In some cases up to 130 million years old, this semi-precious stone is actually tree resin. It is formed from conifers ‘petrified’ under the weight of other sediments, and often containing trapped insects and air bubbles. As a result of underground changes in pressure and temperature, this resin became compacted and eventually formed into amber. Historical analysis of the air bubbles trapped in this precious stone has revealed that oxygen levels were much higher at the time of its formation (around 35% higher, in fact, as compared to the current 20% – which interestingly coincided with the demise of the dinosaurs).
Most comes from the Baltic, where it is often washed up along the shoreline, since, in its raw form, it can actually float in sea water. During winter storms, it can reach as far as the Norfolk coastline. Other locations where the stone is found, include Simojovel in the Chiapas area of Mexico, where the Mayans valued it highly. The Spanish conquistadors told of Montezuma, the Aztec emperor stirring his chocolate with an amber spoon.
Amber can occur in many colours, ranging from an opaque creamy yellow (or “butter”, as it is known), through brown to green. When many air bubbles are present in the raw form of this stone, it can be heated very gently at a low temperature, and in a vacuum, sometimes for days at a time, to release that air and improve clarity and hardness.
The Romans believed amber was life encapsulated, perhaps due to the occurrences of insects perfectly preserved within it. It is said to help absorb negative energy and to release bright, soothing energy, helping to calm nerves and enliven disposition.
Most often considered the birthstone for Leo, it has associations with Aquarius too, as well as being the traditional stone to mark 10th year anniversaries.