Various Unsuccessful Attempts to Imitate Amber
People found various ways to imitate amber with the use of plastic
(most common), copal (pre-amber tree resin substance), glass and other
types of resin have come close to amber and made it possible to fool
naked eyes. Since inclusions in amber are rare to find and command good
prices in the international market, falsification of amber inclusions
Since the oldest times word "amber" had only one meaning - the Baltic
amber. However the processes that influenced the formation of amber
have left their traces in different parts of the globe because they
had an effect on not only resins of coniferous trees, but also on resins
of leaf-bearing trees and even leguminous plants. Although 150 types
of fossil resins are known in the world, these resins are not amber
but its relatives. They are mostly found in Europe and America and each
of them has its own name.
Materials Commonly Used for Amber Imitations:
Copal comes close to amber because chemically it is close. Copal
is actually very young tree resin and contains succinic acid, or succinite.
Resin flows like syrup and has a distinct piney, sweet smell. The piney,
sweet smell is due to chemicals in the substance known as terpenes.
Immature amber or copal is a substance in which all the volatile terpenes
have not yet left the resin. Copal imitation is generally used to imitate
amber inclusions by inserting insects into them.
Although the glass imitation of amber can sometimes achieve the look,
it is not a smart falsification. It is easy to detect. Read below under
detection tests on how to.
This chemical substance is used to produce amber beads and is useful
in achieving various colors of amber such as dark red, cloudy yellow,
limpid. It also achieves exact amber bead shapes such oval, round etc.
giving a sense of better carving or polishing.
Celluloid (cellulose nitrate) is usually yellow and cloudy. Optically
it is difficult to distinguish it from amber. Celluloid is more solid
and not so combustible. After heating it diffuses the smell of burnt
This is a plastic made from milk. The beads have cloudy, turbid yellow
color. It is a little bit heavier than amber. After heating it diffuses
the smell of burnt plastic.
Modern plastic (polyester, polystyrene) are used to produce artificial
amber and inclusions. Optically this substitute can hardly be distinguished
because with it authentic amber colors and limpidity can be obtained.
Like in Copal, falsified inclusions are too big (more than 10 mm) and
clearly seen, inserted in the very center of plastic. After heating
it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.
Simple Tests to Recognize Real Amber
It's not really difficult to tell real amber from fake plastic or
copal. You can try just a few simple tests:
1. "Smell" Test
Smell tests are the most effective because natural amber has a specific
smell, which is difficult to obtain when producing falsifications. Amber
smells sweet, piney and pleasant when burnt, the very reason it has
been used for centuries.
Amber does not melt. It will burn away like incense. Copal will melt,
as will plastic as incense. After heating real Baltic amber diffuses
the specific delicate fragrance of pine-tree resins. Copal melts at
rather a low temperature (lower than 150 C), and tends to melts rather
than burn. After heating it diffuses the "sweet" smell of burning resins.
2. "Rubbing" Test
It is easy to distinguish glass from amber: it is more solid; it
cannot be scratched by metal. Glass is cold and fireproof. If you have
strong hands, rub the fake amber into the hands until it releases the
smell of pine- tree resins.
3. "Hot Needle" test is most effective
To stick a heated needle into an imperceptible place in the amber
(a hole of a drilled bead, etc.). If you smell definite pine-tree resins
it means it is real amber. Deficiency: the slight mark of burning remains-this
Copal (immature resin) and plastic fake amber do not hold up to solvents.
Take a few drops of acetone (fingernail polish remover) or alcohol and
drip it over the surface of your piece. If the surface becomes tacky,
or the fluid takes on the honey golden color of the substance, you can
bet it's not amber. Amber is not harmed and will not dissolve under
Amber is fragile - sticking with a hot needle you will notice some
cracks, while a needle will pierce plastic without cracking it.
4. Salt-water test
Real amber floats in salt water. That's why it is easy for locals
on the Baltic Coast to find it washed up on beaches, especially after
Pour 7-8 full spoons of salt into 300ml of water and stir. After
several minutes of stirring the salt will dissolve. Carry out the test
and wash the sample with pure water. Deficiency: it will not detect
polystyrene and copal and jewelry (with metal, strings of beads and
clasps make the piece sink).
5. Artificially Inserted Insectseading
Such inserted insects are usually too big and too good-looking.
Colors of Amber
You may find Amber in many different colors such as orange, yellow,
red, green, brown, white, green, blue and almost black. It may be transparent
or clouded. Transparent tones range from pale to dark yellow, to yellow
light brown. Cloudy amber comes in many colors. Amber is unique because
it is able to preserve the organic tissues in it... more