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Amber fakes are very diverse. Real amber is an organic gemstone, so there is another way to spot amber fakes. Organic gemstones, unlike minerals, originated in living or once-living plants or animals and have no defined crystalline structure. Amber was created from materials that are millions of years old!
Real amber can be differentiated from fakes by the difference in specific gravity – real amber floats in saltwater, scratch test – real amber crumbles, while fake leaves elastic chips. Real amber glows blue under UV light and produces pine order when heated. Real amber inclusions are usually deformed.
It’s a real adventure and quite an interesting performance to identify real amber and spot a fake. You will create seawater, generate static electricity and feel the scent of prehistoric woods. All these miracles are about real amber. Let’s discover them all!
If you are interested in checking out the best books about rocks and minerals identification you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
How Do You Identify Real Amber?
Real amber is perfectly known to everybody as a yellow, golden, orange-to-red, brown, honey-color-like gemstone. Sometimes amber is used to describe this particular sunny color. But the gem amber can also be white, bluish, or greenish.
Real amber is an organic gemstone. Real amber has low hardness (2 – 2,5 on the Mohs scale). Fakes made of glass are much harder. Real amber has a low specific gravity, which allows it to flow in saltwater. Fakes are much denser and sink. Real umber glows with bright blue and green colors under UV light.
Amber is essentially a compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with traces of sulfur. The Gemological Institute of America gives it the next chemical formula – C10H16O.
Please, remember it is not a mineral, amber is it’s amorphous and has no crystalline structure. Amber is an organic fossilized resin. It has no cleavage, and its polish luster is resinous like plastic.
As we already know real amber mostly occurs in warm and sunny orange-to-red colors, however blue and green real amber also exist. Many people think of amber as transparent, but it can also be opaque.
Real amber begins as thick, sticky resin produced by ancient pines. It takes a million years for the resin to harden and to turn into amber. Otherwise, it’s called copal,
or immature amber. Copal is much softer than amber and can be easily scratched even by a fingernail.
Real amber is a soft material. Its hardness is 2 – 2.5 on the Mohs scale, which means it is the softest gemstone. Real amber can be scratched by a knife and a piece of glass.
So be careful performing hardness tests so as not to destroy real amber. Also, it puts some restrictions on real amber storage. It should be put aside any other pieces of jewelry.
Another significant physical property of real amber is specific gravity – 1.06 -1,10 g/cm3. We don’t usually provide you with this characteristic for minerals, but in the case of real amber, it is a critical characteristic.
This is so important because real amber is lighter than seawater! Real amber floats in saltwater. People are even gathering real amber from the Baltic sea – the most important commercial source of amber.
What Does Real Amber Look Like?
Real amber occurs in yellow to red and brown colors. It can be both opaque to common translucent and even to transparent water and suitable for faceting. Real amber has a resinous luster and usually has many different inclusions. Inclusions can be ordinary gas bubbles and the most intriguing – insects.
Real amber occurs in a variety of colors: they are classic yellow, orange, and even green and blue. Real amber can be both transparent and opaque. It can have a lot of inclusions. In most cases, real amber has a resinous luster. Untreated real amber has no crack-like, circular marks or mosaic zones.
Rarely, strong fluorescence can give amber a bluish or greenish appearance, which increases its value even more. Blue amber of gem quality is reported from the Dominican Republic.
TIP: Real amber is one the organic gemstones you can find on the Earth. Check out what other organic gemstones are in the article below:
What Are Organic Gemstones? Complete List With Explanation
How To Identify Fake Amber?
There are numerous types of fake ambers. Organic chemistry gives a variety of different materials, which can be used as high-quality amber substituents. All of them are mostly resin- and plastic-based materials.
Fake amber can be identified by greater density – it sinks in saltwater. When scratched by a knife, fakes made of plastic will leave elastic chips, while real amber crumbles into small pieces. Fake amber does not produce a pine tree scent when rubbed or heated. Fake amber doesn’t glow under UV light.
First of all, it’s necessary to divide enhanced natural amber and synthetic analogs.
For those people who are looking for untreated real amber, heated, assembled, and fused pieces of amber can be considered fakes.
Let’s describe treated varieties:
- Heating the amber in rapeseed or canola oil is used to improve amber’s appearance. It can clear cloudy amber filling trapped gas bubbles. To spot such a kind of treatment, you need to find crack-like, circular marks called sun spangles.
- Ambroid, pressed amber, consolidated amber, or reconstructed amber are large pieces of amber produced by fusing smaller bits of amber under heat and great pressure. It is possible to spot boundaries between different pieces of amber under a microscope. It can look like a layered mosaic structure.
Natural and artificial amber fakes.
Copal is probably the most common natural imitator, while bakelite, a plastic, is probably the most prevalent artificial imitator. Casein, celluloid, epoxy, glass, polyester, phenolic resins, and modern plastic are among the other imitators.
- Copal is a very young tree resin. The age is less than 1 million years old, which means the material is immature to be called real amber. Copal can be easily spotted by hardness tests. Copal is softer than real amber and can be scratched by a fingernail.
- Glass is the easiest type of fake amber to be identified. Glass is much harder than real amber. It cannot be scratched by metal, and, unlike real amber, glass is cold to the touch.
- Phenolic resin, celluloid (cellulose nitrate), casein (a plastic made from milk), modern plastic (polyester, polystyrene) can be generally called plastics and resins. These substitutes can be hardly distinguished optically because they occur in authentic amber colors and transparency. However, all of them diffuse an unpleasant smell of burnt plastic after heating.
Also, please, do not rely on insects inclusions as a sign of the natural origin of amber. Many amber imitations also contain insects, artfully embedded by hand.
Please, take a closer look at inclusions. Small amphibians, reptiles, or large insects look too perfect. Real insect inclusions are commonly deformed and twisted because insects attempt to get out from the sticky resin.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
What Does Fake Amber Look Like?
It is a difficult task to differentiate fake amber visually. Fake amber occurs in authentic amber colors and transparency degrees.
Fake amber made of glass shows glass luster. Fakes made of resins and plastic can be either transparent and opaque and occur in different colors. Inclusions in fake amber look too perfect as insects don’t show any attempts to escape. Fakes usually have stripes or look like mosaics.
Fake amber can be visually identified by too-perfect insect (spiders, scorpions, mosquitoes) inclusions. In real amber, insects are usually damaged and rotated somehow.
Also, insects in fake amber preserve the natural bright color of insect bodies and wings. The bright color is a sign that the insect was not staying for a million years in an amber gemstone.
TIP: Amber is great for tumbling. But do you know how long to tumble amber or other rocks? Find out the exact values for different types of rocks in the article below:
How Long To Tumble Rocks? Exact Values For Different Rocks
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Real Amber and Fake?
Real amber and fake can be separated by hardness, specific gravity (SG), UV light reaction, quality of inclusion, the scent after heating, and structural characteristics. Real amber has a lower SG, crumbles when scratched, has no perfect insect inclusions, and glows a bright blue or green color under UV light.
Here is the table of the main characteristics of real and fake amber.
|Property||Real Amber||Fake Amber|
|Hardness||2 -2.5 on the Mohs scale. Can be scratched both by a knife and a piece of glass. Cannot be scratched by a fingernail.||1 on the Mohs scale for copal. Can be scratched by a fingernail.5 on the Mohs scale for glass. Cannot be scratched by a knife.Similar hardness for plastic and resin. Can be scratched by a knife and a piece of glass.|
|Specific gravity (SG)||1.06 and 1.10 g/cm3Real amber floats in saltwater.||Glass and most resins have higher SG and sinks in saltwater. Some plastics and resins still float.|
|The ability to generate static electricity after being rubbed on a piece of wool||Generates a static charge strong enough to interact with hair or ash.||Stay inert.|
|UV light test||Glows bright greenish-blue and blue colors.||Mostly inert.Sometimes can glow weak bluish-white or milky chalky white.|
|Heating or hot needle test||Pleasant pine scent released.||After heating or after a heated needle touch it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.Glass will not react.|
|Scratch test||Real amber crumbles and white powder releases.||Plastic will leave elastic chips.Glass cannot be scratched by a knife.|
|Inclusions||Insects are deformed and twisted because of attempts to escape from resin.||Inclusions look too perfect.|
|Presence of crack-like, circular marks (spangles).||Untreated real amber doesn’t have spangles.||Heated and enhanced amber have spangles.|
|Mosaic structure observed under a microscope.||No mosaic structure.||Ambroid, pressed amber, consolidated amber, or reconstructed amber have mosaic structure.|
TIP: So you already know the differences between real and fake amber, do you know how valuable amber can be? Well, amber can be really valuable. Find out more in the article below:
How Much is Amber Worth? Costs per Carat and More!
How to Test If Amber Is Real?
Tests for differentiation of a real amber is one of the most interesting among gemstone identification. Test imitates a seawater environment, produces scents of prehistoric woods, and even creates static electricity!
Test real amber with salty water. Most fakes sink, while real amber floats. Rub an amber with the wool. Real amber will generate a static charge which interacts with hair. Warmed real amber produces a pine scent. Real amber crashed when scratched. Place an amber under UV light, and real amber will glow.
It is important to divide tests into two groups: non-destructive and destructive.
Let’s begin with the non-destructive first:
- Put as much salt as it allows to dissolve into a glass of water and place your test amber into your homemade sea. Real amber will float on the water surface because of its low specific gravity. Be careful! Some artificial resins will also float up if they have air bubbles inside. So, if your sample sinks, you can be sure it’s not amber. If it floats, you still need to conduct more tests.
- Vigorously rub amber on a piece of wool. Real amber will generate a static charge strong enough to interact with hair or ash.
- Place your sample under UV light. Real amber will glow even bright greenish-blue or blue color. Be careful! Some resins and epoxy also glow under UV light. You need to spot the difference in intensity and colors. Fake amber glows less intense milky white or chalky colors. Plastics and synthetics don’t fluoresce at all.
- Pay attention to inclusions. Real amber has no perfect inclusions. Insects are usually twisted and damaged, while fake ambers have perfectly located insects with no damage and preserved bright colors of shell and wings.
- Hardness. Real amber is soft and can be scratched by a knife, the same as fake amber. However, fake amber made of glass cannot be scratched.
- Scratch test. It is a logical continuation of the previous test. Real amber crumbles into small white pieces. Fake amber made of plastics and resins will leave elastic chips.
- Hot needle test. Place a metal needle into a source of fire and after that, touch your amber. Real amber releases a pleasant pine scent. Fakes will produce a synthetic smell of burnt plastic.
TIP: Don’t you know how to test hardness of amber or other rocks? Use Mohs scale test kit! This test kit is easy to use and will help you a lot. Find out more about Mohs scale test kits in the article below:
3 Best Mohs Scale Test Kits: Test Hardness of Your Gemstones
How Do You Test Amber with UV Light?
UV light or “black light” can come in handy in non-destructive differentiation between real and fake amber.
Real and fake amber can be distinguished with the help of UV light. Real amber glows bright and evenly distributed greenish-blue to blue fluorescent colors. Some fake amber made of resins and copal also can glow; however, their colors are defined as white milky and chalky.
Natural amber usually displays even fluorescence, viewed with a UV lamp. Real Baltic amber may fluoresce grayish-blue in short wave (SW) UV light. Copal and ambroid are molded only in milky white. Synthetic amber does not shine under the rays of ultraviolet light.
Does Real Amber Glow Under UV Light?
There is numerous research dedicated to the fluorescence of amber. Generally, real amber glows evenly and in brighter green and blue colors.
Real amber glows under UV light. Real amber occurs in bright greenish-blue fluorescence colors upon UV illumination. Copal, which is not old enough to be called amber, has a weak to moderate bluish–green fluorescence called chalky. Fakes made of plastic, resins, epoxy, and polymers do not glow under UV light.
Baltic amber (succinite) produces visible fluorescence if the sample has been cut recently. Non-Baltic amber, copal, bakelite, and synthetic plastics usually do not fluoresce.
Amber that shows strong blue fluorescence under daylight is called “blue amber” in the Chinese gem market. These can be classified into blue and blue-green groups. The main production areas are the Dominican Republic, Myanmar, and Mexico.
The greenish-blue color of blue amber from the Dominican Republic and Indonesia is caused by UV stimulated fluorescence. The greenish-blue fluorescence color is confined to the surface.
Under short-wave UV–light green amber and copal exhibit a weak blue fluorescence, while they are both bluish-white under long-wave UV light.
Generally untreated amber has a weak to moderate blue fluorescence under short–wave UV–light, and copal has a weak to moderate bluish–green fluorescence.
TIP: Do you know what other rocks and minerals glow under UV light? And what is the best UV light for rockhounding? Check out two articles below and find out all you need to know:
12 Rocks & Minerals That Glow Under UV Light & Black Light
GUIDE: Rockhounding with UV Light & 3 Best UV Lights (2021)
Real and fake amber is quite difficult to differentiate with non-destructive methods and without the help of state-of-the-art appliances.
Most fake ambers are made of different kinds of plastics and resins, like bakelite, casein, celluloid, epoxy, glass, polyester, phenolic resins, and modern plastic.
Ambroid, pressed amber, consolidated amber, or reconstructed amber are also considered fake amber.
Please, pay attention to the following properties to separate real amber from fake ones:
- Specific gravity. Real amber floats in salty water.
- Ability to generate static electricity. Only real amber has this property.
- UV light test. Real amber glows evenly and produces bright greenish-blue colors.
- Inclusions. Insects inclusions in real amber are usually twisted and deformed.
- Hardness. Real amber is very soft and can be easily scratched by a knife. So be careful and do not spoil a sample.
- Scratch test. Real amber crumbles with white-colored pieces.
- Heating or hot needle test. Real amber produces a pleasant pine tree scent.
- Crack-like, circular marks (spangles) are a sign of treated amber.
- The mosaic structure is a characteristic of ambroid, pressed amber, consolidated amber, or reconstructed amber.
TIP: You can always find amber on the beach. Especially in Europe. Do you know what other rocks you can find on the beach? Find out the most common rocks in the article below:
25 Most Common Rocks on the Beach: How & Where to Find Them?