Amber from the Baltic region is considered to be the maximum value. There are ways to replicate amber by using various light plastics and synthetics. There are some imitations that are made producing fabricated insect presences. There are a few tests that will determine if the amber is real or not.
One substance type called Copal is a juvenile resin that is sometimes presented as amber. It's considered immature due to the "volatile terpenes" remaining in the resin by ecological processes over millions of years are not existing. Therefore, it is measured as younger amber rather than truer form of amber and will not pass the tests listed in the sections "Simple Tests to Recognize Fake Amber" below. However, care must be taken when performing some of these tests to avoid causing damage to the amber. The most common amber reproductions are made from plastics and can be distinguished from a natural piece of amber. Celluloid is a type of trademarked thermoplastic that is composed from cellulose nitrate and camphor. These types of amber imitations can easily be found from real amber by rubbing pieces together to see if there is an electrostatic charge made.
Making fake amber has been around for many years. Amber can be melted down gently and have suitable inclusions placed inside. Color of amber is a giveaway for fake amber fossils. True ancient amber will not have any color pigmentation left in the piece at all and are usually a monotone color.
There are several different amber types. Some of them are not considered "true" amber. Amberoid is made up of various small pieces of amber that are embedded in plastic. The plastic is then colored so must people don't recognize this form as being fake. The lower cost amber jewelry is often made with this type of amber. Copal is another form of amber, but is not considered real or true as it is a young amber. This amber typically comes from the Dominican Republic and surrounding areas. This amber is made of a different type of species of trees than the amber from the Baltic region. The value of copal amber is made by the number of inclusions contained in the amber. This type of amber has different characteristics than the Baltic amber due to the different type of trees that grew in the area millions of years apart. Imitation amber is made from colored glass, plastics, and any modern treated tree resins.
Many artists do not realize the designs they are creating may not be real amber. This is due to the amount of fake or imitation amber that is available on the market.
A clever way of making fake amber is to take a true piece and cut a section away and drill a hole in the main portion of the amber. Then a fake fossil is placed inside and sealed back up. With this method, the result of the amber will pass all of the tests as being a real piece. There are many dishonest sellers of amber selling fakes. Some of these fakes have sold for lots of money. So be careful and only purchase from reputable sellers.
The following tests listed below will assist in determining if the amber is real or fake. Remember to take care must be taken when performing some of these tests to avoid causing damage to the amber.
This test is the safest and simplest. Natural amber is usually warm when touched. When amber is rubbed together it will become electrostatically charged and will draw lint and dust particles. When the ancient Greeks first discovered amber, they named it "electron".
If the amber piece is the immature resin called copal, it will deteriorate when solvent comes into contact with it. Plastics are broken down by alcohol, acetone and ether. Placing a few drops of fingernail polish remover, or dripping alcohol on the surface will show if the amber piece will hold up. If it becomes tacky to the touch, it is not real amber. Real amber will not have a tacky feel or dissolve with these solvents.
True amber will be buoyant in seawater or float. This is how amber is collected from the Baltic Sea after it is washed up on the beach. To test, place amber into salt water, about 2 Tbls per a cup of water. If the amber is real, it will float. Imitation amber will sink.
When amber is heated, it will produce a whitish smoke and have a pine wood burning smell that is sweet and pleasant. Many ancient civilizations used amber as incense. To use this test heat a needle held with tweezers and touch the amber on an unobtrusive spot. If the amber is plastic, it will make it sticky and leave a black spot and give off an unpleasant odor.