Amber is an organic gemstone that comes to us as the fossilized resin from various species of now extinct trees. Most of the amber I carve is from the Dominican Republic. Dominican amber is younger than Baltic amber, in the neighborhood of 15 to 25 million years old, as opposed to 65 million years for Baltic amber. I find the Dominican ambers to be more sturdy for carving and wearing. I also think the Dominican is more beautiful, ranging in color from traditional yellows and golds through reds in the Cherry amber and green and blue in the rare Dominican Blue amber. The blue is from an extinct tree named Hymenaea, which is a leguminous tree related tothe carob. Cherry amber is found when new mines are opened and are closer to the surface of the mine. It is only red on the outside. This is due to minute cracks on the surface of the amber, and as a result the cherry amber is more delicate that the other ambers I carve. Hence it is tricky to carve Cherry amber, as it must remain basically the same shape as the nugget I start with, else all the red color is lost in the carving.
Amber was once more prized than gold. During the crusades, the Teutonic Knights claimed the right to own it all, and it was death to keep it from them. Amber is the only gemstone that floats. One of the ways to test for true amber is to immerse it in water; amber will float in a 10% salt water solution and sink in fresh water. The name of this gemstone in Greek is electrum, from which we get the word electron. Amber holds a static charge, which makes it most interesting to carve! I look very much like a snow-woman while working due to the static making the dust cling to every surface it touches. Amber is a light and warming stone, said to be a charm against arthritis and rheumatism. Just looking at it, you can see why one might imagine that amber is indeed fossilized sunshine.