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Home > ALL ABOUT AMBER > Amber - Real Or Fake?
AMBER - REAL OR FAKE?

In the middle of the nineteenth century scientists discovered ways to synthesize natural precious substances and Baltic amber fell prey to falsification. Nowadays the falsification of amber (especially inclusions) is widespread. People who are uneducated about amber could be deceived as the imitations can be passed off and sold as natural amber.  The following are the most popular materials used to imitate amber and ways we can distinguish them from authentic amber.

MATERIALS COMMONLY USED FOR AMBER IMITATIONS:

Copal
Copal is sold as Baltic amber, but in fact this is very young tree resin (1000 years - 1 million years old according to scientists). Natural inclusions are possible in Copal, but usually they are falsified. Insects are inserted in them that are too big and too “perfect-looking.” Copal melts at rather a low temperature (lower than 150 C ), and tends to melt rather than burn. After heating it diffuses the "sweet" smell of burning resins.

Glass
It is easy to distinguish glass from amber.  Glass is more solid and cannot be scratched by metal. Glass is cold and fireproof.

Phenolic Resins
Frequently, this material is found in artificial amber beads. These amber beads have especially exact shape (oval, faceted), the color is very similar to real amber (dark red, cloudy yellow, transparent). After heating it does not diffuse the smell of pine-tree resins, which is characteristic for Baltic amber.

Celluloid
Celluloid (cellulose nitrate) is usually yellow and cloudy. Visually 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.

Casein
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
Modern plastics (polyester, polystyrene) are used to produce artificial amber and inclusions. Visually this substitute can hardly be distinguished because with it authentic amber colors and transparency can be obtained. Like in Copal, falsified inclusions are too big (more than 10 mm) and clearly seen, inserted in the very center of the plastic. After heating it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

TESTS TO DETERMINE REAL AMBER

"Smell" tests
Natural amber has a specific smell, which is difficult to obtain when producing falsifications. After heating, real Baltic amber diffuses the specific delicate fragrance of pine-tree resins. Falsifications using Copal diffuses the smell of "sweet" resins when heated and those using other materials diffuse the smell of burnt plastic.  Please note that this test can be very subjective as individuals interpret scents differently.

"Rubbing" tests
(The best way is to rub into the palm of the hand) It is possible to heat real amber by rubbing until it releases the above-mentioned scent of pine- tree resins. However, this needs a very strong hand, as it is rather difficult to heat amber (especially when polished) to the necessary temperature, and it could be difficult to experiment with amber set in jewelry, as trying to rub it into other materials the amber could get scratched.

"Salt Water" test
We've found this test to be the least invasive and damaging to these delicate resins.  Simply take 2.5 TBSP of salt and dissolve it completely in 1 cup of water.  True amber should sink in regular water and float in the salt water.  Glass, phenolic resins, and celluoid will sink.  Thoroughly wash your amber in clean water afterwards.  Keep in mind that any metal on the item or plastic clasps/cords may alter your results. 

"Hot needle" test
Stick the tip of a red-hot needle into a "hidden" or less noticeable place in the amber (e.g. the hole of a drilled bead, etc). If you smell definite pine-tree resins it means it is real amber. However, the slight mark of burning remains - this is permanent!  This is an effective -but again, subjective- test, and it will damage your amber.  Use with caution!

"Black Light" test
Simply take an LED black light flashlight or other black light bulb (we've found the LED's work best) and hold it up to your jewelry in a darkened room.  If your amber is genuine, it will fluoresce under the light.  The butter colors are the most impressive under these conditions, but all amber will have a certain "glow" to them under these lights.  Please take note that this testing method does take a trained eye to discern the authenticity of the darker amber colors as their fluorescence is not nearly as obvious under the black light as a light or butter color. 
Please be careful when using black lights and DO NOT use them to shine lights on or near your baby!  Black light contains ultra violet light (just like the UV rays of the sun) and can permanently damage your vision!  Please use appropriate UV blocking eye wear if you want to try this test.