amber.
Geologists estimate, that there is enough amber in currently known deposits to last us another 1000 years, but some of these deposits are in unattractive for mining locations -- protected zones etc, so the demand of amber drives people to "play" with what is available.
Because Baltic amber is naturally occurring fossilisation, quite often there are impurities, different colours, etc in one piece and people quite often want uniformity. Certain methods where developed already in 19th century to provide that.

This is why we need a classification of amber at least somewhat similar to what we have with other gemstones according to World Jewelry Confederation (Confédération International de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie, Orfèvrerie des Diamants, Perles et Pierres).

Amber classification based on CIBJO principles

  • Natural - formed without any physical or chemical alterations
  • Improved - formed from thermally roasted nuggets
  • Reconstructed - pressed from small nuggets or amber meal
  • Doublets (triplets and further) - with at least a single layer of natural amber. 
A quote from an article by  Wieslaw Giertowski" Various Modifications of Amber"
Of significant importance, however, is the lack of universally recognised regulations as to the acceptability of marketing products made of Baltic amber which are significantly modified using various physical and chemical treatment. We can see two fundamental trends here: the Polish and the Russian[...].

Each of the above categories must be separately marked, and a single product may not have a mix of components from different classification categories. Furthermore, a principle to use the name amber only in relation to Baltic amber (succinum) is respected (this principle has also been expressed in German Law: in the Act of 4 May 1934 on the Protection of Amber, with amendments).
The Russian classification does not require the differentiation of natural, improved, pressed amber or doublets, which may be combined in a single products. It is characteristic to quote the introduction to the article by V. Biernikov and V. Chistiakova on the structure of the supply of the Russian market, published in the Yuvielirny Mir -1998 annual:

"Comparatively small amounts of amber find their way to the market in their natural form. Most of the raw material is subjected to thermal treatment, clarifying, as well as various methods of pressing in order to obtain a material with a uniform characteristic intensely yellow tint, darker than that of natural [amber]."
Baltic Amber teething necklace by DropOfAmber
In his fundamental book Yantar (Leningrad 1970), Prof. Sviatoslav Savkiewicz, an experienced and reputable Russian amber researcher, determined the proportions of the share of the individual fractions on the basis of many years of observation of the quality structure of the material which comes from the mine sorting plants, in the following way:

1. raw jewellery-quality amber for export 2.5%
2. jewellery-quality amber for own processing in the conglomerate 7.5%
3. amber for pressing 30.0%
4. amber for chemical processing 60.0%

From these percentages it is quite obvious, why there are so many different forms of "reformed" amber. 90% of mined amber is not suitable for jewelry. In Europe (minus Russia, Bielorussia and Ukraine) this amber is used for cosmetics, various infusions, incense, etc. In Russia and previously mentioned countries it is mostly reconstituted to make bigger chunks of amber suitable for jewelry.

Even though it looks a lot like natural amber, some of the qualities are lost -- in heating amber with inert gasses to get that uniformity, it loses the colour and pine-like smell, some other methods of chemical/mechanical alteration make it lose its electrostatic abilities, natural amber acids, etc.
Some mechanically or chemically altered forms of amber are easy to discern from unchanged amber, but others are more difficult.
If amber is very clear and has little "discs" inside -- it is most likely heated amber.
If amber is of very uniform colour and shape -- it quite often is heat-reconstituted amber.

Be vigilant and enjoy real Baltic Amber!

All the pictures are taken by me unless mentioned otherwise. If you fancy a piece of soutache jewellery with any of the stones on my website or a piece of soutache jewellery in general -- send me a message or convo me on etsy.

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