Don’t Let Anyone Call You a Sap for Loving Amber!

The mosquito and the fly in this Baltic amber necklace are between 40 and 60 million years old! Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org

The mosquito and the fly in this Baltic amber necklace are between 40 and 60 million years old! Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Before we went on our annual buying trip to Tucson in February, we asked our customers what types of gemstones they wanted us to look for. One answer we kept hearing was “amber.” When we asked what made amber so appealing, folks gave us a wide range of responses: its healing properties, the fact that it’s helpful for teething babies, and (of course) it’s pretty! We wanted to find out a little more about amber, and here’s what we discovered!

Wood resin, the source of amber. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Wood resin, the source of amber. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

What is amber, exactly?

Amber is not technically a gemstone. Commonly referred to as tree sap, amber is anything but sap.  Amber forms from resin and contains succinic acid, or succinite.  Sap is the fluid substance which flows in the heartwood of the tree and provides nutrients to the tree itself.  Resin flows beneath the bark and protects the tree when it’s wounded by boring insects or loses a branch due to storm damage.  Resin flows like syrup and has a distinct piney, sweet smell. (www.ambergallery.com)

“Young” resin is called copal; it is still soluable and is generally less dense than real amber. It is possible to modify amber using copal: amber counterfeiters have been known to drill out a hole in a genuine piece of amber, insert a modern-day insect, and then fill the hole with hot copal. The result is a very realistic-looking faux fossil; an expert entomologist would be able to spot the imposter, but most of us would not be able to tell the difference! (www.ambericawest.com)

An ant inside Baltic amber - THIS is the real deal! Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

An ant inside Baltic amber – THIS is the real deal! Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

How do I know if what I have is real amber?

Here are a few tests you can conduct at home to make sure your beads or pendants are the real deal. Amber experts say that the acetone test (see link above) is one of the easiest ways to reveal copal imposters. (www.dragonflyamber.com)

Amber’s healing properties and using amber as a teething aide:

Amber is believed to have many healing properties, including absorbing pain and negative energy, alleviating stress, and treating ailments of many of the body’s internal organs. When transformed into an elixir, amber is said to be an excellent natural antibiotic.

Amber jewelry pieces can be worn by teething babies to help with their aches and pains, but we must stress that this jewelry is made for wearing, not for chewing! Amber is said to reduce inflammation in teething babies’ gums and cheeks, and it stimulates the thyroid glands to reduce drooling. Amber is associated with sunlight and warmth, and it is reputed to boost the immune system.

Whoever makes the baby’s necklace or bracelet should tie knots between each bead in the event that the baby DOES chew the piece and break the cord; the knots will prevent too many of the beads from coming off and being swallowed by the teething tyke. Ideally, the jewelry piece should be snug against the baby’s wrist or ankle to maximize the contact of the amber beads with the baby’s skin. A snug necklace is also possible, but babies don’t always enjoy something being tight around their necks. (www.ambermall.com)

Our suggested list of other precautions:
  • Amber teething jewelry should be removed when the baby is sleeping or unattended
  • Please use caution and supervise your child while they are wearing amber jewelry

If you would like to purchase a necklace or bracelet that a teething baby CAN actually chew on safely, check out these non-amber pieces from Australian jewelry-makers, MummaBubba Jewellry.

And now, here are a few examples of gorgeous amber jewelry for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Amber-Teething-Necklace-Honey

Amber teething necklace. Photo courtesy of natulo.com

balticamberbeads

Photo courtesy of aprkofamber.wordpress.com

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Photo courtesy of the amber gallery page through Etsy.

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Photo courtesy of all4Christian on Etsy.

Beads with Purpose

Back in June of 2012, one of our first blog posts ever was titled “Beads with Meaning.” One of the bead companies we highlighted was Kazuri (www.kazuribeadsusa.com), a company that started out as a backyard business (literally!) and soon expanded to become a help center for women in need of steady jobs in Kenya.

Here at Blue Door Beads, we believe that conscious consumerism is one of the most important tools for social change. In the months since we wrote “Beads with Meaning,” we have found several more bead & jewelry businesses whose primary focus is to empower others. We decided to write this week’s post in honor of these worthwhile companies, and we hope that you find their stories as inspiring as we did!

BeadForLife – Eradicating Poverty, One Bead At A Time

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BeadForLife’s mission is to create sustainable opportunities for women to lift their families out of extreme poverty by connecting people worldwide in a circle of exchange that enriches everyone.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 2.56.46 PMWhat started as a chance encounter between three friends and a woman making paper beads in a crowded Uganda slum has turned into an inspiring company. BeadForLife promotes education, supports fair trade, and encourages folks from all walks of life to host bead parties to support the artisans.

Read more about ways you can donate, volunteer, or just find out more about BeadForLife by visiting their website!

Raven + Lily – Empowering Women Through Design

spring-blog-post-2Founded by Kirsten Dickerson and Sophia Lin who share a close friendship and passion for fashion and ethical design, Raven + Lily was created as a platform to utilize those passions to alleviate poverty among women.

Each piece of Raven + Lily jewelry has a unique story, like the Telau Gold Braid Long Necklace (pictured above). Each necklace is handmade by HIV+ women who live near Entoto Mountain in Ethiopia and comprised of recycled silver, copper, and brass beads created from melted down bullet casings. Their Ethiopia collection transforms what was once meant for harm into something beautiful!

Read more about Raven + Lily on their website!

Same Sky – Employing to Empower

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 12.04.32 PMIn addition to providing employment to underserved women here in the U.S., Same Sky also provides women in war-torn Rwanda the chance to rebuild their lives. Even though Rwanda’s horrific genocide happened 20 years ago, many women still live with the after effects. Same Sky’s mission is to help them (as well as others in need worldwide) reconnect to their creativity, build skills through artistry, restore confidence, and reopen doors that once seemed closed.

Inspiring factoids:
– One Sky Bracelet buys an artisan a year of healthcare
– One Prosperity Bracelet provides a month of clean water for an artisan
– One Hope Necklace buys a year of education for an artisan’s child
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Find out more about the Same Sky story by clicking here!

P.S. Unicorne Beads from Placentia, CA, is the bead company that supplies Same Sky with the distinctive teardrop-shaped beads used in many of their designs, like the Sky Bracelet pictured at right. We carry Unicorne teardrop beads here at Blue Door Beads!

Do you know of an inspiring bead or jewelry company that we should feature in an upcoming blog post? Please email us at info@bluedoorbeads.com.

Photos courtesy of BeadForLife, Raven + Lily, and Same Sky. A special thank you to Briana for discovering these companies and recommending we include them in our blog. 🙂