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.
But the top of the crop you will find in this version of amber only in the Dominican Republic: Blue Amber. There are different intensities of blue. In most cases the color appears especially as you turn it under natural light or hold it in a certain position. But there are a few rare pieces which definitively stunn you with and ultra blue at almost any angle.
There are several theories about the origin of the color and it is not fully understood what causes the blue color in amber. We know that it is a result of fluorescence and not a solid color. Ultra-violet or violet light is re-emitted, attributed to the presence of poly-nuclear “aromatic molecules”. (Gemology, Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr., Robert C. Kammerling)
This makes a lot of sense, because the best way to test Dominican blue amber is holding it under an ultra-violet lamp where even the darkest space blue amber changes its color to a radiant cobalt-blue. And, in addition, we have noticed that artisans recognize blue amber also by a very agreeable smell, which is different from regular amber when it is being cut and polished. But no, “aromatic molecules” does not refer to the smell.
What is the origin of the blue reflection? One theory links the color in Dominican blue amber to the occurrence of volcanic ash or dust, which was present when the resin was pressed out from hymenaea protera millions of years ago. Another suggests that due to volcanic activity hot lava must have flown over those areas where regular amber was buried under ground. Due to the extreme heat, the amber changed its color first to green and then to blue. Experiments have shown that changes of color occur when normal amber is heated up. But the most probable one is what you will find at www.blueamber.info. Check it out!
However, there has been no final answer yet. But what the reason might be, Blue Amber is fascinating and extremely rare. Read on.