Oct 14, 2013

How to test is Baltic amber real?

When there are so many fakes in the market, it becomes important to be able to test amber. There are few ways to test amber, but i will write here about few most popular and best known ways to do that at you own home.

Salted water test.
This is one of best known ways to test Baltic amber, but it is considered to be not exact, because density of amber varies a lot: from 0.93 to 2. Fresh water is measured 1. This means some amber pieces float even in fresh water (that usually is white amber), some sink in salt saturated water (closer to 2 usually is amber with earth inclusions). 
If you have purchased jewelry, it most probably has thread, plastic or metal clasps, maybe some other details. Those details might make Baltic amber to sink too. 

UV test.
Baltic amber fluorescence (shines) under UV light. This test does not work on heated amber, and as i have noticed, often does not work even on natural, not heated cherry color amber - change under UV light is not so drastic as other colors especially if that cherry amber is opaque. So if amber does not fluorescence under UV light, test it in the following way.

Hot needle/pin test.
This test is also called as "smell test". 
Baltic amber ancient fossilized tree sap. Comes from trees which no longer grow on  on the surface of Earth. Baltic amber is 40-60 million years old. During that time tree saps have changed and became natural polymers, that means plastic made by nature. Each color of amber has its own smell. This is because each color of amber has been formed in different environment, with different chemical compounds in the soil, different temperature, different time of exposure to the Sun and air and so on. So, basically each amber piece has slightly different smell, and color's smell can be very different from each other.
In order to test, heat a needle or steel wire, touch with amber piece and smell what comes out.

White and very light yellow Baltic amber has a lot of amber acid (up to 8% from it's mass). For this reason it's smell is a bit sour.
Honey amber gives smell which is close to pine sap or colophon smell.

 As scientific books about Baltic amber say, clear light Baltic amber has formed inside of tree, usually under the bark of tree. It had gone through different processes than other colors of amber for this reason it has a bit different chemical and physical properties than other amber colors. It fluorescence under UV light, but when tested with smell test it smell more like plastic than pine sap. The more clear it is the more plastic it will smell. If clear light amber has, for example, slight honey color like in photo above, it will have hint of pine smell and a hint of plastic smell.  In the photo with light yellow unpolished amber, beads looks a bit cloudy, but in fact they are transparent and clear with slight shade of yellow, just matte surface makes to look them so. So they should smell like clear amber.
Hot temperature (when smoke starts to come out) enhances smell of plastic. In other colors pine smell is strong enough to overcome plastic smell, but in such light clear amber testing temperature is very important. So do not burn it - touch with hot metal and smell it right away.

Heated Baltic amber has weaker pine/colophon smell than not heated amber. It looks like, that some of that smell goes a way during the process of heating. But when you have such amber, try harder to feel that hint of pine smell. 
Scientists say, that natural cherry color also was formed by heat, most probably in forest fires. for this reason intensity of depends a lot on shade of amber and for the same reason it does not shine so dramatically under UV light.. 

In one of the videos in Youtube I saw woman saying that amber is a bit gummy, my face expression was like that: o.O ... because copal might be gummy due to young age (1-5 million years old) and process of polymerization did not went so far in it like in natural Baltic amber (age 40-60 million years old).
Copal can go through most of the tests which amber goes through, but usually it is in more gummy state than amber is and has more sweet smell that amber does. Amber's hardness is similar to nail hardness, so it is quite hard and not gummy for sure.

Air Bubbles
If you see air bubbles in stones, you know that it is glass fake. This does not work on Baltic amber. Some amber pieces do have air bubbles and from those bubbles scientists got information about what atmosphere was on earth 40-60 million years ago. So if you see bubbles in Baltic amber, it does not mean, that amber is fake.

To conclude..
The only perfect way to test amber is costly tests in laboratory. If you test amber at home, you will need some knowledge... :)

How to make Baltic amber teething necklace?

P.S. I am sorry for mistakes - English is not my native language.