The most interesting amber in the world

When Columbus arrived in 1492 at the island which the Spaniards called “La Hispaniola” (today Dominican Republic and Haiti), he got quite a surprise when he proudly presented a strand of Baltic amber beads and received in exchange from a young Taino prince a pair of shoes, decorated with Caribbean amber.

​While Baltic amber formed from hardened resin of the pine tree Pinus Succinifera, amber from the Dominican Republic originated from an extinct species of broad-leaved tropical trees Hymenaea protera of the legume family. A relative of this ancient species is still grown  in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, called “algarroba”.(George O. Poinar, 1992)    Much has been written about amber and I do not intend to add much more to it.

​But I would like to explain why Dominican Amber, from certain viewpoints for many, is the most interesting amber found in the world. Although it is true that Dominican Amber from the Cordillera Septentrional has been established as “only”  30-40 million years old (Miocene), and for this reason is relatively soft  (1.5 – 2 on Moh’s scale), it boasts characteristics no other amber can bring forward:  the occurrence of insects in Dominican Amber is about 10 times higher than in Baltic amber.

Dominican Amber also has a special value for the jeweler: Dominican amber is 90 percent more transparent than Baltic amber. The colors and the clarity of Dominican amber stand out from any of the ambers. It is hard enough to be easy to work with. Asian artisans produce very elaborated figures of delicate transparence using Dominican Amber. For many insiders, Dominican Amber is considered the clearest and finest Amber on the market.

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The rarest amber in the World

Which is the rarest gem in the world?

It seems to change every year. For a long time the Guinness Book of World Record (now known as the politically-correct Guinness World Records) held the Painite crystal as the rarest gem in the world. And how about Sugilite,  Serendibite,  Grandidierite,  Musgravite, and a whole lot of other – ites sit in museums and private collections feeling smug about being special. Some of these gems are indeed so rare, their values can not be estimated. And that’s a bad thing.

Gems, after all, are a business. And if a product can’t be sold, it’s pretty much useless, no matter how rare. So this limits the rare gems to those actually open for business. Most prices for rare gems are basically adjusted according to what the seller wants to have and the buyer is willing to pay.

And that depends a lot on the value the general public opinion puts on said gem. Taaffeite and Benitoite for example are extremely rare gems and shockingly beautiful. But who’s ever heard of them? Hence their prices rarely exceed $500US to $2,000US per carat, despite the fact of being a million times rarer than diamonds.

I’m not afraid to say it: diamonds are the least rare gems in the world. Now, before a mob of angry housewives accuses me of romance deficiency, allow me to point out that the yearly production of gem-quality diamonds is at a whopping 135 million carats. That’s  27,000 metric tons.

In comparison, high-grade Blue Amber has a yearly output of approximately 100 kilos, while the low-grade does not exceed 800 kilos. That makes top-grade blue amber the rarest amber in the world and it is among the rarest gems.

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The Jurassic Park Myth

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has not at least heard or even seen the original Steven Spielberg movie Jurassic Park or one of its sequels: cloned dinos run rampage, chew on extras and then let the main characters get away. Lather, rinse, repeat for the sequels. Cheese galore.

But the movie introduced the idea that dino DNA was hiding inside mosquitoes locked in amber. And the amber the movie chose was (are you holding your breath?) Dominican. One scene even introduces the viewer to a Dominican amber mine by the name of  “Mano de Dios” (no such mine) alongside a river bed (no amber mines along river beds) and miners with lovely Mexican accents (this is the DR after all) in a very gold-mine looking kind of Amber mine.

Anyone familiar with the reality of Dominican amber mines chuckles at this scene. And no, none of the scenes of the movie, not even the amber mine, were filmed in the Dominican Republic, no matter how much some tourist guides will want to make you believe it (it is however known that location scouts visited the island during preproduction).

But the real bummer lies within the science.

There are several plot holes large enough to swallow a herd of Parasaurolophus without a single burp, and our beloved amber leads the pack.It is generally accepted that Barney’s ancestors died out at the end of cretaceous period, 65 million years ago–“An adventure 65 million years in the making” the movie advertised.

A few filibusters may have lived longer than that, but you know how it is with extinction: like tax day, it’s inevitable.

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