What Is Baltic Amber?

In short, amber is fossilized resin.

A common misconception is that Amber is made of tree sap.

SCIENCE: Sap is the fluid that circulates through a plant's vascular system (in the interior of the tree) while resin is the semi-solid amorphous organic substance secreted in pockets and canals through epithelial cells of the tree, which are the cells closer to the surface of the tree (but below the dead cells of the bark). Resin is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, but most particularly found in coniferous trees.

You'll often see resin 'bleeding' out of pine trees with areas of damaged bark:

tree resin dripping 

Photo Credit: Darkone

While sap works to move food up through the inside of the tree, resin acts more like a scabbing reflex, to cover over damaged surface areas and protect the tree from insects and disease on the outside.

Resin contains many interesting compounds, some of which ultimately end up in its fossilized form: Amber. 

Fossilization is a process where over thousands or even millions of years, the resin is converted on a molecular level to a harder, stone or glass-like consistency. Although not a mineral, it is generally classified as a gemstone.  

Amber will have small air bubbles in it, allowing it to float in salty water, and will also often have bits of rock, dirt, or even organic material. Because it used to be soft and sticky, tree resin amber can sometimes contain insects and even small vertebrates. These are known in the jewelry world as ‘inclusions’:

ant trapped in amber (inclusion) 

Photo Credit: Anders L. Damgaard

 

Amber can be found in many parts of the world, but what makes amber Baltic

 

What Is Baltic Amber?

Baltic amber is simply amber that's found in the coastal areas around the Baltic Sea. Baltic amber is thought to be fossil resin from the Sciadopityaceae family of plants that used to grow in northern Europe:

Sciadopitys verticillata plant

 

Baltic amber is distinguished from other amber found around the world by the presence within it of high levels of succinic acid, hence Baltic amber is otherwise known as succinite. 

Most commercially available Baltic amber is from Lithuania, Poland, or that little bit of Russia inside of Lithuania along the coast: Kaliningrad (note the little yellow bit of Russia below Lithuania):

baltic sea and surrounding countries

 

This concentration isn't just geographical, it's also in part due to the long tradition of amber artisans or 'masters' who live in Lithuania. They have handed down the knowledge of how to work with amber and craft it into different shapes and objects, like this super cute little owl made from joining two carvings together, each using a different color of amber:

cute amber carving of an owl using two different colors of amber

Photo Credit: S Tereshchenko

 

Baltic amber can be found washed up along the shore of the Baltic sea, but most  Baltic amber comes out of mines like this one in Kaliningrad:

Baltic amber mine in Kaliningrad

Photo Credit: PrinWest Handelsagentur J. Kossowski

 

However even the amber dug up in Kaliningrad usually ends up in Lithuania to be worked into jewelry, rosaries, or other products such as vases or sculptures like our little owl friend above.

 

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Or see all of our Baltic amber jewelry styles:

Children's Baltic Amber

Adult Baltic Amber

 

 

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