I have always been a fan of amber, since I was a little girl. Its golden color, the way it captures the light, the feel of it. Some moms even swear it soothes their babies’ teething troubles when worn.
Over the years I have accumulated a bunch of different kinds and types of amber. While staring at a piece that was gifted to me with a spider in it, I had to question, just how authentic, really, is that bug trapped in there forever? How would I be able to tell? With a lot of research and testing, I would like to share with you the knowledge I now possess that can help you identify if your amber is the real deal or not.
Amber is not actually a tree sap; it is from the resin of a tree. Tree resin is beneath the bark, used by the tree for protection from insects, animals, or breakage. Resin smells sweet and pine-like and is like syrup in consistency. That smell is actually a chemical called terpenes. Over millions of years, the terpenes chemical breaks down and is completely released from the resin, resulting in amber. Copal – immature amber – is resin that has not fully released the terpenes chemical.
The word amber is casually tossed around, and stores or dealers could sell you fake specimens, perhaps not even knowing it. A lot of amber is becoming rare, which makes it more expensive. Please be careful and considerate when purchasing! A reputable dealer should be able to tell you why their amber is authentic.
The Taste Test
You can tell if your amber is plastic or resin instead of the real deal just by tasting it. Clean your piece with a mild soap and water and rinse off. Authentic amber will not really have a taste; it should be subtle, and maybe have a little tingly-from-the-touch sensation. Imitation amber will taste nasty or bitter.
The Chemical Test
Real amber will not break down in solvent, unlike resin or copal. If you drip acetone nail polish onto your sample piece and it turns the liquid the color of the amber or it gets gooey at all, it’s fake. Authentic amber will not be harmed whatsoever.
The Burn Test
If you heat up the tip of a safety pin or needle and placed it on your amber or copal, it will smell sweet. Resin will have a nasty chemical smell.
The Saltwater Test
Real amber floats in saltwater. Mix one part salt to two parts water and add your specimen. Fake amber will sink.
The Bubble Test
I have never seen any authentic amber contain bubbles. Over the millions of years that amber has to transform from resin to amber, air and water had the time to exit the resin, only leaving behind solid matter. Hold up the specimen and carefully examine it. If you see any bubbles, you better be cautious.
The Bug Test
Many people have been inserting bugs or fossils into resin or copal and calling it amber. Be cautious! It is quite rare to find bugs in amber, and if you do, make sure they are not any current species that would have not existed in the same form millions of years ago. Look for bubbles near the bugs. If you see bubbles, it’s a fake.