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How to identify an Amber Gemstone

How to identify an Amber Gemstone

Imitations Of Amber
Identifying an original amber gemstone is quite a difficult prospect. This is because there are imitations of amber which are often found in the market and confuse the buyers.

One of the numerous amber imitations is called ‘Amberdan’. It has properties fairly near to natural amber. The way to test the originality is when the stone is heated and gives off a certain odor. When the odor smells like a mixture of plastic and amber, it suggests that a natural resin has been mixed with a plastic binder.

Amber is often confused with copal. It is difficult to identify original amber because these two stones are composed of very similar materials, with nearly identical origins. The difference is that amber is several million years old, while copal is just a few hundred thousand years old.

Another amber imitation that is found in the market is made up of pressed amber, or ‘ambroid’. This is created by fusing smaller bits of amber under heat. This can be distinguished from original amber when you examine it under a microscope.

Methods Of Identifying Original Amber

Ancient techniques for identifying amber are still useful today. When amber is rubbed vigorously on a piece of wool, it generates a static charge, which is enough to pick up a small piece of ash. When amber is warm enough, it tends to give off a distinctive odor. These techniques will not distinguish amber from copal, but they will separate it from plastic imitations.

To distinguish between amber and copal is difficult. They share the same refractive index, specific gravity, and most other properties. However, Copal tends to fluoresce whiter than amber under UV light. So, it is a judgment call which one needs to make based on having examined a sufficient number of samples so as to recognize the difference.

If one is not able to make the distinction based on fluorescence, then one will have to resort to a destructive test. On an inconspicuous area of the stone, place a drop of acetone. Let it sit for three seconds, and then wipe it off. Copal will have the surface damaged by the acetone, while amber will show little or no change from the brief exposure.

Another easy method to separate amber from its plastic imitations is with a specific gravity solution. A handy testing liquid can be made by boiling water and adding as much salt as you can dissolve in it. Most of the amber imitations will sink in this solution. This is because few plastics have a density as low as 1.05 and many can be lower than amber if they have air bubbles inside. So, if your sample sinks, you can be sure it is not amber. If it floats you, need to determine if it is plastic or amber.

There is another destructive test to separate real amber stones from the fake ones. However, it must be done with care. The best part is that it can be done almost invisibly. Find a place on the stone where a mark would be as unobtrusive as possible. This can be on the bottom, an edge, or an area with existing scratches. Next, heat the tip of a needle until it glows red. Touch the selected spot just enough to release a tiny whiff of smoke. Now smell the smoke. If it is amber, the smell is of fine incense. If it is chemical and offensive, it is plastic. This is another reason to make your test on as small a scale as possible!

Another test of discovering a fake amber piece is to identify the insect inclusions present in the stone. If one finds amber stone which has an inclusion of say, a modern house fly, this can easily alert you to the fact that the stone may be a fake. This is because the house fly did not exist millions of years ago, which means that the inclusion has been fused into the stone, and that the stone is not genuine.

With these tips and techniques, it thus becomes easier for you to identify and spot a genuine amber gemstone from among the fakes.


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