One of the traits that makes amber precious is its value as a fossil. To summarize, amber forms when the resin emitted from a tree fully cures, a process that takes thousands of lifetimes to complete. Anything that is not the fully-hardened resin from a tree is not considered amber. In the case of Dominican Amber, this is narrowed down even further by the fact that the species of leguminous tree from which Dominican Amber originates, Hymenaea Protera, is extinct, so all remaining resin is fossilized and anything found to be in a middle-stage, like copal, is not genuine Neotropical Dominican Amber from 40 to 5 million years ago, but rather much younger hardened resin from another tree species, likely conifers and torchwoods.
1. Is it copal or is it amber?
To the naked eye, the differences between Dominican Copal and Dominican Amber are mostly easy to pick out. Dominican Amber is often much denser in its inclusions due to the ecosystems that sustained themselves from the Hymenaea Protera tree. For similar reasons, the resin itself is of a different composition and therefore cures in a much deeper red/orange hue. As a consequence, copal’s chemical composition is also different because it has not fully cured, and it can be easily identified by scratching the surface with a fingernail or rubbing it with acetone; neither of these will have an effect on amber, but copal will be scratched by a human fingernail and will also be dissolved by acetone. In either case, however, the polymer is several lifetimes old and is very unlikely to change within one, meaning that buying copal with the hope of it curing into amber during your lifetime is a bad bet.
Look out for:
● Color: Copal is usually light and yellow, while amber is darker with shades of orange.
● Inclusion density: Amber typically contains a lot more inclusions in it than copal.
● Hardness and solubility: Copal can be scratched with a human fingernail and dissolved with acetone, while amber is resilient to both.
2. Is it Dominican or Baltic?
While amber can come from all populated continents in the world, it is often compared to Baltic Amber because of the similar applications used for both, typically jewelry, like Bleu Ambr! Dominican Amber is in a unique class known as Class-IC, characterized by the chemical composition of the hardened resin. This means that unlike Class-IA ambers, which are based on a structure called succinite, the component of Coniferous Amber responsible for its opacity, Class-IC amber is fully transparent due to its structure based on a composition called retinite; any opacity is due entirely to the inclusions in it, which tend to be found in a lot higher densities as well thanks to the environment surrounding the resin in its origins.
Look out for:
● Clarity: Dominican amber has a much clearer matrix than Baltic Amber, which can often be described as cloudy.
● Inclusion Density: Dominican Amber typically contains many more inclusions than Baltic Amber.
3. Is it real?
This is the most important question to ask, of course. It is very easy to create faux amber by dyeing epoxy resin and filling it with inclusions artificially, as well as numerous other ways. From the outset, there’s nothing wrong with this if the jeweler or craftsman is transparent about it (no pun intended) and makes it very clear that the amber is not authentic. When one has doubts about the legitimacy of a piece, because of the dozens of ways faux amber can be made, it is a lot easier to tell if the amber is fake by knowing what real amber is and what real amber isn’t through the deep understanding of its crack patterns, color consistency, and other factors; this does take a lot of time to truly master, however.
While there are surefire experiments one can conduct to tell when amber is real, many of them involve damaging or destroying the piece. One of the easiest and most reliable ways to spot amber is through its ability to float in a dense saltwater mixture, or even more simply, a soft, slow descent in a glass of drinking water. Any fakes made of glass or plastic will quickly and almost violently plummet to the bottom, while both amber and copal will descend slowly and gracefully.
Another quick and simple way to spot real amber among fakes is by testing its fluorescence under UV light. If it glows, it’s amber or copal. If it doesn’t, it’s likely an imitation. It’s as simple as that!
Look out for:
● Buoyancy: A slow, graceful descent in tap water or floating in dense saltwater are easy and reliable ways to figure out if a sample is real amber or copal versus an imitation made from plastic or glass.
● UV Fluorescence: Real Dominican Amber and copal will glow in UV light, while most other varieties of amber as well as imitations will not.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to ensure that you will be purchasing real amber is by sourcing from credible vendors. It’s one of the critical steps in our process when creating Bleu Ambr products; all our stones are carefully sourced to ensure their legitimacy and ethical extraction to ensure you can authentically express yourself through your authentic jewelry.