Well, not really caught fire. But started to smoke. This can be filed
under Incredibly Stupid Ideas, and won’t be repeated, but I am
curious to know what the smoke was? So, I was making an amber ring
and the amber was set. This is when I discovered that I had managed
to make the ring ridiculously small (child size, really) and thought
that I would try tapping the shank on the mandrel. That produced
very little results. So, I decided (this is where the stupid part
comes in) to try simply and quickly heating the band without the
amber sufficiently protected from heat. I realized my error quickly
when a huge amount of smoke rose from around the amber (smelt
wonderful). What is the smoke from? Doesn’t look burnt per se. Was it
some form of evaporation? Just curious.
Thanks in advance.
it is a good idea to research the properties of any gemstones you
intend of working with… no mention heating…
You should do yourself a great favour and invest $34 in the book
Working with Gemstones: A Bench Jeweler’s Guide by by Arthur
Skuratowicz and Julie Nash
Also, check out Ganoksin’s very informative article about Amber:
Amber is plant resin so the smoke was the resin blowing off.
Somewhat the same as pine pitch or any resin from most any tree or
Well, not really caught fire. But started to smoke. This can be
filed under Incredibly Stupid Ideas, and won't be repeated, but I
Amber is essentially petrified Resin - so I guess you melted some of
it! Did it smell like Pine Needles?
As you heat solidified pine sap, you will cause it to vaporize, and
it just might catch fire if you keep heating it. Thus you should get
a turpentine smell.
Amber is an organic material that was originally a tree sap and
contains volatile materials. As it ages these volatiles are released
into the atmosphere and the resin hardens. The same applies to
petroleum oil, bitumen which is solid at normal temperatures is
easily melted by heating and is the residue once petrol etc is
distilled from the oil. When you heated your amber it gave off gases
that are normally held within the amber resin. Heat it some more and
it will catch fire. Pressed amber is done so by heating and pressing
at high pressures. Youndg amber like copal will be more susceptible
to burning/melting as it ahs more volatile material in it.
What is the smoke from? Doesn't look burnt per se. Was it some form
of evaporation? Just curious.
As you have discovered, amber is sufficiently flammable to use as
incense. That was some of your amber flashing into vapor.
Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
probably a flood of replies about this…one should research about
the elements [a little] before undertaking some projects…a little
googling goes a long way.
amber is…essentially…pine tar/ tree sap. a flammable material.
Amber is a fossilized form of resin, read that as tree sap, from 20
to 60 millions ago. There is also a lot of Copal resin. To quote
Peter G. Read from his book Gemmology, "Among the many Amber
imitations, perhaps the most convincing is copal resin. This is a
’young’ resin compared to amber and is derived from various tropical
It is also loaded with Hydrocarbons and will burn. y guess is that
you got it hot enough to out gas but not enough to flame up.
John (Jack) Sexton
Thanks for the links Mark - I’ve bookmarked them and will purchase
the book. I knew the source of amber but obviously didn’t research
setting it on fire/flammability, as I did not intend to burn it! It
was a good reminder to me to watch how I heat a component of a piece
with its stone/focal/whatever set in it, that even though the flame
was nowhere near the amber and I was using Argentium (doesn’t
conduct heat as well), the amber still wasn’t sufficiently protected
due to my own stupidity. Yes, smelt like pine needles - just gorgeous
smell. Unlike another piece that I accidentally touched down on with
a buffer, a year ago, that smelt bitter and, well, like burnt
plastic, which it must have been (plastic that is).Thanks for the
explanation! Evaporation makes sense!
Don’t feel too bad Ros. Lesson learned and a mistake you will never
repeat. If you’re like me you’ll move on to new mistakes.
It reminds me of when I was younger and I had an amber recut, it was
a faceted marquise. I set it, carefully polished the ring, quickly
dipped it in the sonic, still dirty so I turned off the sonic and
hung it on a hook in the sonic to soak for a couple of minutes. I
got a phone call, forgot about the amber, someone else turned on the
sonic while I continued my day blissfully ignoring the amber. A
couple of hours later I had a heart stopping, beads of sweat on my
forehead freak-out as the realization of the amber sitting in the
sonic hit me like a lightning bolt.
It was basically melted. It looked like a well used root beer jolly
rancher. All the facets were gone.
I had a new one cut and never did that again.
What a life!
Amber being tree sap has been used for incense for thousands of
years. It will burn. the vapor is smoke like you would get from
wood. That is the short of it.
As Thomas said, amber is used as incense. A quick and dirty test for
fake amber is to touch it with a hot pin- if it smells good, it is
probably amber. If it smells like burning plastic, it is probably a
synthetic resin. This needs to be done on rough material, on on an
extremely inconspicuous spot (obviously).
Note that chips of amber can be melted and reconstituted into a
larger mass, which won’t change the smell, but should reduce the
Because amber is usually pine tree sap, it’s probably turpentine or
similar volatiles. Copal produces a similar smell, being sap from a
palm tree. It’s a common amber substitute. Also similar is
“re-constituted” amber, re-melted from scraps from the cutting shops,
and turpentine is used as a solvent in the process as well.