Following up on my beginner’s guide to amber jewellery, I wanted to dive a bit more into how to tell the difference between real and fake amber. Here is everything you should know.
Unfortunately, there are some very real looking amber being sold that is actually fake. There are, in general, two types of fake amber.
Artificial Amber – This is a man-made plastic polymer which is crafted to look like amber.
Copal - this “young amber” is from 50 years to 1.6 Million years old, considerably younger than the 60 to 300 Million year old amber. Copal primarily comes from Columbia and has many of the same properties as real amber, but it is neither as rare nor as valuable.
True amber has numerous unique properties and it is an amazing substance. The absolute best way to spot genuine amber is by only buying it from reputable sources, but if you already own some amber pieces, you can either take it to an expert for verification or you can try some at-home testing.
If you do want to try some tests at home, here are a couple of the most common ways to tell the difference between real and fake amber. No one test will give you a conclusive answer as copal will pass some of the test as plastics will pass others; however, if your “amber” passes 2 or 3 of these tests, it costs a reasonable amount and is sources from a reputable location, then you are probably in possession of the real thing.
Non Damaging Tests
There are quite a few location around the world that are known for producing amber. If your amber came from one of these areas, then you are probably in possession of the real thing. The highest quality and the most commonly occurring place to find amber is in the Baltic. In places like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Western Denmark, Southern Sweden, Kaliningrad in Russia & Northern Germany, amber can often be found on the coasts of the Baltic Sea.
Good quality amber can also be found in Chiapas in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Less commonly, amber also occurs in Myanmar, Lebanon, Romania, Japan, the island of Sicily, Canada, and some US states.
Real amber hold a charge from static electricity. To test to see if your “amber” is static, place a layer of tissue on a flat surface. Next, rub the amber hard on the carpet until it becomes warm and then hold it just above the tissue. If you have real amber and you rubbed hard enough, the tissue will lift up toward the amber.
Acetone/Nail Polish Remover
Since Copal is an immature resin, it has many of the same characteristics as amber. The best way to differentiate Copal from Amber is to place a drop of acetone, or nail varnish remover, on it. If it is real amber, the solutions will just evaporate without leaving a mark. If you do this same test on Copal it will leave a white pasty spot on the resin and some colour will be drawn out of it.
If you place amber under a fluorescent light, it will glow with a pale blue. Plastic is unlikely to give this glow and Copal will not.
Similar to the static electricity test, when you rub your amber hard across a carpet until it becomes warm, it will give off a very light pine scent. Copal will also give off this scent, but plastic won’t.
Real amber has a hardness of approximately 2-5 on the Moh’s scale. Even though this quite soft for a gem, you should not be able to scratch it with your fingernail. If you try the scratch test with your fingernail and it leaves a mark, then it isn’t amber.
At room temperate, real amber will feel warm while plastic will remain cold.
These tests will require that you damage your amber or its setting. Because of this, these should be avoided. It is much better to send it off to an expert to be examined for verification. If you don’t mind possibly damaging the piece, you can try some of the test below.
Real amber is buoyant and it doesn’t sink like a stone in salt water. You must first remove the amber from its setting (hence the damaging), dissolver 2 tablespoons of salt in 200ml of water, and drop your amber into the solutions. If it sinks like a stone, it is not amber, but if it slowly sinks, it is probably amber.
If you place a heated needle against amber, it will give off a piney/ resinous smell or even a natural clean smell. If it is a plastic resin, it will give off a nasty chemical smell and melt around the needle.
All of the amber used in our jewellery is natural Baltic amber, collected from the beach in a small village in Poland and polished and set into our unique pendants by a craftsman with over 30 years’ experience. Feel free to test it at your leisure!