Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Is Amber Once Again Becoming More Precious Than Gold? Amber Scouting in Tucson, Arizona.

Ever since Eduardo took me to Simojovel, Chiapas, Mexico in 2013, I have become fascinated with Amber, and those of you who have come to see us at shows know that Amber now graces our table in increasing proportions.  I had dinner with a special friend of mine, Trayci, last week (from my former life in the Title business) who reads my posts on Facebook and my emails.  Over burgers, the subject of Amber came up.  She said "I don't get it.  What is Amber?  What do you DO with it?"  This comment made me realize that she was probably not the only person I knew who was thinking that!  Maybe my friends are thinking "Supposedly Linda is an artist.  Why has she become such a nut case about Amber?" 
Cognac colored Mexican Amber from Chiapas with Insect Inclusions, at the Tucson gem show last week
Well, to back up a bit, before I ever visited Chiapas, my first encounter with Amber was at Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, Arizona, about five years ago.  Eduardo was introducing me to the gem and mineral business, and pointed out a vendor selling Amber with insect inclusions.  I found that just plain WEIRD.  Why would anyone want a rock with a bug in it?  I felt just like Trayci.  What do you DO with it?  I was not in the least bit interested.  Now fast forward to Chiapas in 2013.  I started to learn a bit about this fossilized tree resin called Amber, and you can read that post here.  I became fascinated with the color variations, the weight, the inclusions, and the sweet smell of honey.  And I became taken with the fact that this organic gem was the only one that trapped history inside of it, and was translucent so you could see that history, which was in some cases 20 to 40 million years old, or more.  I became hooked.  We brought some home with us.  And as I began selling it, I noticed that I could literally feel the healing, positive energy of this substance when I placed it on my table.  So over this past year I began to study my Amber customers and their desires.  Who is my customer?  Jewelry designer, carver, lapidary guy, collector, dealer, healer?  What type of material do they like?  Mexican, Baltic, Colombian, African, Dominican Republic?  How much are they willing to pay for it?  And it became my most important goal this year at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show to seek out Amber, and study the trends in both where it is coming from these days, and how it is priced.  I found out a few things, starting with the Mexican.  One, there were not many Mexican Amber dealers this year.  We found two.  One we knew.  One was new to us.  And Two, it has become very expensive, with clarity being highly prized.  Like Greek and Roman times, is it becoming more precious than gold?
Surrounded by Mexican Amber in honey, cognac and red.
Learning about quality, color and price.
Choosing some Mexican pieces.
One of the most noticeable trends on this trip was the abundance of Amber from Malaysia.  It was everywhere, and this material has a lot of variation in both color and quality, ranging from red to a deep brown with patches of pale color running through it, to a blue or purple when held under ultraviolet light.  The prices vary greatly on polished pieces, depending on the color.  I intend to study more about this Amber, because it has flooded the marketplace right now and it is new to me, but I did discover so far that in the book "Amber, Window to the Past", by David A. Grimaldi, it mentions that some Ambers from Malaysia are from the Miocene period, which was 26 million years ago.  We brought some home in the rough, and I would love comments from anyone who knows more about the history of this type of material.
Malaysian Amber
I couldn't talk about Amber without mentioning the Baltic Amber, which is the most well known to the public and some of the oldest that is readily available, ranging from 38 to 54 Million years old (Eocene to Oligocene periods).  Amber literally washes up on the seashore on the Baltic Coast, one of the most plentiful Amber regions.  I've had many customers tell me that they grew up there, and would pick it up along the shore as kids.  Imagine that.  As always, there were quite a few Baltic Amber dealers in Tucson, but I have my favorite dealer, and I have my favorite colors when it comes to Baltic.
The white and the butterscotch are my personal favorites in the Baltic.
I love the white and the butterscotch, and I was delighted that I could bring home my first small pieces this year.  Stop by one of our shows to see it.

Because I also love antique beads, I have most recently started learning about antique African Berber beads, which are large antique Amber beads worn by nomads.  The beads can cost several hundred dollars each, and here's a necklace I spotted at the show for a mere $9,280.00.  Serious collectors only need apply for this little number.  Watch out for the new African "Amber" beads, though, which are largely synthetic.
Antique African Berber Beads.
Last, but not least, I would like to talk about Copal.  We met a new Colombian dealer on this trip who sells mainly Copal, which is a younger tree resin, not yet fossilized.  I like to call this a young form of Amber, but I find there are those that get very ornery about that description.  Anyway, I do believe it is safe to say that all Amber was once Copal, and that these specimens have their own intrigue and charm.  This particular dealer had some very, very nice pieces with insect inclusions, and one in particular had a cricket inside of it.  Unfortunately you will have to take my word on this, because I did not get a good picture of it.
Copal from Colombia with insect inclusions.
Since Copal is not fossilized like Amber, it is priced accordingly, and can be quite affordable.  I have sold some very interesting pieces of Copal and I especially like the larger sculptural pieces and pieces with insect inclusions.  It is quite fragile, and susceptible to cracking or crazing in the heat, so I always warn my customers to handle it with care.  The smaller pieces are great for lapidary people to practice their polishing, for jewelry makers to wire wrap, to carry in your pocket for good luck or healing, or to burn as incense to cleanse the energy in a room.  I find it to be particularly fragrant.

In closing, I have been visiting the Tucson Gem and Mineral show for about five years now, and I always enjoy it and find that each year I become more focused.  What I learned about the Amber on this trip is that it can vary in price from fifty cents per gram for certain rough pieces to twenty-five dollars or more per gram for the more desirable clear, polished pieces, especially the Mexican red and the Dominican Republic blue.  These prices per gram translate into mucho dinero.  And the specimens with insect inclusions can be even more, depending on the importance of the fossil, and the type of material.  The Malaysian and the Baltic were plentiful at the show.  The Mexican and Colombian not so much.  Mostly, the types of Amber that are most interesting and sought after by my customers are more expensive that ever!!  Time to become an ultra savvy buyer, to stay in the game.
My highly professional method for recording my findings each night back at the van.
I'd love to hear your own comments on Amber.  We are back in Los Angeles for now, and you can follow me on Facebook to see where we will be selling.  Come and visit and let's talk Amber!

All the best,


  1. wow...very interesting Linda!! I guess in the back of my mind I had the same questions as your friend!! I mean I 've always thought it was very cool but didn't know what you did with it...now I know!!!! :)

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