Amber Buyer’s Guide


Amber comes in many different shapes sizes and colours and can be very beautiful indeed. This quick article or Amber tutorial will give you an overview to enable you to make an educated buying decision. Amber comes in many colours apart from the traditional yellow, honey like colour. It can very in shade from nearly white through pale lemon yellow to a very dark brown or nearly black. Red or cherry amber also exists, as does blue and green coloured Amber, though this is very rare. Some pieces of Amber are transparent or nearly clear, but others are cloudy or completely opaque.

Amber is often described by the location of its origin the most common being Baltic amber and amber from the Dominican Republic. Baltic amber may also be referred to by its country of location, for example Lithuania or perhaps Polish amber. Some Amber, sometimes called Sunburst Amber, has inclusions frequently called  sunspots which are small disc shaped shiny and glittery marks inside the Amber. In real amber these inclusions are very small in size and irregular in shape. it is of course also possible to find other inclusions in amber for example, insects in amber made famous by the movie Jurassic Park. Not only insects, but sometimes even small animals and flowers or plant material have been found but these are really quite rare.


So what else do you need to look out for when buying a number? Before we get on to the business of fake amber, there are a couple of things that you should be aware of when buying Amber. Firstly, Amber referred to as genuine or pressed Amber is actually a larger piece of Amber made out of small pieces that have been melted together under high pressure. Genuine amber will usually result in much more even shaped and larger pieces of Amber them would ever be found naturally. Not necessarily a problem, but nice to know what you are buying! It is also possible to fake sunburst amber, or rather the inclusions in the amber, by heating the amber in rapeseed oil. To tell the difference between real sunburst amber and this manufactured version have a look at the inclusions. In the real article inclusion is a very small and in regular in shape-in the fake they will tend to be much larger and more uniform in shape normally disc shaped or half round. Another thing to watch out for is being sold copal as Amber. Copal is much younger than Amber typically 10,000 years old or so. It is tree resin that is not yet undergone the full polymerisation process to harden sufficiently to be considered Amber. Read on for tests that can help you tell the difference. Finally, when buying jewellery that is claimed to be red and amber, green amber or blue amber, be aware that sometimes very light coloured amber is used with the rear of the amber coated with jeweller's colour paste or burnt to give it the appearance of being one of the more rare and expensive colours of Amber.


Sadly Amber is often faked, either as described previously or even through the use of plastic resins. The rare cases of insects in Amber also give the unscrupulous the temptation to fake these. So how can you tell when a piece of Amber is genuine? Here are some ideas for tests that you could carry out to help you confirm that your piece of Amber is the real deal!


1.  Static test.
Real amber will become electrostatically charged when warm, so rub the piece of amber briskly against a natural fabric. if electrostatic charged, it will attract and pick up small pieces of paper.


2.  Buoyancy test.
Real amber will float in seawater, so put your amber in a cup of water in which you have dissolved 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Amber should float, most fakes will sink. 


3.  The hot needle or burning test.
Heat a sewing needle or similar in a candle flame (taking care not to burn yourself-it will get hot!) and place the hot point of the needle somewhere on the Amber where it is not likely to be noticed. Amber were usually burn with a blackish smoke, copal with a whitish smoke, although sometimes Amber may also give off a whitish smoke. Plastic will give off black smoke. The real trick here is to note the smell given off. Plastic will burn with an unpleasant and acrid smell. Amber will probably give off a slight pine or resinous smell. Amber will also not melt unlike copal and plastic.


4.  The acetone or nail varnish remover test.
Put a few drops of acetone (nail varnish remover) on the Amber. Real Amber will be unaffected by this whereas copal will become slightly sticky to the touch as it is not quite as hard as Amber. Most plastics will also become soft and tacky when treated with a solvent like this.


5.  The fluorescence test.
Amber will fluoresce when an ultraviolet light is shone on it so if you have access to an ultraviolet light (sometimes called a black light) this is a simple way to tell if your piece of Amber is the real thing.


6.  The sense test.
By this I mean just applying common sense. For example Amber is tree resin and so it is unlikely that you will find a genuine large piece of Amber several inches across. By the same token it is a natural material and again it is unlikely that you will find something perfectly shaped. Natural materials tend by their nature to be irregular. When looking at Amber inclusions such as insects in Amber think whether the insect looks posed or is it in the pose of an insect trapped and struggling to escape? An insect that looks like it is just posed a photograph is very unlikely to have been trapped naturally. Also when an insect is trapped it is quite common for other debris to be trapped at the same time. A single insect right in the middle of a perfect piece of Amber should ring the warning bells!



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