Amber: A Journey Into the Past

Amit Kapoor of Saffronart shares a note on this organic gem from pre-historic times

New Delhi: Amber is hardened tree resin with a dual distinction: one, being extremely old – up to 150 million years – and two, having been used to craft ornaments for thousands of years. Amber has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Valued as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects.

Amber was discussed by Theophrastus, possibly the first historical mention of the material, in the 4th century BC. The Greek name for amber was elektron, meaning ‘formed by the sun’, and it was connected to the sun god (Helios), also known as Elector or the Awakener. According to the myth, when Helios’ son Phaëton was killed, his mourning sisters became poplar trees, and their tears became elektron or amber.

Because it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material as inclusions. The presence of insects in amber was first noticed by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, and this led him to theorize correctly that, at some point, amber had to be in a liquid state to cover the bodies of insects.

Insect trapped in amberImage courtesy: Wikipedia

Insect trapped in amber
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

The scientific community is interested in amber for different reasons, most famously for studying the organic inclusions found in some amber samples. Perfectly preserved plant-structures and the remains of insects and other small creatures, which became trapped in the sap as it oozed out of the tree, have been found in amber, increasing our knowledge of the flora and fauna of prehistoric times.

Insects included in amber formed the basis of the movie ‘Jurassic Park’, whose story involves the cloning dinosaurs from DNA found in dinosaur blood sucked up by prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber. The movie generated great interest in the gem.

Sun Spangles inclusion in amberImage courtesy: Wikipedia

Sun Spangles inclusion in amber
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Amber may be treated to darken them or create beautiful inclusion called ‘sun spangles’, which have the appearance of bright circular marks.

Amber is also used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and set in jewelry. Most often, amber is found in small nuggets which are opaque and brown in colour, however it does occur in naturally wide variety of colours ranging from yellow to brown to reds and even blue! Red and blue are the rarest colours, and fetch a high value.

The necklace in the collection Everything that Glitters on The Story by Saffronart is an exceptional example of amber in large sizes and a desirable orange colour.

Reconstructed Amber bead necklace weighing approximately 794.31 caratsImage courtesy: Saffronart

Reconstructed Amber bead necklace weighing approximately 794.31 carats
Image courtesy: Saffronart

Tourmaline: A Versatile Gemstone

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart explores why Tourmalines find a special place in the hearts of gemstones collectors

An Unmounted Rubellite Tourmaline Everything that Glitters, The Story by Saffronart

An Unmounted Rubellite Tourmaline
Everything that Glitters, The Story by Saffronart

New York: Tourmalines seem to have special place in the hearts of gemstone enthusiasts, primarily for two reasons – first, that these gems can be found possibly in every color one can think of, and secondly, that these stones are affordable to most.

The word tourmaline is derived form the Sinhalese word tura mali, which means ‘mixed stone’. Tourmaline is not a single mineral but a group of minerals related by the close similarity of their physical and chemical properties.

Tourmalines are mixed crystals of aluminium boron silicate, and even slight changes in their chemical composition cause completely different colors. There are tourmalines in single colors, while some may exhibit two colors in a single stone. Certain tourmalines may even change color when the light source changes from natural to artificial. Different colored tourmalines are known by different names. Tourmalines that are red in natural and artificial light are known as rubellites; red tourmalines that turn pink when the light changes are called a pink tourmalines; blue tourmalines are known as indicolites; yellowish brown tourmalines are known as dravites; green tourmalines are known as verdelites; and black tourmalines are known as schorl. Tourmalines with two colors are bicolored tourmalines, while those with more are known as multicolored tourmalines. A particularly attractive type of tourmaline is known as the watermelon tourmaline because it has a red center and is surrounded by a layer of green. When cut into, these tourmalines are green on one side and red on the other.

A triangle-shaped rubellite tourmaline, weighing approximately 4.67 carats.Everything that Glitters, The Story by Saffronart

A triangle-shaped rubellite tourmaline, weighing approximately 4.67 carats.
Everything that Glitters, The Story by Saffronart

The proper lighting conditions for tourmaline will depend on the color variety. Reds, oranges and yellows generally look best under incandescent light, while greens, blues and violets appear prettier under daylight. When buying any gem, it is always a good idea to examine it under a variety of light sources.

Tourmalines are found all over the world, with the major mining areas in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although they are so abundantly available, tourmalines of exceptional color and quality are rare. The value of a tourmaline is determined by its color, undertones, and clarity.

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