How to Identify Genuine Baltic Amber from Imitations or Fakes
There are a number of complex methods to determine fake from natural Baltic Amber. Genuine Baltic Amber is not a stone, rock or gem, it is a Fossilized Tree Resin that was formed over 45 million years ago, so it is naturally light weight and warms up with the body’s temperature and can feel like a plastic.
People who know only a few things about Amber could be deceived. The falsifications could be sold as natural Amber to them, however there are several different testing methods to determine genuine Baltic Amber from imitations or fakes.
In this article, we will describe the most prevalent fake Amber types.
First and foremost, we do recommend that you purchase your Genuine Baltic Amber from the most reliable sources.
MATERIALS MOSTLY USED FOR AMBER IMITATIONS:
Scientists found ways in the 18th century to synthesize precious natural materials into copies of varying inferior quality. Baltic Amber was one of those precious materials that was replicated with worthless materials.
Currently, the marketplace is flooded with fake amber especially Amber Inclusions. The fake products go for a high price at times and yet they are not only artificial, they do not have the healing powers of natural Baltic Amber.
Copal is very young tree resins, about 1000 - 1million years old. Inclusions are possible in Copal, but usually they are falsified. 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.
Glass. It is easy to distinguish glass from Amber: it is more solid; it cannot be scratched by metal. Glass is cold.
Phenolic Resin . Frequently, this material is found in artificial Amber beads. After heating it does not diffuse the smell of pine-tree resins, which is characteristic for Baltic amber.
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.
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 (polyester, polystyrene) are used to produce artificial amber. 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.
TESTS TO ASCERTAIN REAL AMBER
The Scratch Test. Baltic Amber is not hard, when using the Moh's scale. Usually it ranks from 2 to 2.5. Your fingernail is about 2 and thus it is very difficult to scratch Amber. Scratch one of the Amber beads with your fingernail. If you make a mark, it's more than likely not Amber.
Smell test. Smell tests are the most effective because natural Baltic 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.
Electrostatic charging. Amber has the ability to become electrostatically charged after being vigorously rubbed on cloth (best on wool, felt or silk). This property can be tested with small pieces of paper, tissue or dust. After rubbing the Baltic Amber, the pieces become visibly attracted to it from a distance of about ½ inch and tend to cling to the surface. The electrical charge formed on the Amber surface is negative.
"Hot needle" tests - the 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 is incorrectable. Baltic Amber is fragile - sticking with a hot needle you will notice some cracks, while a needle will pierce plastic without cracking it.
IR-spectroscopy is the most effective scientific method for identifying fossil resins. Baltic amber could be characterized by IR-spectrum segment called "Baltic amber shoulder".
The Float Test. BalticAmber is buoyant in salt water. To do this test, mix about 1 part salt to 2 parts warm water and dissolve the salt completely. Drop your Amber into the mixture. Plastic and copal will sink, while Amber should float.
If you are testing jewellery products using the float test, try to keep the clasp or any metal pieces out of the water as these products will cause the product to sink, even though it may be genuine amber. Also, the string or cord used to make amber necklaces and bracelets can also cause genuine Amber to sink.
All natural amber contains microscopic bubbles. When you apply heat to a single piece of amber, these bubbles evaporate and the amber becomes transparent. The greater the temperature, the darker the amber will become. This technique can be used to discern if the precious amber contains any inclusions. It is also used to add variety to the coloration of natural amber. It does not, however, increase or decrease the value of real Baltic Amber or the healing ability of natural Amber.
The difference between solid and pressed-reconstructed amber beads is number of stones used to achieve greater amber bead size. The technology is used to minimize production cost as solid Baltic amber is getting expensive. Manufacture process combines small amber pieces in order to make on large. Stones are chosen by color, quality, size and shape then are bonded together under high pressure without any additives (no chemicals, glue, synthetics are used at any production stage). Pressed amber has same qualities as solid one.