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From JCK Magazine

Caribbean Green Amber

Gems
By Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA, Senior Editor
This story appears in the June 2006 issue of JCK magazine
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Valerio888, an amber-jewelry manufacturing company in New York, is promoting Caribbean amber, a transparent green gem material that the company says is the color of the Caribbean Sea. It’s found on an undisclosed small Caribbean island, close to the Dominican Republic, where other ambers have been found.

But there is some confusion about what it really is and a question among amber experts as to how it should be labeled.

Visual clues such as sun-spangle inclusions—and confirmation from Valerio888—establishes the material as “heated and pressure enhanced.” Amber can be clarified and shaped by using heat and pressure. Such amber is called “pressed,” and gem identification laboratories, such as the Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Lab, as well as suppliers of the material, are required by the Federal Trade Commission to label it “pressed amber.”

As for the unusual color of the Valerio888 amber, there are a few factors to note. Retired paleobotanist and mineralogist Francis Hueber, formerly with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, notes that green amber is usually “that which reacts to exposure to ultraviolet light. The color is not a pigmentation but a physical reaction.”

But Valerio888’s Caribbean green amber does not get its color from UV fluorescence. Upon close examination of a piece of jewelry supplied by Valerio888, we discovered blue- colored glue beneath one piece of Caribbean amber. Blue color beneath yellow amber creates a green appearance. We did not, however, unglue the amber from the jewelry.

A material called “copal” is similar to amber. Like amber, copal is a resin, but it’s less than 15 million years old and is softer and less durable than amber, which is generally 30 million to 50 million years old.

Maggie Campbell Pedersen, amber expert and author of Gem and Ornamental Materials of Organic Origin, published by Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann (2004), notes that she has recently learned of “baked East African copal” that is supposed to “become amber.” Baked copal tends to have a greenish color. Pedersen says, “I have had some of this material tested, and it retains the infrared spectrum of copal.”

“Maggie Pedersen’s comments are quite well put, and accurate,” says Hueber. He refers JCK to a research paper discussing the lineage of the “amber tree,” including close, copal-producing relatives in West Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, Brazil, and Colombia. Valerio888’s Web site states, “Caribbean amber is chemically similar to East African copal and was produced by the same type of legume tree.”

Amber is found in the Dominican Republic, “so it is certainly possible that it can be found on other Caribbean islands,” notes Hueber. He also says—based on images on Valerio888’s Web site as well as the ones shown here—that “the color [of this material], however, is quite unique.” Neither Hueber nor Pedersen have held a sample of Valerio888’s Caribbean amber in hand.

Valerio888 believes that blue glue is a commonly used enhancement process. “This technique has been used with amber quite heavily just to play with the color,” says Igor Kulebyakin, representative for Valerio888. “But this particular amber, in any case, is greenish. Well, it does range from like pale yellow to the color that you see. But we’re trying to find the best samples. And as soon as we find it we turn it into jewelry.”

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