Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Amber Glow: Ancient Gems Get a Lift from `Jurassic Park'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Amber Glow: Ancient Gems Get a Lift from `Jurassic Park'

Article excerpt

IMAGINE IT.

A mosquito is sharing the same patch of earth, sky and breeze with a herd of dinosaurs. It takes a quick meal from a passing brachiosaurus, jumps to a nearby pine tree and, within a heartbeat, is caught up and captured in a slow drop of sticky resin.

There it waits, while the crush of 40 million years fossilizes that single drop into the dusky chunk of amber, glowing with secrets, that you hold in your hand today.

Amber.

The ancient Greeks called it elektron and got a real, ah, charge out of its wondrous ability to pick up pieces of straw or hair after being rubbed vigorously with a cloth. Later we coined our word electricity from the Greek.

Amber has been used as a semiprecious gem in jewelry since ancient times. While it long has been popular with northern and central Europeans, amber as a gem has been a very well-kept secret here - "one of the good things in life that's been kept away from the American public," says California gem and mineral dealer Si Frazier, an author and frequent contributor to such magazines as Lapidary Journal and Colored Stone.

But all that has changed since the publication of Michael Crichton's novel "Jurassic Park." "There's been a great deal more interest in amber," Frazier says. In both book and film, living dinosaurs for a new theme park are cloned from genetic material taken from amber-encased mosquitos.

San Francisco wholesaler Grace Gonerko, of Amber by Graciana, credits both the book and the fall of the Iron Curtain with making amber more available and making people in this country aware of what amber is. "I think a lot of them used to think it was plastic or a man-made material. Now they know it's a naturally formed semiprecious gem, and even retail stores that carry fine jewelry are asking for it."

Because amber is an organic material, it defies the easy distinction between rocks and plants, but many lapidaries refer to it as an organic gemstone and categorize it with ivory and coral, says Eugene Mueller, owner of The Gem Store in Milwaukee. …

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