How to Tell Real Baltic Amber from Fake

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How to Tell Real Baltic Amber from Fake

Amber is an organic gemstone, the sap from prehistoric trees that fossilized millions of years ago. The waters of the Baltic Sea free up the gemstone from the underlying bedrock and Baltic coast area, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for producing high-quality amber for centuries. As amber's popularity has increased through the last several years, so has the number of fakes. However, with common sense and some simple tests, a suspicious buyer can usually tell real Baltic amber from imitations.

 

Real Baltic Amber

Baltic amber has value for its typically golden brown range of shades and luminous quality. Treating it with heat, pressure and linseed oil can improve the colour along with transparency. Amber does naturally darken as it oxidizes over time, so shade alone is not a good indicator of the material's authenticity.

Understanding the qualities of real Baltic amber jewellery makes it easy for an informed buyer to make the right choice. A simple examination of a number of factors can already give the buyer clues because Baltic amber displays several peculiarities.

What to Look For

Because of its origin, amber is not uniform in colour or consistency and can be variable in shade: transparent, translucent, or opaque. If the beads in a Baltic amber necklace or bracelet are all slightly different in colour and look, they are likely to be real, although dying and heat treatments can produce more uniform-looking beads.

Amber is somewhat soft and will scratch easily with a pin or other sharp object. It also smells slightly of pine when you apply heat (usually a heated pin to avoid damage).

Amber floats in salt water but sinks in fresh water. The saltwater test: Add seven heaping teaspoons of salt to 250 ml of cold water. Stir every 10 minutes for half an hour, and then drop the piece of amber in to see if it floats.

Baltic amber comes in several shades from white, yellow, orange, red, brown to black. Natural green amber comes largely from Mexico; green Baltic amber has been heat- and pressure treated or dyed if outright fake.

Baltic amber may contain small insects, bark fragments or oak hairs. It may also have circular cracks, known as spangles, if it has been heat treated. Old or antique pieces of amber may display multiple fine surface cracks but does not peel.

Expert Advice

Experts and collectors like museums and other organizations deal with the same issues as the average buyer when purchasing amber online, so people like curator Dr. Andrew Ross and analytical scientist Dr. Lore Troalen of the National Museum's Scotland collection have developed reliable ways of telling the imitations from the real thing.

The Fakes

There are a number of substances buyers might encounter when looking for Baltic amber jewellery. This chart is a quick reference on the most popular imitation amber substances and the telltale signs that will give them away.

 

Substance

Telltale Signs

Glass

Hard to the touch

Cold

Uniform in colour and consistency

Polystyrene, acrylic, Bakelite, or other plastic

Often displays mould lines along the beads or stones

Often displays machining on the surface

Will have a bulbous centre at the threading hole (where the string is pulled through a bead)

May be coated with acetate that will peel over time

Nail polish remover (containing acetone) will cause plastics and their coatings to deteriorate and peel but does not harm real amber

Copal resin: A type of hardened tree resin that has not yet fossilized into amber

The alcohol test – put a drop of alcohol on the substance. If it is copal, any transparency will become cloudy within 30 seconds.

Semiprecious stone (often chalcedony)

Hard to the touch

Cold

May display stripes, whirls or other variations in consistency not found in amber

Polybern: amber chips mixed with plastic resin

Look for visible chips of amber embedded in a uniform matrix

Dyed horn (most often from Africa)

Rough surface

Dye (colour) will be unevenly spread throughout and will visibly concentrated in some areas

 

Unscrupulous or ignorant vendors may try to pass off other substances as real Baltic amber, but there are often several signs that can let the discerning buyer know whether the purchase is genuine or not.

 

How to Buy Baltic Amber on eBay

Search the inventory on eBay and find Baltic amber jewellery in a wide range of colours and styles and set in sterling silver or gold. Your first defence in finding authentic Baltic amber pieces lies in choosing reputable sellers with a proven history of customer satisfaction. Choosing a local seller may also be beneficial so that you can arrange to inspect the piece before you buy. Search for 'amber jewellery' or, if you know exactly what you want, be more specific and add the metal and type of piece to your search terms for the best results.

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