It is important to get to know amber well if you are seeking one or better yet, depend on a source that is authentic and reliable. In the middle of the 19th century, scientists discovered ways to synthesize natural precious substances. Due to the demand and the price amber commanded in those days, additional experiments and efforts to falsify amber picked up pace and eventually the Baltic amber also fell prey to falsification. We have provided below various methods and substances used to imitate amber and some tips on how to do simple tests to distinguish real amber from a fake one. We hope you will find it useful.
There are many imitations of amber, some natural and many synthetic. The natural imitations, known as copal resin, are very closely related to amber. They are also from fossilized pine resin, but from different varieties of pine trees, and also less ancient. A variety from New Zealand is known as kauri gum, and is the product of the kauri pine (agathis australis).
Most copal resins, being younger than true amber, are more susceptible to attack by solvents such as ether. Other synthetic imitations include plastics such as bakelite (phenol formaldehyde), celluloid, casein, urea-formaldehyde resin, Perspex and polystyrene. Many of these can be colored to create attractive imitations of amber. Glass is also used to imitate amber, although it too heavy, too hard, and has a cold feel, and is not particularly convincing.
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 is widespread.
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.
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 plastic.
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.
It's not really difficult to tell real amber from fake plastic or copal. You can try just a few simple tests:
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.
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.
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 is uncorrectable.
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 these solvents.
Amber is fragile - sticking with a hot needle you will notice some cracks, while a needle will pierce plastic without cracking it.
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 storm events.
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).
Such inserted insects are usually too big and too good-looking.
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