How To Identify Amber: 6 Tips for Beginners

These tips are designed for beginners and will help you identify amber. 

How To Identify Amber: 6 Tips for Beginners

What is Amber? 

Amber is fossilized tree resin exuded from tree bark.

It’s chemical formula is C10H16O.

Tree resin is produced in the heartwood of a tree to block gaps in tree bark.

After the resin hardens, it creates a seal to cover a gash or break in the tree. It takes millions of years for resin to harden completely.

On the Mohs scale, amber has a 2 to 2.5 rating. It is glossy or dull, has a shell-shaped fracture, and is transparent to opaque.

The crystal formation for amber is amorphous and the gemstone has a density of 1.05 to 1.09.

Amber is appreciated for its color and beauty as an organic gemstone.

Amber comes in a variety of colors, including honey yellow, greenish, back, hyacinth, orange, and very rarely blue.

Amber can be classified into five classes based on chemical make-up.

Sometimes, animal and plant inclusions can be found in amber.

This type of amber is known as inclusion.

Resinite is a type of amber found in coal seams.

Ambrite is a type of amber found specifically in coal seams in New Zealand. 

Tip 1: Amber is Softer than Glass

When considering amber, it’s important to make sure it’s actually amber and not yellow glass.

One way to do this is to consider the gemstone’s hardness.

When touching the amber, ask yourself, what does amber feel like?

Glass is much harder than amber.

Amber can be scratched easily and glass doesn’t scratch as easily.

Glass also feels colder to the touch than actual amber. 

Tip 2: Rub Amber in Your Hands 

True amber can be rubbed between the palms of your hands until it is warm to the touch.

If the amber heats up due to the friction of your hands, you can bet it’s actual amber.

It does require firm hands and quite a bit of rubbing to create enough friction to heat amber.

If the amber is polished, you may have to rub it harder and longer to create heat from friction.

As the amber heats up, you’ll get an aroma of pine trees from the stone.

The pine tree smell may not be what you’re used to when walking through the woods, but you’ll definitely notice an overwhelming pine scent. 

If you can’t get the amber to heat up in the palm of your hands, you can try the “hot needle test.”

The concept behind this and the results are very similar.

With this process, you’ll heat up the tip of a needle until it’s very hot.

Push the needle into the amber.

You should immediately smell the unmistakable scent of pine trees as you would with the friction test. 

Both the rub test and the salt water test are the easiest ways to determine how to tell real amber from plastic. 

Real amber will show signs of cracking from the hot needle.

Plastic will start to melt and give off a distinct smell of plastic.

Find out how to do the salt water test in tip 3. 

Tip 3: Does Amber Float in Salt Water? 

True amber floats in salt water.

To test amber, pour a glass of water and add 7 to 8 teaspoons of salt.

Mix the water well.

Slowly set the amber in the salt water.

If the amber floats in the salt water, it is authentic.

It’s important to realize copal, immature amber, also floats in salt water. 

Tip 4: How to Test Amber with UV Light 

Amber can be authenticated with a UV light due to its fluorescence.

In a dark room, shine a UV light on the amber.

If the amber shines blue or green, it is true amber. 

Tip 5: Does Amber have Air Bubbles?

Amber is unique because it’s organic, which means it often has inclusions found in nature.

Some amber pieces will include insects, leaves, dirt, and even air bubbles.

It’s important to think about this, especially if you’re trying to determine how to tell amber from Bakelite.

At first glance, both Bakelite and amber look similar.

But Bakelite will not have any inclusions, including air bubbles, and will also be very heavy compared to amber. 

Using the six tips above will help you determine what does fake amber look like. 

Sometimes, it may be necessary to perform more than one of the authentication tips above. 

Amber is Often Confused with Copal and Bakelite 

Amber is often confused with both copal and Bakelite.

Copal is immature amber.

It is tree resin that is not completely hardened yet.

With copal, the center of the gemstone is still soft.

It’s important to know whether a gemstone is amber or copal because of the way the material will interact with others.

Copal will get sticky when drops of solvent touch it.

True amber will stay hard and not be affected by solvent. 

Now that you know what to expect from amber, you are better prepared to tell the difference between amber and fake amber.

Using the six tips above will make it easy to make sure you get exactly what you expect and want.

It’s important to remember, you may have to do one or many of the tips above to determine whether amber is authentic or not. 

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How To Identify Amber