When you set out to buy a piece of Baltic amber jewelry, whether it’s a bracelet for your sweetheart or a teething necklace for your new baby, you want to make sure that what you’re purchasing is not fake Baltic amber. How do you do that? There are a few simple tests that can be done to help you know that what you’re purchasing is the real deal.
Baltic amber is made of petrified tree resin. It’s mined from the area around the Baltic Sea and gathered when it washes up on the shore. An interesting note is that what makes this type of amber different from others mined in different areas of the world is that it contains high levels of a substance known as succinic acid. This is an acid that already naturally exists in your body in small amounts. It’s an alkalinizing acid, which means it would not add to your body's acidity; instead it would slightly lower it. The composition of Baltic amber gives it some interesting properties that can be used to determine whether or not your gem is the real deal.
How to Test for Fake Baltic Amber
There are six simple tests you can do to help you determine if the Baltic amber you purchased is real or fake. Let’s take a look at those tests. First we'll go over the easiest ones for a layperson to accomplish, then go over a couple that should be left to the professionals.
These first four tests are the easiest to complete and can be done by you at home:
Visual Amber Test - Most real amber beads are unique in their appearance, so this means that you should look for any imperfections when you are inspecting them. Some things to look for include tiny cracks, small air bubbles (which may be flattened by pressure into disk shapes), plant materials, or even insects. The beads should also vary in size and shape, unless artificially carved. When you touch amber it shouldn’t feel cold.
Salt Water Test - To do this test, you just need to mix up two cups of warm water with a quarter cup of salt into a bowl. Stir the mixture until it becomes completely dissolved. Then add your amber gemstones into the water mixture. If it’s real Baltic amber, it should float easily in this salt water. Fake Baltic amber will sink fast.
The Rubbing Test - Real amber has electrostatic properties that can pick up tiny pieces of paper, hair, or dust when it’s sufficiently charged. To charge your Baltic amber, wrap it in a wool cloth and then rub it vigorously for around 20 to 60 seconds. After you do this, hold the gemstone near a strand of hair. If your hair is attracted towards the stone, it means that static was produced, and you’re most likely holding real amber. If it doesn’t attract the hair, then you’re holding fake Baltic amber.
The Hardness Test - Genuine Baltic amber is a relatively soft gemstone. Most fakes will be harder solids or have a plastic feel to them. With smaller amber beads, all you need to do is press one between your thumb and index finger. If it feels like a hard solid or plastic, you are likely holding fake amber. If it feels softer to the touch, you are probably holding real Baltic amber. This test is a little trickier to do without practice, and you will probably need some small pieces of known glass and plastic for comparison until you get used to the feel of amber.
These next two tests are ones that should be done by a professional, as you don't want to ruin your amber jewelry by trying to do them on your own:
Hot Needle Test - This is a test that’s mostly used to check for plastic fakes. If you insert a small hot needle into a plastic object, it will melt. However, if the object is made of real amber, it will instead begin to crack. To help distinguish amber from other minerals, you can smell the piece after heat is added. If you catch a scent of pine-tree resin, you are most likely holding genuine amber.
Heating Test - For this test, the jeweler would apply heat to an entire piece of amber. Natural amber contains tiny air bubbles, and when you apply heat to it, these bubbles will evaporate. This makes the amber more transparent. Also, the higher the temperature, the darker the amber will become. This is not only used to tell whether a piece of amber is real, but also to change the color of the gem to another, more desirable one.
Amber has been known throughout history to be a natural healing stone. If this property is important to you, it’s especially important that you get a real piece and not fake Baltic amber. Not only could you be getting overcharged for something that’s not worth it, you could also be buying something that doesn't possess the healing qualities that you want out of your amber jewelry.
Pay attention to price. If you think the price is too good to be true, it just might be. (Keep in mind that size, color, metalwork, carvings, insect inclusions, and other artistic changes can increase the price of a piece dramatically). Make sure you know exactly what you are buying and what you are getting for your money before you make that purchase!
If you want more information on Baltic amber, check out Aistre for Amber’s blog on the many colors of amber here. That way you will not be surprised by the various colors that amber can take when you’re looking out for that fake Baltic amber!