About amber and its qualities
Amber is a compound of organic acids that includes carbohydrates, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and other mineral substances.
It is said that amber is fossilized tree resin, which appeared from a prehistoric pine «Pinus succinifera» 40-50 million years ago and has been appreciated since Paleogene times.
However, it is worth noting that the origin of amber from the Baltic region seems to be rather clear in comparison to other areas where amber had been found.
General age limits are a lot wider and fall within the period of 20-300 million years.
Amber from the Baltic region is characterized by containing succinic acid and that is where the name succinite comes from. The same applies to several kinds of Ukrainian amber, too. Succinic acid content may vary from 3 to 8.2%.
Amber can be classified as an organic mineral according to the Dana classification (Nr. 50.00.00.00) as well as the Strunz system (NNr 10.C), but with a status N ( catalogued but not accepted by IMA/CNMMN as a mineral).
IMA (International Mineral Association)
CNMMN (Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names)
As a result amber is still officially considered to fossilized tree resin.
Chemical formula of amber is rather simple — C10H16O4.
Its crystal system is amorphous.
Colour spectrum varies from being colourless, the colour of brandy, yellow, the colour of honey (up to 250 shades), green and yellow, black, brown and to red and blue. The colour of amber is its main criterion when setting a price.
Completely monochrome amber is rare.
Clarity: transparent, semitransparent and opaque matt.
Density: 1,1 — 1,18 g/cm3
Radiance: typical for the resin.
Hardness: 2 — 2,5 according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness (clear amber is the hardest)
Morphological habitus: the shape of amber can be divided into 2 categories.
As a rule, amber rocks formed in the trunk have the shape of plates or tubers solidified in the bark, under it or in the hollows of a tree trunk. They do not have insects inside. The amber in the shape of drops and icicles (amber stalactites) was formed on the surface of a tree. Usually it is transparent with insects and parts of plants inside. Incrustation was formed as a result of excretion of the resin. It is unsuitable for processing.
Drops had been formed as a result of excretion of resin on the branches of the trees. They have typical for drops shape (slightly flat). Their size can reach 3-5cm. The structure is thick and even. This material is ideal for amber jewellery.
Amber stalactites were formed as a result of excretion of resin in a short period of time. Resin stratified on its lower layers that had not been solidified yet. Amber stalactites have a very unique structure and are very rare. The size can vary from a few millimeters to 30-40cm. The weight can be up to 5kg and more. The average weight is approximately 50-100g depending on the region.
Kinds of amber
According to its exterior features amber can be divided into two main types:
- Rocks of the round shape so called pellets (were formed as a result of durable shift) have relatively even surface without holes or deepening.
- Rocks with sharp ends with holes and deepening.
Approximately 2/3 of all found rocks can be described as the amber of the fist type. It cannot be concluded that the rocks of the round shape have more value than the ones with sharp ends.
Depending on the worker’s skills, qualifications, experience and design of a future product, amber of both types can be processed with minimal waste.
All extracted raw amber falls into the following categories:
– Amber for jewellery production
– Amber for industrial purposes
Industrial amber is usually of fine fraction, black and of no interest to goldsmiths. It is used for producing high quality varnish and as well as musical instruments and car varnish of premium class.
As we are interested in amber to produce jewellery, let’s look at this category in more detail.
This group can be categorized into three sets:
- Opaque matt
Colour spectrum is so varied that it is very difficult to grasp the palette of shades of this wonderful rock. Natural amber can vary from transparent to black in colour. Amber of any colour can be related to one of the sets mentioned above.
The only type of amber that cannot be transparent is bone amber.
In the German language the word ‘Varietät’ is used to describe variety. As we are based in Germany we would use this word further in our documents.
Depending on the country or region of a consumer it is possible to indentify several colours of amber that are in high demand nowadays. Considering that interest to certain colours depends on fashion it is almost impossible to say which colour will be in demand tomorrow. Today it is lemon colour, next year it could be the colour of honey and even black.
Brandy-transparent amber is considered to be the best in North America, the red one – in Australia; opaque yellow amber is popular in Chine while bone white amber in the most precious in the Near East. Europe is found of waxy yellow. Tastes differ as it is known.
Let’s go back to the topic of variety of amber.
Trade amber can be subdivided into three main classes:
- Pressed (ambroid)
- Spoilage (firnis) or clinker
Gemstone depending on its transparency and initial colour, its ability to be polished and some other features which are of great importance in relation to processing can be divided into the following variations:
Clear (Klar) – absolutely transparent, from colourless to a light shadow of yellow or brandy yellow (so called Braunstein klar). Easy to polish.
Flom – smoky with tiny air bubbles; semitransparent. Easy to polish.
Bastard – not transparent, uniformly cloudy with an admixture of other colours (so called Kumst). Easy to polish.
Bone (Knochen) – not transparent; uniform colouring; colour spectrum varies from ivory to white (so called Butterscotch). Very rare. Easy to polish.
Foamy (Schaum) – not transparent, yellow whitish; can be found floating even in fresh water. A variation of bone amber. Cannot be polished at all.
Black firnis (Schwarzfirnis) – grey and black (looks like marble), not transparent but with an admixture of a tree or soil. Cannot be polished.
Bunt – a mixture of Klar and Knochen with an admixture of other colours. Cannot be polished using standard methods.
Antique (Antik) – a variation of Klar and Bastard; colour varies from red to brown depending on oxidation. Cannot be polished till gloss even with modern technologies being used.
The size of fraction, its colour, inclusions and shape of raw material play a defining role in price formation.
Major deposits of amber
Before we start describing major deposits of amber it is necessary to define the word ‘deposit’ and differentiate it from the term ‘manifestation’. Geologists from different countries are unanimous in their opinion which states that accumulation of the certain mineral can be called a deposit only if the quantity of this mineral is enough for industrial extraction during a long period of time.
Manifestation of amber is confirmed almost in every region of the world but the majority of them have no industrial value.
As a rule, this kind of natural amber is absolutely useless for art-deco but can be of great value for scientists and collectors all over the world. Till about 1980s it was said that amber from the Baltic region is the only kind of genuine amber.
Research that has been conducted in chemistry, geology and paleontology in the last few decades proves the opposite. According to a paper of German professor D. Schlee (1978-1980), any fossilized resin of a natural origin aged over 1 million year old can be called amber. Natural amber is classified according to its region in order to avoid misunderstanding.
The most popular amber:
- Baltic amber (including Russian, Polish, German, Swedish and Dutch);
- Ukrainian amber;
- Dominican amber.
Less known types are American, Japanese, Lebanese, African, Austrian, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, English amber and others.
More than 200 deposits of amber and its manifestation are known today. The majority are based in Europe, North and South Americas, Asia and Oceania. The main deposits of European succinite are concentrated in the Baltic basin in the territory of Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Ukraine.
Brief description of major deposits
Primorsko-Palmikenskoe deposit is situated in the Baltic, 40km from Kaliningrad on the Samlandsky peninsula next to Yantarnuy (Amber) village. It is considered to be the largest deposit in the world. Old Palmikenskoe deposit was conserved by flooding the quarry. Extraction is being conducted at Primorskiy and Plyazhnuy slots.
According to the geological exploration, there are a few more potential slots with common stock of 300 thousand ton which fall into C2 category.
Stock of Primorskiy deposit was evaluated by categories A2, В, С1 with 118 thousand ton and the category C2 with 52 thousand ton.
Category А1: prepared stock
Category А2: explored reserves
Category В: visible stock that can be extracted
Category С1: possible reserves
Category С2: prospective resources
The deposit is developed open pit. Quarry area is just under 1,500,000 square metres. Its length is about 1,200 metres and its width varies from 800 to 1,500 metres.
An amber-containing layer of glauconite sand (from 0.5 to 15 metres) occurs at the depth of 40-60 metres (sometimes up to 100 metres). The average content of amber in 1 cubic metre of so called blue soil is 500-600g. In some areas this number can reach 4.5kg. The size of rocks varies from a few cm to 15-20cm. In unique cases they can be up to 30-40cm.
Bulk amber extracted here consists of succinite – 98% and gedanit – 2%. Annual production fluctuates from 300 to 350 ton.
Firstly, the amber free layer (that covers amber-containing plate) is washed out under high pressure using jetting. It is turned into a hydro mixture which is then transferred into the sea after purification. After that ‘blue soil’ is diluted to a state of pulp and transported to the plant to further enrichment. In the factory liquefied ‘blue soil’ is passed through a grid with a mesh of 5cm in size. Big fractions of the mineral get stuck there. After that a fine sifter is used. Remaining amber is washed and dried.
Purified from sand and clay, amber is sifted into fractions of different sizes.
Apart from authorized extraction of amber by State Unitary Enterprise ‘Yantar Kombinat’, amber is also extracted illegally. According to the local media, the number of such illegal mini-quarries has reached a few dozens. Black miners are chased by the police and Federal Security Service.
About a third part of all extracted amber has been extracted illegally. According to industry experts, annual loss of amber extracted illegally is over 150 ton.
Klesovo-Dubrovitskoe deposit is situated in Rivne oblast in the north-west of Ukraine in a so called amber triangle – the area of Sarnu, Klesovo and Dubrovitsi villages.
Shallow amber in this area makes it a lot cheaper to extract in comparison to extraction of amber in Russia (near Kaliningrad).
However, this factor plays no role in formation of market prices because of minor extraction of raw amber.
Total area of deposit including Klesovo quarry is 200 square km. Occurrence depth is from 3 to 10 metres.
The average content of amber in 1 cubic metre is 250g. There are slots where this number can reach 1,000 g/m3. The average rock size is 1-10cm, it is possible to extract one up to 15cm long and over 1kg weight. Quarry area in Klesovo village is about 2,500,000 square metres. Its depth is approximately 50 metres. Estimated reserves are over 100 tons.
Over 95% of extracted amber is of gem quality and unique gamma.
According to official resources, about 3-5 tons of amber is extracted annually in Ukraine.
Total reserves of raw amber in Ukraine evaluated in 1,500 tons. Unfortunately, amber is also extracted illegally and that is why annual loss of the state is about $10 million.
Why was Ukraine chosen?
A lot of our clients often ask which amber is the best.
Amber Trade has carefully analyzed the amber extraction market in the Baltic region and Ukraine and has chosen the latter.
Which amber is the best? It depends on your purposes. If you are a collector and you are eager to have a piece of Baltic amber that is one thing but if your plan is to process raw amber, then you have to make your decision based on exterior characteristics and quality of amber and not on a region of extraction.
Because of stereotypes our clients are usually interested in Baltic amber but the conducted analysis proves that Ukrainian amber is starting to win positions and demand is growing.
Quite a few scientists still believe that Ukrainian amber is of Baltic origin and was transported to Ukraine by glaciers and streams. It has now been proved that it is not true and Rivne amber (Ukraine) is a separate type of amber.
Geological age of amber is difficult to identify just looking at the rock. Geology and paleontology can help us with it. Exploring sediment rock where amber is found one can approximately tell the age of natural amber. It is particularly difficult if it has been transported. But scientists studying insect and plant inclusions can name the palace of origin and its age rather easily. Here we find differences between Ukrainian and Baltic amber.
Natural amber of Baltic origin is considered to be transported (the Baltic region is not its place of origin) whereas deposits of Rivne succinite (Ukrainian amber) is believed to be original.
Studying amber inclusions, scientists came to conclusion that quite a few kinds of insects are typical for Eocene times. They can be found in amber from both regions. The structure of both types of amber is the same but a colour gamma of Rivne amber is more varied.
Let’s define peculiarities of both types
Rivne amber (Ukraine) and Baltic amber have the same origin. They originated from the same plant in a so called amber forest that existed in the territory of modern Europe millions years ago.
- Both kinds of amber are succinite.
- They are both of about the same age (40-54 million years ago).
- They both have about the same hardness (2.25 according to the Mohs scale)
- Density is identical (04 — 1.05 g/cm3)
- Chemical and physical analysis showed that Rivne and Baltic amber have the same characteristics.
- Insect and plant inclusions can be found in Baltic and Ukranian amber but more often in Ukrainian.
- Baltic amber, as a rule, is of small or average size. Fraction of 1kg or more can be found very rarely. Rocks 1kg in weight are equated to gemstones and are not allowed to be sold. Large fraction of Ukraine member can be found more often. Not so long time ago 3 rocks 3 kg weight each were found on the same day. Fractions 100-200-300-400-500 can be extracted almost every day.
- Weathering crust of Baltic amber is whether absent at all or thin (0.3-1mm) Colour is usually yellow. Thickness of the crust of Rivne amber is from 0.5 to 2.5mm and red, orange or brown in colour.
- The palette of shades is quite similar but Ukrainian amber has more shades (about 200 shades). Colours of Ukrainian amber can vary from transparent, waxy white, honey yellow to dark red. Sometimes it is possible to come across blue amber. Amber of yellow and green colours is unique and it is typical only for Rivne amber deposits.
– Despite the same hardness Baltic amber is more fragile and it is expected to be extra careful with it.
– Rivne amber is easy to polish, drill and grind. It has a homogeneous colour structure which is very important while producing high quality jewellery. Ukrainian amber is rather similar in its characteristics to amber from Denmark.
The process of melting of Ukrainian amber is finished at 520-550° С while the same process for Baltic amber finishes at 508- 525° С.
Amber variations have different hardness. Transparent amber is considered to be the hardest. Hardness of Baltic amber (Primorsk deposit) is 28.9 kg/mm2, while hardness of Ukrainian amber (Klesovskoe deposit) is 29.2 kg/mm2.
Amber of Klesovskoe deposit was researched by the Polish Academy of Sciences and Museum of land in Warsaw. It was recognized as unique thanks to its unique shades. Amber-containing layers are occur at the depth of 2-10m which make them available for extraction.
Amber extracted in Rivne oblast of Ukraine is unique.
According to Market Solutions Consulting, stock amber in Ukraine is about 100,000 tons.
As a result, after monitoring this situation carefully, AmberTrade decided to deal with the Ukrainian market of amber extraction. Besides, extraction of amber is not yet developed enough in Ukraine and there are quite a few undeveloped deposits here.
Ways of extraction
Mankind has been aware of amber for more than two thousand years and methods of extraction have stayed almost the same. Industrial and mechanized development of amber became possible only with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution.
Depending on the way of extraction it can be divided into two methods:
- Sea method
- Land method.
Let’s look into each of this method in detail.
The oldest and the most traditional method that has not lost its appeal is collection of amber that was washed out of the sea to the coast. The ability of amber to float in salt water is used to catch it with a net in shallow waters. The task is rather time consuming and tiring. It demands some experience and proper equipment, too.
If the weather is sunny and the waves are not too high, amber rocks can be seen on the seabed 9m deep.
The seabed is disturbed with the help of poles and amber is caught in a hoop-net on the surface. The last method of so called hand extraction of amber is diving for it. It is rather dangerous and not very productive.
And finally, the industrial sea method is done with by special excavators that extract the upper layer of the seabed and then transport it to the shore for amber to be sorted and enriched. It is quite effective but expensive, and for this reason this method is not widely used.
The land method can be done in mines or open pit. Mines were wide spread till the end of the 19th century but then they became economically inefficient.
Nowadays amber is extracted only open pit. Amber-containing layers (‘blue soil’) can lie up to 60m deep. Disposal of the upper amber free layer with the help of a special quarry excavator, extraction of the ‘blue soil’ layer, sorting out amber and its further purification is a very energy-consuming and costly process. That is why there is no such thing as cheap amber. Therefore if you are offered some cheap amber, you should understand it is fake.
The size of amber market and some numbers
The market situation is the following: prices of raw amber have increased in three times in the last 2 years and a half.
The main factor that contributed to this situation is a high demand of amber in China. Amber growth consumption was 10% a year in the period from 2008 till 2011. In the first semester of 2012 there was a slight fall from 10% to 8% which happened because of decrease in purchasing power.
According to our regional partner in Hong Kong, the price of raw amber has stayed the same. Statistics in Russia and Ukraine demonstrates that about 400 tons of amber worth $300-$450 million is exported annually to the countries of South-East Asia and the Near East.
Word extraction of amber is 500-800 ton a year. Despite the fact that 80% of amber deposits belong to Russia, raw amber is hardly processed there. Besides, black miners’ business is blossoming. For example, over 340 tons of amber were extracted in 2011 officially but over 750 tons were exported from Russia. From that one may conclude that black miners illegally extracted approximately 500 tons.
‘Pine tears’ flow to the Baltic region through illegal channels with black miners receiving $200-400 per kilo. Locals benefit from this scheme as they can earn a few thousands of dollars per week. According to the data of the inform agency ‘Ria-news’, two barges with raw materials worth €15-20 million were arrested near Yantarnoe villiage in 2010.
Goldmine for business
Interest to products made from amber is growing. The UAE and other countries of Persian Gulf are becoming involved in this business, too (apart from the USA and European countries).
An inlaid amber chess set (from $1,500 to $10,000), masterfully executed jewellery and accessories (from $15,000 to $20,000), furniture sets (a table and 4 chairs decorated with amber (from $15,000 to $150,000) and many more can be tailor-made in the workshops. Prices vary. Workmen only add 15-20% to the cost whereas enterprising dealers can easily sell final products 10 times more expensive.
Ukrainian stock amber is known for its high percentage of jewellery produced. As Polish association AmberMart stated, ratio of gem and industrial amber compile from 24% and 76% accordingly whereas in Poland and Russia the share of gem amber does not exceed 10-15% of amber extraction.
A bracelet costs the same as a Rolex watch
In the last 10 years the prices on amber have gone through the roof and one of the main reasons is believed to be activity in China. A kilo of amber rocks 20-50g of weight costs €1950 now and it cost only €340 in 2006.
A female amber bracelet costs about €3000 which is approximately the same price that one has to pay for a female gold Rolex watch.