Amber - Editing and processing

In earlier centuries, when people still found amber on the beach when the sea had been rough at night, the editing was still "antediluvian". Usually only the finest pieces were collected. A natural hole, once towered by a tree branch, facilitated the drawing of a rough leather belt.
Other non-fragmented ambers were processed with stone files and then smoothed by fine sand between leather hides. The amber received the final polishing the same way with chalk mud. The smoothed stones were pierced with fine masonry drills and strung as rosaries and necklaces. The manufacturer of rosaries were called "father-noster maker". Well-known factories of the Teutonic Order were in Lübeck and Bremen.

It first raises the question according to what criteria amber is assessed at all. Except of the law of 1934 about the so-called pressed amber, which one may call real amber, there has been no official statements how the quality of unpolished natural amber is determined. Also, no amber is like the other; everypiece is unique. Therefore, one has to refer to the commercial practices which are different from country to country.



Four criteria can emerge:

(1) The size

It determines the weight. The amber can be flat or high. The found pieces are usually classified by the weight:
to 10 g,
10 g - 20 g,
20 g - 40 g
40 g - 100 g,
100g - 200g, 100g each more.
Ambers with more than 100 g are already rare and therefore much more valuable and expensive. The different sizes of amber can be distinguished as follows:
Granulate, splitters, sizes in the form of peas, hazelnuts, walnuts, small, medium and large potatoes. Even greater ambers are often named after their shapes: loaf of bread or clod. Both sizes are also extremely rare.#

(2) The nature

Strength and structure: essential for the judgement of the ambers are these two features. Splintered stones and cracks in the stones lower the quality. During the cutting and grinding arises much waste. Fragmentation is also created because of multiple resin is flowed above each other.
Undamaged ambers, for example in the form of drops, balls, tubers, sometimes with a natural hole, through which a small branch once towered, are particularly valuable. They are also called "self-created figures" or "figures not made by human hands."

(3) Inclusions

As neutioned before, the inclusions in the amber are particularly valuable. There are earth, air, water, plant and animal inclusions. A special piece of jewellery are moving water drops.

(4) Colour

The normal colour of amber is cognac, beige and brown, or colour variants thereof. Rarely are white, red, blue, green and black amber.

Other features are: Appearance of the bark.
Sometimes it is so beautiful that it is polished and made into jewellery. Bark and amber symbolize sometimes animals, heads or other figures.

Transparent, milky amber
The transparent stones are the most popular for jewellery making, because most wearers prefer the cognac-coloured amber. The opaque amber, if he is not contaminated with soil inclusions (slag) or mosses, can clear up by heating to 180 degrees. But this doesn’t apply to the murky amber with chalk inclusion. The percentage of milky to clear amber is approximately 20:80.



(1) Sorting and shine through.

amber - sorting


The raw ambers are sorted according to size, as explained above, in the wet state. Clear ambers are rayed, so that the "including stones" are directly separated.

(2) Sawing

amber - sawing

Depending on the intended use (balls for chains or large pieces for brooches, chain pendants) the stones are cut and tailored. Larger pieces are machined with a "diamond". Therefore especially the weathering rind is removed from the amber because this is only in rare cases suitable for jewellery.

(3) Clearing the ambers
In a so-called "Autoklaff" (oven) the ambers get cleared off at 180 - 200 degrees and 60 Atü pressure, so that all opacities are removed. By heating, the typical cognac colour and the so-called "sun guns" occur in the amber, depending on the duration of burning.
These are small fissures inside the stone. Many ambers have already included the "sun guns".
These are probably caused by the heat in nature. Afterwards the stones are glued onto a brass pin and grounded in a vending machine. There is usually another sorting, to continue editing the stones, depending on the suitability, for necklaces, brooches and chain pendants.

(4) Loops.
The next operation is the grinding of the stones. Irregular stones are grinded by hand so that there is not too much waste. Ambers, who are suitable for balls, are also usually grinded by hand. But only about 20 % of all stones are suitable for balls. In larger companies with industrial production, the ambers are grinded and polished in a sanding wheel with pieces of oak that are coated with grinding or polishing paste. We also speak of so-called "drum stones".


Amber - grinding

Amber grinding


Polishing - amber

Polishing amber



Amber cut and polished



Horst W. Henn

The author Horst W. Henn during grinding in Gdansk


(5) Drilling

Amber - Drilling

For chains, the polished amber stones are drilled.

(6) Turning

amber - Turning

In order to achieve a certain form, some ambers are turned, a process which is also known in woodworking.

(7) Polishing and optionally bevelling.



The amber gets the "finishing" by the polishing process. The amber gets a special grinding by the "bevelling" (diamond surface). This is usually known from the smoothed diamonds to brilliants.
Small stones for rings or earrings are edited in a rotating drum with the addition of small pieces of wood by grinding or polishing paste.

(8) The thread of chain stones or fitting of polished stones in prefabricated frames.


Most chains have a knot between each amber, which also prevents that the stones fall out if the chain breaks down.
For safety, the stones in earrings, rings, brooches or pendants are not only firmly grasped, but also glued.
The total manufacturing time, from the raw amber to the finished gem stone is approximately eight days.

Of 4.5 kg of natural amber, 1.0 kg jewellery can be produced.
Partly, the utilization factor is only 20%.

It is often asked,
what happens to the small pieces of amber which fall during the sawing: These are sometimes used as granulate for the manufacture of prints or they are used as cure (for details see chapter "healing power of amber"). Some of the pieces are also melted down and processed to pressed amber.
This occurs at about 250 degree heat and 300 Atü pressure.

(9) A tip for the layman to make your own!
If you want to edit an amber by yourself, you can do that easily. The amber has a Mohs hardness of 2.6 (a mineral stone has partly over 5 Msh) and therefore it can be easily edited with sandpaper of different sand strengths. With a special drill or special carving tools, you can create little works of art. You can polish the amber with special polishing paste but also with precipitate chalk or white toothpaste.

Already 10.000 years ago Bernstein was worn as a gemstone. This is demonstrated by grave findings. Also in the graves of the Pharaohs it was found on the chains of the queens. Most were worn as amulets, as the original pieces from
the "Hemis Museum Collection" prove.
By the way, jewellery made of mineral gemstones is known since 7000 years.




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