Amber: Gem of the Sun

December 29, 2015 0 Comments

What is amber?

Amber is the fossilized tree resin (not sap) of now-extinct coniferous trees which grew millions of years ago. Sap is primarily composed of water and sugars within the heartwood which nourish the tree. Resin is a fragrant substance composed of acids and terpenes which flows just under the bark and is released to protect and seal wounds when branches are broken or pests bore into or damage bark. Over millions of years, as the volatile oils within the resin have been released, it has hardened into the solid substance we know as amber. Unlike traditional mineralized fossils, amber still remains an organic substance, rather than being inorganic like a stone. For this reason, amber is classified as an 'organic gem,' along with pearls, coral, ivory and jet.

Where does amber come from?

Amber is the fossil resin of a few species of extinct coniferous and leguminous trees which grew in large forests around the world approximately 20 to 40 million years ago. The largest deposit of amber on Earth lies along the Baltic Sea, and it also occurs in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and of lesser quantity and quality in Canada, the United States, Africa, Myanmar (Burma), and Indonesia. It occurs in near-surface coastal deposits and at various depths close to the surface of the earth, and is sometimes mined by digging pits or small tunnels into deposit areas. It is not uncommon, particularly in the Western hemisphere, for amber deposits to be located in mountainous regions, sometimes many kilometers from its geological origin due to movement in the Earth's crust and the geological upheavals which create mountains and valleys.

The highlands of Chiapas, where the below amber extraction mine (hand dug) is located.

Amber Colors

All amber falls within the color spectrum of yellow-orange-red with pale yellow to yellow orange being the most common, orange tinged or cognac amber being more valuable and rarer, and true cherry red amber being the most rare and thus most highly valued. There is also a buttery white to pale yellow opaque amber that occurs in the Baltic region, and there are 'black' ambers caused by heavy inclusion of organic materials. There are no solid colored ambers outside of this color range that occur naturally. Cherry red material is the result of formation near the surface of the Earth, with iron salts leeching into the outer crust of the amber forming a thin (1-4mm on average) layer of true red material. Rarely does this coloration continue through the piece unless it is very small. We can cut cabochons from this material but solid red amber plugs are not physically possible.

Some ambers exhibit a light effect known as a 'sheen,' and this is usually a shade of green, rarely blue. Chiapas and Dominican ambers in particular will show this effect, and it is the result of carbon and other atoms within the material fluorescing upon irradiation from ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Amber will also fluoresce when exposed to backlight and this color is usually a white to bluish glow. Interestingly, only the internal non-red portion of red amber will fluoresce in this manner. The red portions are not reactive. There are no ambers which have a true green or blue coloration found anywhere in the world.

Inclusions in Amber

Organic inclusions generally manifest as black or black with a reddish tinge and can be so densely distributed within the material that it appears solid black in color with no translucency. Inclusions are generally ancient soil and small bits of plant matter from the forest floor. The more included the amber, the more fractured and unpredictable it will be during carving. We can create plugs and basic shapes from included amber but will generally shy away from carving details into heavily included ambers because of the odds of the material fracturing (higher inclusion density means less amber).

Rarely, one finds inclusions of insects or discernible plant parts such as intact leaves. Organic inclusions such as insects or botanicals, especially in clear amber, increase the value of the material exponentially. We can work these materials upon special request and there is a premium associated with the sourcing and working of amber plugs or cabochons which display botanical or insect inclusions.

Above, insect trapped in Chiapas amber, below a set of plugs from a very rare piece of amber with Hymenaea leaf frozen in time.

Chiapas Amber Body Jewelry

Onetribe primarily uses a variety of amber collected near San Cristobal las Casas in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. We prefer this variety because of the cultural associations it has with our Native North, Central and South American cultures. Aztec rulers demanded large pieces of raw amber and amber jewelry such as large amber labret pieces as tributes from the amber yielding areas under their control. Beautiful amber ear flares from Mesoamerican cultures can be found in the anthropology museums in Mexico City and Oaxaca, Mexico.

We also prefer this material because of the superior coloration and workability versus amber from other regions. Chiapas amber, in our experience, tends to be a clearer, less cloudy amber with more color density (denser/deeper color than an equal thickness of Baltic material, for example) and tends to be less brittle, allowing it to hold more carved detail. Amber from this region varies in color from very pale yellow to darker golden yellows, yellow-oranges, cognac and red. It occurs in the form of nodules from bean to football sized, often encrusted in sediment.

Check out our amber plugs and our HONEY ear weights with honeycomb inlays, both carved from Chiapas amber.

Historical Use in Jewelry

Amber has been used for thousands of years as a precious gem in cultures all over the world. It was so highly valued that just as Maya kings were buried with priceless jade artifacts, European stone-age man buried those with societal influence and power with hoards of amber for their use in the afterlife. The earliest amber artifacts from Europe are small natural lumps drilled with holes to be worn in the form of pendants, and date to as old as 12,000 B.C. Fierce nomadic warrior tribes from the Mesolithic period wore pendants carved in the shape of axe heads to protect them from harm.

Amber was an important commodity and adornment in Greek and Roman societies, and it was written about extensively by intellectuals of the day. The color of common amber, reminiscent of sunlight, was of particular significance, as was the ability of amber to generate static electricity, which added to its mystique. In these cultures, amber was used as an adornment (pendants, bead strands, etc) and small vessels and art objects were also created from it.

Pre-Columbian cultures throughout Mexico and Central America believed that amber held mysterious magical properties, and assigned high value to it. These cultures burned copal (young resin that has not yet been completely preserved as amber) for incense, and true amber from the present day state of Chiapas was mined and traded widely for food, tools and other items as well as used for adornments. Amber necklaces and beads were utilized, and amber was also shaped and worn in piercings of the septum, lip (labret) and ear lobes. For this reason, our primary focus in carving amber body jewelry at Onetribe lies in utilizing Chiapas amber as a historically accurate material for body adornment.

Size Versus Value

Amber is a very unique stone and has been used for thousands of years as a talisman for protection and healing, and also as a material from which jewelry, decorative and useful goods have been produced from. Because of the rarity of larger pieces, especially those which are solid and suitable for carving or predictable division, the cost of larger amber increases dramatically over the same unit of smaller amber. Generally sold in grams, there may be an exponential cost difference per gram between large and small pieces of amber, or those with unique coloration or inclusions of interest. Also, because this material is sold by weight in rough form, any carvings, or in our case amber plugs or other amber body jewelry will have waste factored into the cost. On average it takes one equal unit of waste to create one pair of plugs. When you purchase a pair of amber body jewelry, your are essentially paying for three pieces - your pair plus one piece worth of waste in the form of dust ground away during shaping. This is true for any precious or semi-precious gem that is sold by unit of weight (grams, carats, etc) in rough form.

Fake Amber

It is unfortunately common in the body jewelry industry for amber plugs and other carved shapes to be falsely advertised as natural amber when they are in fact either 100% man made resin, a mixture of man-made resin and natural resin, or reclaimed amber which has been melted back together from scrap at low temperature. We do not believe that any petrochemical based plastics (acrylic and others) are safe to wear against the skin and urge individuals to refrain from purchasing these items. Reclaimed ambers are not unsafe as long as no additional chemicals have been added, however this material should be advertised accordingly and its value should be significantly lower than that of unadulterated, natural ambers. Some ambers, particularly baltic, are altered in color prior to being set into jewelry. There is a large amount of inexpensive true green colored amber traditional jewelry on the market and all of it is the result of coating the inside of the setting or the back side of the amber carving or cabochon with a pigment which tints the material green. Onetribe does not utilize any fake, altered or painted material in the production of our amber body jewelry.




Also in Content

Holiday 2018 Shipping and Closure Info

December 11, 2018 0 Comments

I am currently working hard to get all pending orders for standard made-to-order (non-custom) jewelry that have come in through the website finished and shipped in the days leading up to my holiday closure on Friday 12/21.

After 12/17 I can guarantee shipment of orders for in stock and ready to ship jewelry until the afternoon of 12/21 when the last mail shipment goes out.

I strongly suggest Priority or Express mail service to ensure any orders that are gifts or otherwise needed for Christmas to be delivered on time. I guarantee that we'll get it in the mail, but I can't control the shipping time.

My workshop will be closed from 12/22 to Tuesday 1/1 so I can rest my hands and spend time with my family. I may be in the workshop cleaning or prototyping but nothing will ship during this time. Correspondence will happen periodically, just be patient.

I'll be back in the workshop making jewelry and getting on with business as usual the week of 1/1/19. Thanks to you this business is now 16 years old. I appreciate your support. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Jared Karnes, Owner/Jeweler

Read More

Submit your wear photos for $$!

December 07, 2018 0 Comments

Over the years I have made some fantastic ear weights, one at a time for one customer at a time, and promptly sent them off to homes without the ability to show them in their natural environment - being worn by truly unique people!

Some of the pieces I make have unusual insertion methods (Ghost in the Shell) or wearing surfaces that can be difficult to describe (iona) but are easy to show in a photo. I want to gather some beautiful photos of my customers showing off how you incorporate my work into your one of a kind style. As thanks, I would like to offer you $30 in credit toward your next order and a chance to win $100 in credit toward your next set of handmade ear weights.

Read More

Alchemy with Stone: Doublets and Triplets

August 26, 2018 0 Comments

I've been experimenting with a new process that allows me to create unique, one of a kind gemstones with a modern aesthetic that embraces the distinctive color and light play characteristics of each stone. These gems are combinations of multiple stones laminated together and are named for the number of layers of stone in the completed piece. Two layers is a doublet, and three is called a triplet.

Read More

Sizing Chart
Size chart includes the sizes we make, and default flare size & wearing lengths.
We are happy to make pieces in odd sizes or with custom flares or wearing lengths.
Jewelry Size Flare Size Wearing Length
1.0mm (18g) 1-1.5mm 9mm
1.3mm (16g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
1.5mm (14g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
2.0mm (12g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
2.5mm (10g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
3.0mm (8g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
4.0mm (6g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
5.0mm (4g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
6.0mm
1-1.5mm
9mm
6.5mm (2g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
7.0mm (1g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
8.0mm (0g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
9.0mm (00g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
10mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
11mm (7/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
12mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
13mm (1/2")
1-1.5mm
10mm
14mm (9/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
15mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
16mm (5/8")
1-1.5mm
10mm
17mm (11/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
18mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
19mm (3/4")
1-1.5mm
11mm
20mm (13/16")
1-1.5mm
11mm
21mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
22mm (7/8")
1-1.5mm
11mm
23mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
24mm (15/16")
1-1.5mm
11mm
25mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
26mm (1")
1-1.5mm
11mm
27mm (1 1/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
28mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
29mm (1 1/8")
1-1.5mm
12mm
30mm (1 3/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
31mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
32mm (1 1/4")
1-1.5mm
12mm
33mm (1 5/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
34mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
35mm (1 3/8") 
1-1.5mm
12mm
36mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
37mm (1 7/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
38mm (1 1/2") 1.5-2mm 13mm
39mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
40mm (1 9/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
41mm (1 5/8")
1.5-2mm
13mm
42mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
43mm (1 11/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
44mm (1 3/4")
1.5-2mm
13mm
45mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
46mm (1 13/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
47mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
48mm (1 7/8")
1.5-2mm
13mm
49mm (1 15/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
50mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
51mm (2")
1.5-2mm
13mm

Wearing length is the area of the jewelry that fits inside your piercing. 

Overall length (sometimes confused with wearing length) is the total measurement of the jewelry from face to face, including any additional flare or face area.

Diagram of jewelry styles with wearing length marked in green and overall length marked in red.

1. Flat face double flared plug. Wearing length is measured from the inside of the flare edges. Overall length is measured from face to face.

2. Convex face double flared plug. Wearing length is measured from the inside of the flare edges. Overal length is measured from face to face.

3. Flat face double flared plug with flat flares. Wearing length is measured from inside the flare edges (the piercing cannot rest on the flat flare areas). Overall length is measured face to face.

4. Trumpet flare style plug. The dotted line denotes where the wearing surface ends on the front, because the larger portion of the slope cannot fit inside the piercing. Wearing surface is measured from inside the rear flare edge to the area on the front flare with the same diameter measurement. Overall length is measured from face to face.

5. Sloped single flare plug. Wearing length is measured from where the slope of the flare ends to the end of the plug. Overall length is measured from face to face.

6. Top-hat style single flare with convex face. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the end of the plug. Overall length is measured from face to face.

7. Top-hat style single flare with curved rear. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the beginning of the curve (the piercing cannot rest on the slope). Overall length is measured from face to face.

8. Top-hat style single flare with groove for an o-ring. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the groove (the piercing cannot rest on the groove). Overall length is measured from face to face.

9. Labret (round or oval) with a standard concave t-back. Wearing length is measured from where the wearing shaft meets the wing to the end of the flat portion (the piercing cannot rest on the slope).

Overall length is always longer than the wearing surface because it includes other sections of the jewelry that do not rest inside the piercing. If you are ordering a piece of jewerly and you specify an overall length instead of a wearing length, your jewelry will not fit properly. Order using "overall length" at your own risk. Knowing your ideal wearing length, which can change as you stretch your piercings, ensures you're able to order jewelry that will fit well from every vendor, every time.