In addition to the much sought after sunshine, idyllic trade winds and tropical beaches, the North Coast of the Dominican Republic has the largest amounts of amber deposits on the island, earning the nickname Amber Coast.
How It’s Made
Amber is formed when the tree secretes resin, which then dries up, gets washed down streams and embeds in layers of carbonaceous clay with beds of sandstone. Millions of years ago, the Dominican Republic possessed the perfect conditions for creating amber. The combination of the warm climate and Hymenaea Protera, an extinct prehistoric leguminous tree, produced copious of amounts amber.
Dominican amber is unique in that it is considered the finest amber available in the world. Thanks to the clarity and high concentration of fossil inclusions, Dominican amber is highly sought after by collectors and scientists alike. These specimens include insects, lizards, and plants. Before you ask, no, it is not possible to extract the DNA from these fossils to create a dinosaur park! The prized colorations include yellow, deep red, and the rare blue and green hues. Blue Amber is the most precious and most expensive. Though the stone isn’t blue to the naked eye, it shows a blue fluorescence when exposed to UV light. Interestingly, this blue fluorescence is due to the presence of volcanic ash while the amber is forming.
History of Dominican Amber
The first documentation of amber in the new world was during Columbus’ time in Hispaniola in the 1490s. A Taino Indian chief offered him shoes beautifully decorated in amber in exchange for a strand of European amber beads. Archaeological digs have uncovered burial sites packed with amber used for ornamental purposes showing that the Taino’s had been using amber long before the arrival of Columbus. Mining didn’t begin until the 1960s since gold was previously the priority. During the first few years of mining, the German’s involvement and the quantity of rough amber they were exporting became a concern to the Dominican government. In 1979, a law forbidding the export of amber unless native artisans had worked it was passed. Ten years later, the law banned the export of any amber including animals or insects without the approval Museum of Natural History. The embargo meant these specimens were unavailable on the international market causing the value of Dominican Amber to soar.
More Than Beautiful
Desirable for more than its rare beauty, the petrified resin has also been used in many medicines and prescribed for asthma, gout, and the black plague. It also believed to posses spiritual properties and is said to bestow happiness onto its owner by lightening the burdens of life. Advertising often declares the north coast is full of hidden gems, but it literally is!
Amber can be found right in our back yard during your beach strolls and is often found hidden in seaweed washed up on the beach after a nice swell. We try to think of everything, and we have already published an article dedicated to finding amber on the beach in Cabarete. So, get on out there and find some treasures of your own! Alternatively, if you’re interested in seeing various types of amber in one place, the Amber Museum in Puerto Plata could be a worthwhile visit. They have exhibits showcasing Amber, how it’s formed, the history, and a gift shop at the end so you can buy souvenirs.
As with every beautiful gem, there are always imitators. Luckily, testing for authenticity is not too tricky and can be done by anyone!
- Salt Water Test – Put the amber in salt water, the real amber will float and plastic replicas will sink.
- Rubbing Test – Amber has electrostatic properties so if you rub the gemstone for 20-60 seconds and hold it close to your hair, it should create a little static electricity and your hair should want to stick to the stone. If the gemstone doesn’t become charged but instead becomes sticky, this means it is Copal, otherwise knows as younger amber.
- Scent Test– Put a little heat to the amber and you should smell a smoky pine scent. If it is a plastic fake, you’ll smell burning plastic.
Claudia Schwarz, the owner of Villa Taina, loves amber and its spiritual capabilities. She’s so passionate about the stone (and, frankly anything Dominican Republic) that she has dedicated an entire fine jewelry shop to the gem and its exclusive cousin, Larimar. Located next to Villa Taina, Yocahu doesn’t just showcase these beautiful relics but also preserves and shares the history of the Dominican Republic.