There are a lot of imitations out there as we learned (here) that pass themselves off as or are used as alternatives to true amber. There are a number of ways to determine whether or not you have true amber or a material attempting to mimic it.
Here are a few ways to determine if you have real amber or another substance.
Amber is light weight and warm, often feeling like plastic. Other substances such as glass will feel a bit heavier and cooler to the touch.
UV Light Test
True amber will fluoresce under a black light. From the research I’ve done, what color and how much it glows depends on the type of amber. Some pieces will glow brighter than others and in different shades of yellow-green to blue.
*Protect your eyes from the UV Light!
Rub a small area with nail polish remover or acetone. Real amber will not be affected by the solution, while copal and other amber substitutes will become tacky/sticky.
*Note – This method will damage pieces which are not amber.
Amber is soft enough to scratch with a bit of metal. This will help you determine if the piece is glass or true amber.
*Note – This method can damage your piece.
Hot Needle Test
If you press a hot needle into a true piece of amber, the needle will go in slightly, giving resistance and the odor will be that of a pungent old tree. If the piece is copal (immature tree resin), the needle will go in much easier, and the odor will be closer to a fresh pine smell. If the smell is plastic-y, then you have plastic substance. Lucite will give off the odor of camphor, which can also be accomplished with the rub test.
*Note – This method will damage pieces.
Salt Water Test
True amber is buoyant and will float in salt water. If the piece is set in metal, however, it will sink. Dissolve a large quantity of salt in a container of water. Stir to ensure the salt dissolves fully. Drop a piece of amber in the water. True amber will float while most fakes will sink. Copal will float as well, so this method isn’t 100% guarantee.
Rub the piece in question across a dry cloth vigorously for 20-60 seconds. True amber will remain smooth, and as it has electrostatic qualities. Once charged by rubbing, a piece of amber will create a static charge that will attract small bits of paper, lint or a piece of your hair.
If you are handling copal, the surface may become tacky with vigorous rubbing.
Visit the other Posts in the Amber Series: