How To Tell If Your Baltic Amber Is Real


There are many types of Amber, occurring naturally in various captivating shapes, sizes and colours. Yet not all amber is created equal. Like most precious materials, scientists have uncovered ways to synthesize and combine various natural materials to create counterfeit, inferior quality amber products. Differentiating between these two - genuine and fake - can be very difficult.


With modern methods and a little ingenuity, inferior replicas are easily produced, and have flooded the amber market in recent years as a result. So, how do you know if the amber necklace you purchased is genuine? And how can you be certain that the kids amber jewellery you bought is the real deal, and feel safe giving this to your little one? Other than ensuring you check whether the amber is real and the warranty certificate checks out before buying the amber, there are various tests you can quickly and easily perform to ensure the amber you’re buying is 100% genuine Baltic amber. 

How To Test If Your Baltic Amber Is Real

Visual Inspection 

The first test is also the easiest: a visual inspection. What you’ll want to look for while carrying out this inspection is plastic, glass and pressed amber that is obviously ‘too perfect’. Genuine amber beads can be polished to a near-perfect round, but if all of the beads on the string of your bracelet or necklace are totally picture-perfect, something probably isn’t right.  


Real and genuine amber also features numerous air bubbles, as well as natural imperfections within the bead such as cracks, which are visible so long as the amber is clear enough to let the light pass through it. When held in the hand, real amber is also much lighter than you’d expect it to be, especially when compared to glass counterfeits. 

The Ultraviolet Light Test

Real Baltic amber will fluoresce a pale blue under UV light, while cheap imitations made of Copal will not. This is an incredibly quick and easy test to perform, particularly if the colour of your amber falls on the lighter side of the spectrum. To carry out this test, you’ll need a real UV light such as an LED UV flashlight or fluorescent tube (traditionally called a Black Light).

The Scratch Test

Genuine Baltic amber boasts a hardness rating of 5 - 6 on the Moh’s scale. While this means amber is quite soft, it cannot be scratched with your fingernail. If it makes a mark, it isn’t amber. This an effective test in distinguishing Copal (the most common natural imitation of amber) from amber, as Copal is very soft and can be scratched with a fingernail. 

On the other hand, amber can be easily scratched by metal or other sharp objects. While counterfeits made of glass won’t. Do note that this test will hurt your amber if it’s real, so attempt to carry out this test on an area of your amber that will remain unseen.

This can be a hard test to carry out on an already small bead, and as a result isn’t the most practical test due to the permanent damage it can cause. In this case, it’s far easier to tell your amber from glass by both its temperature and its weight, as glass is colder and heavier than its genuine amber counterpart.

The Smell Test

Natural, genuine amber features a very distinct smell which can be difficult for creators of fake or counterfeit amber products to reproduce. When heated, genuine Baltic amber releases an unmistakable pine-tree or turpentine odour. - reminiscent of Christmas trees - which is easily differentiated from the sweeter or burnt smell counterfeit amber products give off when heated to similar temperatures.

How To Safely Heat Your Amber For The Smell Test

Heating your amber may sound dangerous, but it's safer than you might think. The safest way to do so is by rubbing it vigorously in the palm of your hands. Heating it to the point that it releases its trademark scent. Note that this process does requires some persistence, and isn’t always practical if your amber is either polished or set in jewellery. 

The Hot Needle Test

Heating your amber by hand isn’t always possible. The hot needle test saves much of the last test’s requisite elbow grease, and offers a much quicker alternative method for testing the scent given off by your amber.

1. Carefully heat a needle in a flame until it is very hot. 

2. Touch the needle to the amber in a place that won’t be seen often, such as the inside of the hole of a drilled amber bead.  

3. If the amber releases a definite pine-tree scent, then it’s genuine. 

TIP! Baltic amber is incredibly fragile, and will often show some minor - though noticeable - cracks when stuck with a hot needle. In comparison, plastic or other fake ambers will react differently, allowing the needle to pierce through cleanly and without cracking.

The Electrostatic Test

While other tests allow you to determine whether your amber is glass or plastic, the electrostatic test is an easy way to determine whether your jewellery is authentic or is far inferior Copal replica.

1. Wrap your necklace or other piece of amber jewellery in a soft cloth and rub vigorously for 2 - 3 minutes. 

2. Hold the amber close to small pieces of paper. If the amber is genuine, it will become electrostatically charged through the rubbing process and will pick up these small pieces of paper.   

TIP! Substances such as Copal do not take an electrostatic charge, and may instead become sticky after rubbing. 

The Saltwater Test

Genuine amber is so light that it will float in salt water. To test yours, simply:

1. Mix up a solution of 1 part salt to 2 parts water in a cup, jug or bowl. 

2. Continue stirring until the salt has completely dissolved, and then drop your amber into this mix. 

3. Pay close attention to what your amber does now. Genuine amber - as well as some types of Copal - will float on the surface. While plastics and glass will quickly sink to the bottom.  

The Various Materials Found In Fake Amber

Glass

Glass remains the easiest of the counterfeit amber products to identify, often cold to the touch and much heavier than its genuine amber counterpart. As with any glass product, it’s also fireproof, and resistant to scratches from metal objects. 

Copal

Copal is often found being sold as Baltic Amber, but it’s actually a very young tree resin from the copal tree ‘Protium Copal (Burseraceae)’. Aging anywhere from 1,000 to 1,000,000 years old, Coal is actually much younger than genuine baltic amber, which is closer to 40,000,000 years in age.

A resinous substance, Copal isn’t truly fossilised and melts at a low temperature - under 150 degrees celsius - giving off a ‘sweet’ smell of burning resin as it does so.

Phenolic Resins

Phenolic Resin is one of the most common ingredients found in artificial and counterfeit amber beads. Amber beads that are ‘too perfect’ or an unusually perfect shape are often a giveaway for the inclusion of Phenolic Resin which - when heated - fails to give off the characteristic pine-tree scent of genuine Baltic Amber.

Celluloid (Cellulose Nitrate)

Yellow in colour and often cloudy in appearance, Celluloid can be difficult to distinguish from genuine amber. It’s only when Celluloid is heated to high temperatures that it’s uncovered, releasing an acrid smell similar to burning plastic.

Casein

Heavier than genuine amber, Casein is a yellow, murky plastic made from milk that smells of burning plastic when it’s heated. 

Modern Plastics

Polystyrene, Polyester and other modern plastics are now regularly used to produce artificial amber jewellery including necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Modern technology and production methods now mean it’s that much harder to distinguish this artificial amber from the genuine product, as it boasts an authentic look, feel and colour that - on the surface - is comparable to the real thing. 

Fake amber made from modern plastics exhibits many of the same telltale signs as other forms of counterfeit amber for those with a keen eye, often too perfectly shaped and smelling of burnt plastic if heated to higher temperatures.

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