Amber is a Timeless Treasure of the Greek Golden Age

Amber is the captivating gemstone that has adorned the jewelry and traditions of Greece for centuries. Amber is not just another material to work with, but a piece of history! You can tell that it’s nature’s own time capsule.

Amber origins trace back millions of years, when ancient pine and other resins seeped from trees and hardened into translucent golden jewels. These resins, trapped within the amber, often hold preserved insects and other delicate creatures, creating a natural wonder that has captured the imagination of people for millennia.

But why Amber is the timeless treasure of the Greek Golden Age?

In Greece, amber has played a significant role in both culture and commerce. Its vibrant hues, ranging from golden yellow to rich brown, have made it a popular material for jewelry. However, the most common use of Amber was – and still is, I think, the iconic “kompoloi,” the prayer (or worry) beads, traditionally used by Orthodox priests and monks (and smokers who try to quit!)

These beads, often adorned with religious symbols and intricate designs, have become a symbol of faith and spiritual devotion in Greece.

In Greek Mythology, Amber represents the crystallized tears of the mother and sisters of Phaethon, son of Helios, who died when he lost control of Helios’s chariot and while risking to crash it on Earth, Zeus fired a thunderbolt to stop him.

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, amber has also been attributed with various healing properties.

Ancient Greeks believed that amber could soothe inflammation and relieve pain, while modern studies have suggested that it may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. The warmth generated by rubbing amber beads is also believed to have a calming effect, making them a popular choice for stress reduction and relaxation.

Amber is also used for making natural, eco-friendly chewing bracelets for babies. While it’s a lovely alternative to rubber and plastic, PLEASE BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL when in search of a handmade amber chewing bracelet. I apologize for the caps, but this is literally a matter of life and death. If you really want a natural chewie for your baby, make sure the first thing to do is to ask the seller what they use to hold the amber beads together. It must not brake by all means.

Because of a terrible accident with an amber chewing bracelet (you can google about it), Amber is a huge red flag and a big no-no to Etsy, so you are not going to find any amber there – and if you will, I bet my ponytail that it won’t be there for much longer. I had some of my handmade leather bracelets with amber beads removed by Etsy, just because they had the amber beads on them (and had nothing to do with babies!). I later had listings removed just because they contained the word “amber” as a color to describe a hand painted leather cuff! There was no amber on them (Ugh).

So from now on, all of my amber creations will be listed here 🙂

Today, amber remains a beloved gem in Greece, its enduring beauty and unique properties continuing to captivate generations. From ornate jewelry to traditional kompoloi, amber is a reminder of Greece’s rich history and cultural heritage, a timeless treasure that has adorned the land for centuries and will continue to fascinate for many years to come.

Let’s discover some fun and interesting facts about Amber:

a) Amber is a gem, but it is not a gemstone.

It is the hardened resin of trees (certain trees), fossilized over long periods of time. Amber that is found today, can date back to more than 30 (even 90!) million years. The oldest form of amber was traced from the Upper Carboniferous almost 300 million years back. The youngest form of Amber is perhaps the Dominican, that has a history of around 15-25 million years. (Don’t you feel tiny? =) )

b) Amber was once part of a tree’s immune system 🙂

In a few and simple words, a wounded tree extracted resin to cover and heal the wound. Over time, the chemically stable kinds of resin hardened and created the stunning little treasure that holds millions years of history, and if you are lucky, you can hold it too.

c) BUT, only chemically stable resin and under specific conditions can harden. Truth is, that most of the resin decays. This is probably one (if not the only) reason that Amber is so precious!

d) Amber means Electricity (well, sort of). Thales of Miletus, the Ancient Greek pre-socratic Philosopher (also known for the “know thyself”), discovered that when he rubbed Amber against his clothes it sparkled and attracted tiny splinters and feathers. Static electricity was named after the word Elektron, that means Amber (aka Kehribari).

e) There might be a Dinosaur’s feather trapped in an Amber.

One every a thousand amber pieces can contain a fully intact trapped creature (or parts of it!) and this includes from bugs and insects, to snake skins, bones and… maybe a Theropod Dinosaur’s feather.

f) More than 1000 extinct insects have been identified because of Amber, for preserving intact its treasures.

Okay, Katie, so how I will recognize real Amber from fake?

Aha. This is the trickiest and most fascinating part about Amber. It’s like a treasure hunting game and even the proccess itself can be a great fun (or a pain in the ass). So, “Look what’s inside” is a good starting point and you need to physically examine the amber, so this obviously cannot apply when buying online, unless there is (and should be) an option to inspect any individual piece closely. 😐

Finding a real creature or parts of it trapped in Amber is like winning the lottery and please be very aware of marketplaces with Amber listings containing anything. Real Amber with real creatures inside it is ridiculously rare and expensive, so any product named like this with an affordable price (like less than 500 Euros/USD) , it’s just fake. I am not talking tiny insects like fruit flies and ants – they can be common and yes, you can find those in an affordable price. But for larger stuff like a full spider or a scorpion (?) or anything like that, it’s just very, very rare and super pricey.

You can’t physically examine it, but the price itself can reveal the truth. Unless the price is high but not too high, and unless the seller inherited the amber from somewhere of even stole it (my paranoid self thinks) and they can afford selling it low. But, would you risk it? (Plus, what are the odds?) High value Amber must come with Certification, so be very careful when searching online.

Real Amber floats in saltwater. Assuming you have some amber in your hands, try filling a glass with water and 3-4 table spoons of salt and check it out.

Real Amber smells like pine when heated. Again, this applies when you already have some Amber in your hands. Heat it gently and slowly and take a sniff. If it smells like burned plastic, then it is plastic.

Scratching real Amber will leave tiny crumbles behind. Gently scratch it with a knife or a penny. If your Amber leaves flakes, then I am sorry but it is fake.

Generally, most fake Amber is resin with some critter in it. And now you will probably wonder: “And what if it is fake? Can’t I still like it and wear it?”

Well, of course you can. Just as you might like wearing a necklace with a tiny sparkling crystal that looks and shines like a diamond but it is not a diamond. Who cares? If you love wearing it, if it looks great on you, if it makes you feel good, if it has a sentimental value for you, just go for it. You should care about it, only if you are asked to pay for it as real while it’s not, or if you want to buy it as an investment.

Other than that, even a modern, real insect in amber-like man made resin in a beautiful cabochon pendant, can be a special piece of jewelry that is worth wearing. Just make sure you also pay for it as such, and know beforehand what you’re buying.

[Related: Crafting with Pearls was never better]

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