Time Travelers


July 1998

Gemstones & Pearls:Gemology

Time Travelers

Encased in amber, prehistoric insects offer a beautiful view into the past

Interesting organic inclusions in amber are extremely collectible and highly expensive. The creatures who suffered the misfortune of being embalmed in the slowly oozing sap of prehistoric trees also offer a clear window we have into the past.

To be considered amber, tree resin must be over a million years old and fossilized; otherwise it's known as copal. So amber with ancient inclusions provides scientists and entomologists with clues to our own evolution.

Gemologists have their own reasons for prizing amber, including its rarity. And owners of included amber in jewelry can rest assured that theirs is a one-of-a-kind jewel. Professional Jewelerexamined a scorpion in amber, one of only a handful of such known specimens. Another unusual amber specimen sports an assembly of termites. (While insects are often thought of as the only inclusions found in amber, small reptiles, flowers and leaves have been documented also.)

Included amber is priced first according to the rarity of the organic matter trapped inside, though it's difficult because there are such few comparables. Collectors often drive up prices well past estimates. The amber specimen with the scorpion, for example, fetched a low five-figure sum.

The next factor in pricing is the visibility and size of the inclusion and how it has been isolated in the amber. A primeval mosquito isolated in a pool of amber with no other insects present – the classic image we often have of amber – is considered a collector's item.

The condition of the amber, including the amount of crazing (a minute patchwork of small cracks), is important as well.

Origin of the amber is another consideration; Baltic and Russian ambers sometimes command higher prices, though amber from the Dominican Republic (which is less recognized as a source) has become highly collectible also.

The color of the amber is the final consideration: deeper colors of amber, such as red, are highly desirable, but the visibility of the insect trapped inside always takes precedence over the color.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

 A scorpion in amber from the Dominican Republic. Gem courtesy of Cynthia Renée Co. Fallbrook, CA.
 Termites and ants in amber from the Dominican Republic. Gem courtesy of Bill Hehr Enterprises, Trumbull, CT.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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