Gemstone-quality amber beads are jewelry components that really stick around! (Sorry, we couldn't resist the pun.) Considered a semiprecious stone, amber is fossilized tree sap from now-extinct conifers and ancient pines. Exuded by trees as a protective mechanism against disease and insects, the ancient sap hardened into a resin and became preserved in the earth's crust for millions of years.
Real amber is harder than other resins, and can usually be distinguished from plastic and glass replicas by its inclusions and its ability to float in salt water. Nevertheless, genuine amber is a soft gemstone and is easily scratched, so store amber beads carefully. Clean amber beads in lukewarm (not hot) water with a little dishwashing liquid. Afterward, it's helpful to rub on a little vegetable oil. To help prevent damage, tie knots between amber beads so they don't rub together.