If you’re wondering what the difference is between amber and citrine, I’m here to help. At first glance, amber and citrine look a lot alike, but the truth is there are many differences between the two! In a nutshell:
Amber is organic, fossilized tree resin that’s millions of years old and called a gemstone in jewelry. Citrine is inorganic quartz crystal that’s much harder and a completely different substance. Both can range from yellow to orange to brown in color, which is why they often get mixed up.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their differences. Let’s explore what makes amber so different from citrine, and how you can test a piece to tell which one it is.
In this blog post, you’ll discover:
- The things that make amber and citrine so different
- A table of differences between citrine and amber
- Easy ways to test for genuine amber and citrine
The differences between amber and citrine
Here’s a list of differences between amber and citrine…
Amber is fossilized tree resin, citrine is crystal
Amber is not the same as citrine. In fact, they’re completely different substances.
Citrine is quartz crystal. Amber is a fossil that’s called a gemstone in jewelry. Amber is not and can never be a crystal.
I explain more about how amber forms and why it isn’t a crystal in this article.
Amber is fossilized tree resin that hardened over millions of years. It’s made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and whatever materials were in the tree resin when it fell to the ground. Because of this, its structure depends on where it’s from, the tree it came from, and the conditions under which it turned into a fossil.
Citrine is made of silicon dioxide, which is silicon and oxygen. True citrine is created through a natural process: When smoky quartz or purple amethyst is exposed to high temperatures in the Earth’s crust and radiation from nearby sources, such as granite or uranium, it turns into citrine.
There is a lot of fake citrine on the market, most of which is heat-treated purple amethyst. Amethyst is also quartz crystal, so even fake citrine is a crystal and nothing like true amber.
Amber is organic, citrine is inorganic
Amber is considered organic because it comes from living organisms – trees – while citrine is not organic because it comes from inorganic materials – minerals.
When cut or damaged, some trees release a sticky substance called resin that protects them from insects, fungi, and germs.
Millions of years ago, resin that dropped to the ground got covered by soil and was protected from the weather. This protected resin slowly turned into the amber we know today. The resin came from a living organism (trees), which makes amber an organic gemstone.
Citrine is quartz crystal, which is a mineral. Minerals like quartz form through geological processes, such as the cooling and solidification of molten rock, minerals being deposited by liquids, or the changing of rocks. Minerals do not come from living things so they are inorganic.
Amber is softer than citrine
Amber is softer than citrine because it is made up of organic materials that are not as tightly packed and crystallized as the inorganic materials that make up citrine. When we talk about “hardness”, we mean how easy or difficult it is to scratch or damage the piece.
Hardness can be measured on the Mohs scale. This is a scale from 1 (the softest mineral, such as talc) to 10 (the hardest mineral, such as diamond). The higher the number, the harder it is to scratch, cut, and damage.
Amber is a relatively soft gemstone on the Mohs scale, with a hardness rating of around 2 to 2.5 out of 10. This means that amber can be easily scratched or damaged than harder gemstones like quartz.
Quartz is one of the hardest minerals on the Mohs scale with a rating of 7, making it much more durable and scratch-resistant than amber. This means that citrine can scratch and damage amber but amber cannot scratch or damage citrine.
Amber is older than citrine
Amber can take millions of years to form and can be millions to tens of millions of years old. Some of the oldest known amber specimens date back to 320 million years ago.
Citrine forms over thousands or millions of years. The age of citrine depends on how and where it formed: Citrine in volcanic rocks can be hundreds of thousands to millions of years old, while citrine in sedimentary deposits can be tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years old.
Amber and citrine come from different countries and areas
Most amber is found in northern Europe, particularly in the Baltic region, which includes countries like Russian Oblast Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia. But amber is also found in the Dominican Republic, Myanmar, Mexico, and the Ukraine. There is also some amber in Italy, Spain, Canada, and the USA.
Most citrine is found in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Russia. But it’s also found in Madagascar, Zambia, and the USA, primarily in North Carolina, Colorado, and California.
The conditions in the countries where amber and citrine formed were quite different from what they are today…
Amber formed many, many millions of years ago (more than 23 million). Back then, the Baltic region was covered by a dense, subtropical forest that was home to many plant and animal species. The climate was also much warmer and more humid. Resin from trees in the area oozed out and slowly fossilized into the amber we find today.
Citrine formed much more recently than amber, typically within the last few million years. How citrine formed depended on the location, but generally involved the slow cooling and solidification of molten rock that contained trace amounts of iron. Over time, as the Earth’s crust shifted and eroded, these quartz crystals were exposed and can now be mined.
Amber has a golden hue, citrine has a yellow undertone
The color of amber depends on a few things, like the original color of the tree resin, the amount of time it spent buried underground, and any impurities or inclusions trapped inside.
Amber is usually yellow, orange, or brown, with most amber being brownish-yellow. But some rarer amber is white, blue, red, or green. Citrine is always a shade of yellow, orange, or brown, or a mix of similar shades, like yellow-brown, reddish-brown, or orange-brown.
So, what’s the difference between amber and citrine that look the same?
While amber and citrine can both be yellow, orange, or brown, amber tends to have a more golden hue than citrine. Citrine usually has a yellow undertone or is greenish-yellow. And if you look closely, citrine has a more consistent color throughout, but amber often has variations in color and shades.
Amber can contain extinct species, citrine doesn’t
Both amber and citrine can contain inclusions, which are small objects or particles that get trapped inside them.
One way to tell the difference between amber and citrine using inclusions is to examine them under a microscope or magnifying glass. Amber inclusions are organic, such as plant matter or insects, while citrine inclusions are mineral in nature, such as tiny bubbles.
Amber is known for its inclusions, which can be bits of plant matter, insects, and other small organisms, many of which are now extinct. These inclusions are often preserved in exquisite detail, giving us a glimpse into life on Earth millions of years ago.
Here’s my full guide to amber, where you’ll learn everything you need to know.
Citrine may contain small bubbles, liquid-filled cavities, or other tiny mineral inclusions, but these are often less visible to the naked eye than those found in amber. In rare cases, citrine can have inclusions like those seen in natural quartz crystals, such as phantoms, skeletal crystals, or veils (see my glossary page for explanations of each of these inclusions).
Amber is usually transparent, citrine ranges in transparency
Amber is usually transparent to translucent, while citrine ranges from transparent to opaque.
Amber is typically transparent to translucent, which means light can pass through it and you can see objects through it, but they may not be entirely clear. This is because of the way light interacts with organic compounds that make up amber.
Citrine ranges from transparent to opaque. When it’s transparent, light passes through it and objects can be seen through the crystal. When it’s opaque, the crystal is cloudy and not see-through, and light can’t pass through it at all. This is due to inclusions or impurities in the quartz.
Citrine is usually more valuable than amber
As a general rule, citrine is more valuable than amber because of four reasons:
- Citrine is a relatively rare form of quartz that is highly sought after by collectors and jewelry designers. When people really want something, they are often willing to pay more for it.
- Citrine is easier to mine, cut and polish than amber.
- Citrine is harder and more durable, so it works better in jewelry than amber.
- Citrine’s golden-yellow color is popular in jewelry, especially in combination with other gemstones like diamonds, which also drives up its price.
But there are exceptions depending on the type and quality of the amber or citrine.
The following table compares the average price between amber and citrine, based on current market values:
|Price Range (USD)|
|Amber||$20 – $100 per gram|
|Citrine||$10 – $150 per carat|
Table of differences between amber and citrine
The table below is a quick guide to all the differences between amber and citrine that I explained in detail above:
|Composition||Fossilized tree resin||Quartz crystal|
|Hardness||2 – 2.5 on Mohs scale||7 on Mohs scale|
|Origin||Northern Europe, Dominican Republic, Myanmar, Mexico, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Canada, USA||Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Russia, Madagascar, Zambia, USA|
|Color||Yellow, orange, brown, white, blue, red, or green||Yellow, orange, brown, or a mix of similar shades|
|Hue||Golden||Cool tone or greenish-yellow|
|Color consistency||Variations||More consistent|
|Age and formation||Older: Formed millions of years ago through fossilization||Formed within the last few million years through the cooling and solidification of molten rock|
|Transparency||Usually transparent||Ranges from transparent to opaque|
|Inclusions||Fossilized insects, plant materials, and even small animals||Small bubbles, liquid-filled cavities, or other tiny mineral inclusions|
|Value||Usually less valuable||Usually more valuable|
How to tell if a piece is amber or citrine
Here are some tests you can try at home to test a stone and tell if it’s amber or citrine:
Note: There’s a lot of imitation citrine on the market so the test might tell you that you don’t have amber or citrine. This could be because you have heat-treated amethyst that was sold as citrine!
Amber is flammable, citrine isn’t.
Hold a flame near the stone without touching it, to see if it catches fire or emits a sweet, piney smell. If it catches fire or releases a smell, it’s probably amber or copal (a younger form of tree resin).
If it doesn’t burn or have any smell, it’s more likely to be citrine.
Citrine is harder than amber.
Use a steel knife or copper penny to make a small scratch on the surface of the stone.
If the stone is citrine, it won’t make a scratch because quartz is stronger than steel and copper on the Mohs scale.
But amber will scratch and may even produce a powdery residue because amber is softer than steel and copper.
UV light test
Shine a UV light on the stone in a dark room to see if it glows.
Amber fluoresces or shines under UV light, emitting a blue or green glow, while citrine typically doesn’t.
If it shines a color other than blue or green, you probably have some other crystal or gemstone in your hands.
Mix 1/4 cup of salt with 1 cup of warm water and stir until the salt dissolves.
Place the stone in the solution and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
Amber floats in saltwater, but citrine sinks. This is because amber is less dense than saltwater, and citrine is denser.
This test requires a battery, a light bulb, and a circuit. Hold the stone between the two terminals of the battery to complete a circuit.
If the bulb lights up, the stone is conductive and may be citrine. If the bulb doesn’t light up, the stone is not conductive and may be amber.
Not all citrine is conductive, so this test may not be conclusive.
Fill a small container with water and record the water level.
Then place the stone in the water and record the new water level.
Subtract the first water level from the second to determine the stone’s volume.
Now divide the stone’s weight by its volume to calculate its density.
Amber has a density of around 1.05 g/cm3, while citrine has a density of around 2.65 g/cm3. If the density of the stone is closer to 1.05 g/cm3, it’s more likely to be amber. If the density is closer to 2.65 g/cm3, it’s more likely to be citrine.