May 18, 2024

Amber, A Gem of Ancient Origins

Amber Jewellery Nueve Sterling

What is Amber and Its Diverse Varieties

Amber, a gem of unparalleled beauty and antiquity, holds a unique position among precious and semi-precious stones due to its organic origin. It belongs to the group of organic gems like jet, pearls and corals.

Formed from the fossilized resin of ancient trees, amber encapsulates a rich history spanning millions of years. While Europe boasts Baltic amber found in Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Latvia and Russia, the Americas treasure their own. The diverse landscapes of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua cradle these precious gems, each with distinct characteristics and origins.

In Mexico, amber can be found in various municipalities across Chiapas, the southernmost state. Among these locales, Simojovel stands out as one of the most renowned for its abundant amber deposits. The amber found in this area dates to the Tertiary period, and it has been confirmed to be 25 million years old.

Simojovel, Chiapas 

Approximately 292 kg are extracted per month, which accounts for 90% of Mexico’s amber extraction.

For this article, my primary sources were the "Amber World Museum" ( and the "Museo del Ambar de Chiapas" (

Unraveling the Origins of Amber

The journey of amber begins in the depths of prehistoric forests, where resin exuded from trees evolved into the captivating substance we cherish today. Millions of years ago, this resin was a sticky fluid. Because of the long passage of time, it transformed into the stable and beautiful material we now recognize as amber.

The Baltic Sea region marks the earliest documented origin of amber, boasting the distinction of being home to the oldest worked amber, discovered in Hanover, Germany, dating back 30,000 years.

In contrast, Chiapas amber, hailing from Mexico, offers a glimpse into a Tertiary period, with specimens confirmed to be 25 million years old. Such vast temporal expanses underscore the enduring allure of amber across continents and epochs.

The Allure of Chiapas Amber: A Unique Gem

Nestled within the verdant landscapes of Chiapas, Mexico, lies a treasure trove of amber, particularly renowned for its exceptional quality and diversity. Chiapas amber stands apart with its remarkable hardness (the hardest in the world), vibrant hues, and intriguing inclusions.

Unlike its Baltic counterpart, Chiapas amber dazzles in an array of colors, from radiant yellows to captivating greens and reds. Its rarity and unique properties have elevated it to the pinnacle of international acclaim, making it a prized possession for collectors and artisans alike.

Amber in reddish, white, green, blue, or brown hues is considerably rarer and therefore more valuable than yellow varieties. Among these, green amber particularly commands a high price due to its high degree of rarity.

Extraction Methods: Chiapas vs. Baltic Amber

The extraction of Chiapas amber unfolds amidst the rugged terrain of Simojovel, where a large percentage of the population is dedicated to extracting and processing it.  Local miners brave underground tunnels that can go over 20 meters deep, in pursuit of these coveted gems. Using traditional techniques passed down through generations, miners excavate the hillside until they find the coal layer that contains “the heart of the amber,” for which they drill holes that they sometimes enter by crawling.

In contrast, Baltic amber extraction often occurs through open-pit mining, reflecting the distinct geological formations of each region. Despite their differences, both methods yield treasures steeped in history and craftsmanship.

Extraction takes place during the dry months, from January to May, to compensate for the lack of agricultural activity (alternating with field work during the rainy months). Additionally, collapses within the caves are more common during the rainy season. 

Properties of Chiapas Amber

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, Chiapas amber possesses remarkable properties that captivate both scholars and spiritual seekers. Believed to repel negative energies and enhance positive vibrations, Chiapas amber embodies a harmonious blend of ancient wisdom and modern mysticism.

Chiapas amber possesses unique electrical characteristics as it can retain static charges.

Insights from Inclusions: Amber's Time Capsules

Embedded within the translucent depths of Chiapas amber lie captivating inclusions, offering glimpses into ancient ecosystems frozen in time. From delicate plant fragments to intricate insect specimens, these inclusions unlock a wealth of scientific knowledge, enriching our understanding of prehistoric life forms and environmental dynamics. Each inclusion serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of amber as nature's time capsule, preserving fragments of history for future generations to unravel.

How to recognize genuine amber?

Although there are several tests to help identify genuine amber, it is generally not so straightforward, especially with modern methods of enhancing amber color.

The difference between glass and amber is relatively easy to recognize, as glass is heavier, colder, and harder than amber.

There are several systematic methods to differentiate real amber from imitations, each based on certain specific properties of amber:

Fire Test:

Amber, being fossilized resin over millions of years, DOES burn when exposed to fire. Amber starts to burn emitting an incense-like odor. This is why it was used in ancient Rome to aromatize forums.

Street vendors of fake amber (glass) often insist to tourists to subject their pieces to fire to prove that their product does not burn, when in reality genuine amber does burn, due to its molecular composition based on carbon.

Flotation Test:

The specific gravity of amber is only slightly higher than that of water, which means it cannot float in fresh water, but it does not sink in saturated salt water. The flotation test can only be done on unmounted pieces of amber, without any metal.

Electrostatic Charge:

Amber has the ability to become electrostatically charged after being vigorously rubbed on fabric (wool, felt, or silk). This property can be tested with hair, very small pieces of paper, fabric, or dust. After rubbing the amber, the pieces become visibly attracted to it from a distance of about 4 cm and tend to cling to the surface. The electric charge formed on the amber surface is negative.

Undoubtedly, this last technique stands as your most reliable means to determine whether the piece you've purchased is genuine amber, as it's a simple, non-invasive method that you can execute without risking damage to your amber. However, ensure that you rub your pieces on wool, felt, or silk; otherwise, it won't generate a charge. I attempted this method using a cotton cloth, and no electric charge formed. Yet, as soon as I used felt, it worked perfectly.

Nurturing a Precious Legacy

As the custodians of Chiapas amber, the people of Simojovel carry on a legacy shaped by centuries of craftsmanship and resilience. Amidst the challenges of modernization and global demand, they safeguard their cultural heritage while embracing opportunities for economic prosperity. Through sustainable practices and community stewardship, they ensure that the allure of Chiapas amber endures for generations to come, a testament to the enduring bond between humanity and nature.

In the timeless embrace of Chiapas amber, we discover not just a gemstone but a portal to the past, a beacon of beauty and resilience in an ever-changing world. From its ancient origins to its modern-day allure, amber continues to captivate hearts and minds, bridging continents and cultures with its timeless elegance. As we marvel at its radiant hues and intricate inclusions, let us also cherish the stories it holds, celebrating the enduring legacy of a gemstone unlike any other.

Timeless Elegance: The Union of Chiapas Amber and Taxco Silver

Renowned for its captivating beauty, Chiapas amber is transformed into stunning accessories by the exceptional mastery of Taxco silversmiths. These artisans skillfully incorporate the amber into various exquisite jewelry pieces, including bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings, and rings.

Each piece of jewelry showcases the harmonious blend of amber's natural allure with the intricate designs of the silversmiths. The rich, warm hues of the amber are perfectly complemented by the shimmering silver, resulting in accessories that are both elegant and unique. 

In conclusion, the exquisite Chiapas amber from Simojovel, combined with the masterful artistry of Taxco's silversmiths, creates truly unique jewelry. Each piece is a testament to the rare beauty of natural amber and the exceptional skill and dedication of the artisans and miners involved. These jewels are not merely adornments but cherished treasures that embody Mexico's rich cultural heritage and meticulous craftsmanship. Owning such a piece means appreciating and valuing the hard work, tradition, and artistry that make it genuinely one-of-a-kind.