Fakes/reconstituted or other substances
There is quite a debate about whether copal is amber or is not. Some argue that it is a type of amber, as it is a tree resin and is thousands of years old, while others argue that this is misleading to consumers as copal isn’t truly fossilized. True amber is millions of years old and was formed from a now extinct conifer trees.
Copal can have inclusions of bugs and natural materials, but is often faked.
Amber when tested under heat will soften and blacken, where copal melt and liquify. Also, when copal is tested with alcohol, perfume or solvents, it becomes sticky while amber is unaffected.
Copal still contains oils and liquids, where in true amber these liquids and oils have long since evaporated. This makes copal more volatile and subject to cracking and crazing as the process of polymerization continues, making it not as hard as amber. In amber, “The resin has then undergone a process known as polymerization. The organic molecules join to form larger ones called polymers. The molecules are cross linked and intertwined. In Copal only part polymerization has taken place.”
As far as testing copal vs amber using a ultraviolet uv light, there were differing reports. Some sites insisted that copal will not fluoresce, while others share that copal can show a whiter glow than that of amber which is generally blue, green, orange, or bright yellow.
Pressed amber is created when small pieces and flakes of amber are pressed and melted together, reforming or molding it. Beads, spheres, combs, pendants, geometric shapes larger pieces often created this way. Popular because it is less expensive and more abundant than true amber. Often pressed amber will appear more like plastic and will have fewer imperfections.
Angular shadows can be present in composite/reconstituted/pressed amber where very symmetrical are formed with the cooling and reheating of composite/reconstituted amber. True amber can have circular sunburst patterns.
Ambroid/Amberoid, while similar to pressed amber, is made up of small bits of amber embedded in plastic. Frequently when you get a piece of jewelry with uniform beads, it will either be pressed amber or ambroid.
I have also read ambroid being interchangeable with the term “pressed amber” so I wanted to share both distinctions.
Both pressed amber and ambroid can (but not always) have flow lines and elongated bubbles.
Glass is easy to distinguish from amber. It is cold to the touch, more solid feeling, and fireproof.
Phenolic Resins are used to create artificial amber beads. They frequently have very exact, uniform shapes and the color can mimic that of real amber, from yellow to red. Sometimes you will see crack lines in phenolic resin beads resulting from fine cracks caused by oxidation, heat, and/or ultra-violet sunlight. Read more about phenolic resin beads here & here
The float test will eliminate phenolic resins, glass, and celluloid when testing your materials.
Celluloid (cellulose nitrate) can be distinguished from amber because it does not pass the electrostatic charge test and gives off the odor of camphor.
If at anytime you notice discrepancies or have questions about the accuracy of what I’m writing/sharing, please let me know and we can look at all the sources and make sure the correct information is being given.
Share any amber pics that you have in the comment section and we’ll try to identify color. These could be current listings, sold listings, or pieces from your collection. 🙂
Visit the other Posts in the Amber Series: