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If you are wondering how much to spend on a piece of amber jewelry or raw amber stone, or you’re looking to price a specimen you’ve acquired, you aren’t alone in your struggle. It is complicated to value an amber specimen. In this article, I will explore all the details and steps involved in evaluating an amber specimen.
Amber can be sold for anywhere from 1$-30$ per carat. If it has an inclusion, it will be higher on this scale. By color, generally, they are ranked from less to more valuable: black, red, yellow/gold, white. The region also plays a role: Baltic, Ukrainian, Russian, Dominican, and Mexican amber all are special types, ranked in that order from high to low value.
Evaluating amber departs from the typical “4 C’s” jeweler rule of thumb, in part because it is not a mineral – it’s petrified organic matter. By the end of this article, you will have a reasonable grip on the value of any amber specimen.
If you are interested in checking out beautiful amber rocks you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Raw Amber Stones Value
Raw amber pricing differentiates itself from other raw minerals because of a few distinct qualities of amber: its relative softness, the areas where you can find it, and its organic matter properties.
Raw amber with inclusions will always be more valuable than others, but raw amber pricing generally follows the pricing scheme of processed amber, demanding anywhere from $0.50-$25 per carat. This is because amber’s workability allows easy and cheap processing. If it is found in the sea, it may have more imperfections which will decrease the value.
Amber has a hardness of 2-2.5. This means that it’s about the same hardness as your fingernail. As you can imagine, if you can scratch a gem with your fingernail, it’s relatively easy to carve and shape with commonplace tools such as a Dremel or even sandpaper.
Processing of this stone generally includes just shaping it into a round shape to use as a bead or center stone in jewelry.
This property contributes to raw amber being widely sold, while you can still find processed amber, it comes at a much smaller premium than other gemstones typically achieve.
Amber has a long history. Understanding this history is key to understanding the value of a specimen because amber partially derives its value from its history.
You may have been intrigued by amber in the movie Jurassic Park. If you were, you wouldn’t be alone – this movie actually had a huge impact on the amber industry.
This blockbuster increased the demand for amber inclusions such as mosquitos and other bugs, these could be worth $40/carat or even more if the specimen is clear and intact.
The movie also taught a little about history. Amber is the petrified resin of mainly deciduous or coniferous trees from 30 million years ago.
Because it’s so sticky, it is easy for small insects to get stuck, then trapped for eternity as this material dies. This little fact does make it more intriguing of material, doesn’t it?
This formation process, like the formation process of many gems, informs an astute rockhound on where to find the material. Ancient forests such as those in the region around the Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic are famed areas to find amber.
However, surprisingly, an area that can be even denser with amber is not the forest – it’s the beach. This is an entirely different category of amber, called sea amber, which has traveled from areas that were once forests, through the sea, to a coastline.
The cost of sea amber can be slightly less than that of amber found underground or on land – this is because the water can degrade the material to be less pure, more opaque, and have more imperfections.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rocks and minerals identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- The Crystal Bible
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Which Color of Amber is Most Valuable?
The variance in the trees, climate, and other conditions in which the amber was formed cause the change in color of the material. Because these attributes are region-specific, amber color and origin usually come hand in hand. For this reason, experts typically specify amber according to the region it came from.
Putting aside the value of inclusions, demand for amber color varies wildly year by year. White and red are the rarest, which contributes to their value, but white is achieving up to $11 per carat in the current market. Gold/yellow Baltic amber is the classic variety, and because of its history, this type can achieve up to $14/carat without inclusions.
Below are the current price ranges for different types of amber. Keep in mind that these are just benchmarks – quality (discussed in the next section), shape, and transparency all play different roles in modifying this price. For more current info, Amazon (Amazon link) has a breadth of material from which you can get a relatively good idea if you’re careful!
|Red (Cherry) Amber||3-6|
|Black (Dominican) Amber||1-4|
|Amber with Inclusions||15-30|
Specifics of the Varieties
Baltic amber is the classic variety of amber. It can be found in Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and other countries in the Baltic region on the beach or underground in forest areas.
It can be any shade of yellow, from transparent butter color to deep cloudy honey-gold and everything in between. As a rule, transparent stones have more value than their opaque counterparts and the darker gold colors sell for more than then lighter yellow ones.
Russian amber is actually also Baltic amber, holding the same gold color. The main source is a mine in Kaliningrad, and its price and features are very similar to those found in Greece and Ukraine.
Cherry amber is rare – some sources estimate that this type of amber constitutes 1%-5% of all amber found worldwide. Currently, demand for it is relatively low. However, it’s definitely worth having, especially if it’s clear with an interesting inclusion.
White amber, also called bone amber, is often found in the Dominican and Baltic regions. It’s also a rare type and sometimes takes on a similar look to ivory.
Surprisingly, amber can also be blue or even green (interestingly from contact with plants during the hardening process).
Because this is not a widely recognizable color but is quite rare, the value of these colored stones varies widely. For these, the value is highly dependent on other qualities such as its cut, clearness, and even its setting.
TIP: Amber gemstones can be often found on the beaches. Do you know what gemstones come from the ocean? There is plenty of amazing gemstones that come from the ocean, for example, pearls. Find out more in the article below:
What Makes Amber More Valuable?
Inclusions, transparency, roundness, smoothness, the rarity of the color, and the fame of the region are all factors that contribute to making an amber specimen more valuable. If it has an inclusion, an intact inclusion will fetch a higher price – up to $30 per carat or more. Popular and more valuable inclusions currently are mosquitos, butterflies, and flies.
Inclusions are a characteristic attribute of amber. Though the popular inclusions are insects, you can also find fish bones, worms, and plants inside.
Inclusions allude to a long history and pique the viewer’s curiosity – something which is very valuable in a gemstone. In any amber specimen with an inclusion, clarity and roundness are paramount – so as not to impede the view of this piece of history.
Some of the inclusions can more than triple the value of your amber sample. It’s not only intriguing, but it’s also incredibly valuable for researchers studying the world as it once was. Small amber samples with inclusions are reliable $30-$40, and bigger ones can be over $100.
Inclusions are also a tribute to the sincerity of a sample because it’s very hard to reproduce such a form. However, there are many popular methods to fake an amber look.
You’ll want to be sure to look out for these if you’re buying amber and be aware of them if you’re pricing it.
TIP: Do know what are the most common sights of valuable rocks and minerals? Find out more in the article below:
Fakes and Treatments
The most popular of these, widely used in beads for bracelets or necklaces, is the ambroid. This is a composition of many small amber pieces, glued together using a heating process – heating the material up to 150-300 degrees C.
These specimens tend to age into a darker/browner shade which is very undesirable. To test for this fake, look at the specimen in a microscope.
The next most popular alteration is heat treatment. This is usually used to darken the color (recall golden amber is more valuable than yellow). Heat-treatment is so common that it isn’t usually considered as a faking process, but as a way to increase the value.
Jewelers are still morally obliged to tell you about any alterations done on a piece of jewelry so that you can make your own judgment. Do not be afraid to ask – it is a very typical question to a jeweler.
This typical treatment is worth some money for most. Processed and treated amber set by an expert in stylish jewelry can go for $200/carat.
Another attribute to keep in mind when evaluating amber is its extremely low density. It is very rare, but this stone is less dense than saltwater – making a carat of it much bigger than a carat of diamond, ruby, or other recognizable stones. Do not let any sellers or buyers fool you into underestimating this fact!
Tests for Value
You can also use this to test an amber for authenticity – especially useful for the rarer varieties and colors. Just put it in saltwater to see if it floats! (Plastic will typically sink). Another test comes from ancient times.
Amber has been burned for its melancholy and thoughtful scent for ages and is still today an ingredient in popular incense varieties. In this test, rub the specimen for a while until it gets a bit warm, and see if you can detect this scent!
In conclusion, the amber value varies widely, from 1$-30$ per carat, depending on the color. Look for inclusions, clarity, and shape to differentiate your specimen from others in its class.
Be sure to know an amber’s treatment history, and keep around some tools (and know-how) to test to make sure it’s the real thing.
TIP: Amber gemstones are formed by the fossilization of the resin of trees. Fossilization is not the only formating process of rocks. The other is petrification. Find out the difference between these two formating processes in the article below: