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Amber is a beautiful, petrified sap, with many characteristics that we could discuss here. On a thread from the New Work, Show and Tell, a curious piece of amber with fracture marks in it was used to make an "egg" shaped case by Cornel Schneider.


Demmitrius indicated that the "reflective fractures inside amber is made by heating the piece in oil". Ford suggested that the material may have been a reconstituted material, where the fractures may be "a result of the internal stresses that naturally occur as the mass cools."


Amber has many appearances and is found in many parts of the world. I invite all of you who know about amber to share information here to broaden our knowledge of this lovely material.



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Guest ford hallam

this is part of the entry in Wikipedia;


"When gradually heated in an oil-bath, amber becomes soft and flexible. Two pieces of amber may be united by smearing the surfaces with linseed oil, heating them, and then pressing them together while hot. Cloudy amber may be clarified in an oil-bath, as the oil fills the numerous pores to which the turbidity is due. Small fragments, formerly thrown away or used only for varnish, are now utilized on a large scale in the formation of "ambroid" or "pressed amber". The pieces are carefully heated with exclusion of air and then compressed into a uniform mass by intense hydraulic pressure; the softened amber being forced through holes in a metal plate. The product is extensively used for the production of cheap jewelery and articles for smoking. This pressed amber yields brilliant interference colours in polarized light. Amber has often been imitated by other resins like copal and kauri, as well as by celluloid and even glass. True amber is sometimes coloured artificially.


Often amber (particularly with insect inclusions) is counterfeited using a plastic resin similar in appearance. A simple test (performed on the back of the object) consists of touching the object with a heated pin and determining if the resultant odor is of wood resin. If not, the object is counterfeit, although a positive test may not be conclusive owing to a thin coat of real resin. Often counterfeits will have a too perfect pose and position of the trapped insect."

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Guest ford hallam

and here's a link to an extremely detailed explanation of the various ways of processing Amber. Click here


Reference is also made to the scales ( I called them "fish scales" ) that can be seen as a result of one of these "improvements" to the basic material. ( I placed the word in inverted commas to suggest the fact that there is a lot of debate in some circles as to the integrity of such procedures and the way in which they are marketed ) It seems that this effect is not, as I had thought, as a result of internal stresses when cooling but rather represent the interface of individual bits within the mass of reconstituted material that have not perfectly fused.


What is particularly interesting is that as a result of an imperfect process we end up with a beautiful effect that can't be found in nature. The demand for the material in this state is exactly why it is produced. Gem collectors and other purists may have a problem with the stuf but I think you'd find it very difficult, if not impossible, to find such a large piece, of such clarity, without having to pay silly amounts of money. Even then, the rarity of a natural ( ie; unaltered piece ) would probably prevent one from using it in this way.

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Great idear to start a topic about amber!

Got a fairly big piece in my "saving for later" box

wich firsherman got out of the northsee.

Would like to make a nice netsuke out of it, but

do not know how to work it. It's so fragile you see....

Maybe someone know's a tutorial somewhere?


And Janel Cornel does speek german right?

So maybe I can ask him about his piece of amber since he ansered my last question perfectly!

Thanx for sending my question to him!


Cheers, B_art79

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Nice pin Doug! Most times I dislike 'fishscale'-amber but using it like this makes it beautifull.

My first use of amber was good for a few surprises.

First I had to discover that the nice red color was only a thin layer on the outside. I have, like Bart, a beautifull Northsea piece (but that's Baltic amber too).

After rough carving it was a yellow piece with some clear veins. A little disappointment but I selected the piece in a way that the veins added to the design. Now there seems to be some movement in the suggested liquid. (Ford suggested it was sake. Works for me.)

Second surprise was the disappearing of the yellow after glueing the piece in place. It was suddenly almost clear because the glue didn't reflect the light back.

Nicer and much more like a liquid. A freshmans experience, no doubt.





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I, too, got fooled by a nice red piece of amber. I purchased a necklace a while ago of small, rough cut amber pieces. They're all a deep red color, but once they're worked they turn yellow.


Does anyone know if the redness on the surface is just by oxidation with the air or sunlight? Or is there dyeing going on :)


I also sympathize with your comments on the clearness once the amber inlay is in place. There are ways to get around this with staining the pocket, orientation with the light, goldleaf, etc.



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  • 2 weeks later...

I've never heard of blue amber, but the video links posted show a few glimpses of it.


I do quite a lot of work in Amber. Particlarly blue amber, which is found in the Republic of Dominica only. I buy it in 100 gram lots from http://www.lariamber.com/ The owner is Herman Dietrich. A very nice and honest guy. It sell for about $4/gram. He also sells green amber. I have some but I have not worked it.

Further reading http://www.gemologyproject.com/wiki/index.php?title=Amber


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  • 1 month later...

Great to see a discussion about amber. A word of warning for those who don't know the material well- copal looks a lot like amber, but is an entirely different material- it is not petrified, but is sap that is somewhere between 100 to 1000 years old (according to stuff I read on the web). Some unscrupulous dealers sell copal as amber, so look out.

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Great to see a discussion about amber. A word of warning for those who don't know the material well- copal looks a lot like amber, but is an entirely different material- it is not petrified, but is sap that is somewhere between 100 to 1000 years old (according to stuff I read on the web). Some unscrupulous dealers sell copal as amber, so look out.


Hi Will,

Did you also read about how to tell the difference between copal and amber?

and how old should amber be, before we can call it amber?


Maybe we can tell the difference by the temp of melting but than it's wasted right?!


Cheers B_art

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Hi B_art


Probably more than you are asking for, but here is info from the websites:










Dispelling the Misinformation and Hype from Unscrupulous Fossil Dealers


The issues surrounding purchasing genuine FOSSIL AMBER are two-fold and will be discussed as such:


We must BE VERY WARY of being sold COPAL which is NOT TRUE FOSSIL AMBER at all but a much younger form of tree resin. There IS a difference and it can be identified. Furthermore, copal contains inclusions of modern living life-forms whereas true fossil amber contains inclusions mostly of EXTINCT prehistoric life.


We must make sure that the substance being called amber is even genuine tree resin versus plastic OR, that the inclusions are natural and not manmade - a problem in today's amber market. This is true with any rare inclusions (flowers, lizards, scorpions, bird feathers, mammal hair, reptilian skin, and blood filled ticks). INCLUSIONS OF ANY VERTEBRATES SHOULD BE HIGHLY SUSPECT AND AUTHENTICATED!


Before we discuss the above points, we will first look at what exactly IS fossil amber.

What is AMBER?

by Garry Platt (reprinted with permission), edited by Paleo Direct, Inc.

Amber is the ancient resin of trees. The resin has gone through a number of changes over millions of years. The result of this metamorphosis is an exceptional gem with extraordinary properties. It is exploited and used by both craftsmen and scientist.

It is probably only from the Carboniferous onwards that land based plant species evolved capable of producing resin which subsequently turned into amber. From that time on, various tree species have produced different deposits of amber.

Tree Sources

The worlds two current major deposits of true fossil amber, Dominican Republic and Baltic, had two separate tree types which produced the original resin. The Baltic source tree has been named Pinites succinifer. In appearance, it would have probably resembled a pine or spruce tree and the forests in which it grew were sub tropical in nature. It may not have looked unfamiliar today. From amongst the numerous inclusions found in Baltic amber other trees species have been identified as being present. Some of the trees which must have grown in the ancient amber forest are Cycadacea (Ferns & Palms), Coniferae (Cypresses, Cedars, Pine, Thujas), Juniperinae (Junipers), Fagaceae (Beeches and Oaks), Salicaceae (Willows), Santalaceae (Sandalwoods), Magnoliaeae (Magnolias), Lauraceae (Laurels) and Aceraceae (Maples).

The Dominican Republic resin tree was Hymenaea protera for which had its origins in Africa. Close relatives of this tree (Hymenaea verrucosa) still exist within the sub continent of Africa and on some of the West Indian islands.

Many of the major amber deposits have had their tree source identified. Key amongst them are:

Country / Species Family

Alaska / Agathis Undetermined plant family

Baltic / Pinites succinifer

Burma / Nummulites biaritzensis

Canada - Cedar Lake / Agathis Undetermined plant family

Dominican Republic / Hymenaea protera

Germany - Bitterfield / Cupressospermum saxonicum (Now disputed)

Mexico - Chiapas / Hymenaea Undetermined plant family

Middle East / Agathis Undetermined plant family

Romania - Colti / Sequoioxylon gypsaceum

In nearly all of these cases, the climate under which these trees grew was sub tropical. The climatic conditions where amber is now found may have changed dramatically since the time of the resin bearing trees. The Baltic for instance is no longer sub tropical.

It is interesting to note that few potential amber forming forests now exist. The North Island of New Zealand had in the earlier part of this year one of the most extensive resin bearing forests in the world. This location produced the famous kuari gum and the tree responsible for these massive deposits was Agathis australis. Few of these trees now remain of the once huge forests.


Partially reprinted with permission by Susan Aber Ward and Garry Platt, edited by Paleo Direct, Inc.

Copal is not the fossilized, hardened resin that is known as amber, but rather an immature recent resin. Increasingly, copal is being offered for sale via the online auction services, fossil dealers' websites, gem shows, and shops, misrepresented as "amber." The commercial value of amber is related to its scarcity, age, inclusions of extinct species, and durability. True fossil amber is MORE VALUABLE than copal. Unfortunately, some dealers are more preoccupied with high economic returns, rather than whether or not their resin is fossil or recent. Fortunately, there are tests that can be done to differentiate the two. The most deceptive and malicious dealers will try to impress uninformed prospective buyers as they spout all sorts of seemingly-impressive but irrelevant scientific garbage, ignoring the simple facts and obvious age differences in amber versus copal. These fraudulent dealers will attempt to convince naive and trusting buyers that copal IS amber when this couldn't be further from the truth. A warning to buyers of COPAL WHO THINK THEY ARE GETTING AMBER - unlike true fossil amber, copal will craze deeply on the surface as early as only a few years when the volatiles (turpenes) from the original resin evaporate.


It is NOT rare to find spectacular types and concentrations of inclusions in copal - it IS rare to find the same in true fossil amber. If the same inclusions were found in true fossil amber, the value of the specimen would be exceedingly higher in price than the same specimen in copal. The problem is, you cannot even compare inclusions because most of the life-forms found in true fossil amber are now EXTINCT whereas the types of inclusions found in copal are MODERN and still living today! Often, naive collectors fall victim to dishonest fossil dealers and are suckered into a higher price for a piece of copal that is loaded with fascinating inclusions as they confuse the rarity of these inclusions with genuine fossil amber. Despite what appears to be valuable, copal is worth only a small fraction of what an equal specimen in genuine fossil amber would sell for.


Copal, an immature and controversial resin, is a much younger form of tree resin compared to the prehistoric nature of true fossil amber. Columbia, South America has extensive deposits of copal which is frequently sold as amber. CARBON 14 TESTS UNDERTAKEN ON COLOMBIAN COPAL HAVE SHOWN IT IS LESS THAN 250 YEARS OLD! Madagascar and Kenya also have highly fossiliferous copal mines. Their age is likely to be roughly the same as the Colombian deposits, if not younger. There are no known true fossil amber deposits in Colombia so if a piece of "amber" is being sold with a source of "Colombia", it is COPAL and is NOT REAL FOSSIL AMBER.

There are several types of copal from different geographic regions and trees other than Colombia. Zanzibar copal from East Africa was possibly produced by the Trachylobium verrucasum (also known as Hymenaea verrucosa), while Kauri copal from New Zealand was produced by the Kauri pine, Agathis australis. Sierra Leone and Congo copal are both from a leguminous tree, Copaifera guibourthiana. Manila copal, produced by trees in the genus Agathis, is found in Indonesia and the Philippines. Dammar resin was produced by dipterocarpaceous trees in southern Asia, i.e., Malaya and Sumatra. Various tropical trees, such as Hymenaea courbaril or Hymenae protea, produce Colombian and Brazilian copal. Major deposits of copal are produced from tropical legume and araucarian trees (conifers indigenous today to South America and Australia) and are found in tropical or wet temperate regions where these resin producing trees still exist. Large pieces of Colombian copal have been illegally imported into Poland and then sold as Baltic material.


8 Tests to Identify COPAL VERSUS AMBER

There are a number of simple tests that can be carried out on amber to check its authenticity. More sophisticated and complex tests are possible but they require access to laboratory equipment. These more complex tests include Refraction Index, Precise Specific Gravity and Melting Point. The latest and most decisive contribution to the chemistry of succinite and other fossil resins has been made by pyrolysis gas chromatography in combination with mass spectrometry. This technique has been used create the first exclusive chemical classification of fossil resins.

For the layperson with no special equipment, the following eight tests are adequate. When examining a specimen you should try at least 3 of the following methods detailed here. If the item in question fails any one of the tests, it could well mean the piece is not true amber.

(Test 1) HARDNESS.

Amber has a hardness on the Moh’s scale in the region of 2 - 3. Using appropriate scratch sticks it should be reasonably straightforward to test the sample under question.

(Test 2) HOT NEEDLE.

Heat a needlepoint in a flame until glowing red and then push the point into the sample for testing. With copal, the needle melts the material quicker than amber and omits a light fragrant odor. Amber when tested, does not melt as quickly as the copal and omits sooty fumes.


Copal will dissolve in acetone. This test can be done by dispensing the acetone from an eyedropper onto a clean surface of the test specimen. Place one drop on the surface of the test piece and allow to evaporate, then place a second drop on the same area. Copal will become tacky while amber will remain unaffected by contact with acetone.

(Test 4) UV

Copal under a short-wave UV light shows hardly any color change. Amber fluoresces a pale shade of blue.


Rub the specimen vigorously on a soft cloth. True amber may omit a faint resinous fragrance but copal may actual begin to soften and the surface become sticky. Amber will also become heavily charged with static electricity and will easily pick up small pieces of loose paper.

(TEST 6) FLOTATION (Specific Gravity)

Mix 23gms of standard table salt with 200ml of lukewarm water. Stir until completely dissolved. Amber should float in such a mixture and some copals together with various plastics will sink. Regular amber often has a specific gravity of 1.05 to 1.10 (where 1 is the same as water). Copal looks similar, but has a lower specific gravity of 1.03 to 1.08. A specific gravity of above 1.0 will cause the object to sink in fresh water.


Infrequently amber contains Flora or Fauna inclusions. Correctly identifying the trapped Insect or plant should be an excellent indicator of a piece’s authenticity. Most inclusions from ancient amber are of species that are now extinct or significantly changed. Frequently present in Baltic amber are tiny stellate hairs which are release by oak buds during their early growth and some time after,


With a sharp knife try to shave off a tiny piece of the amber from an unobtrusive section. Real amber fractures and splinters. plastic and polymers actual cut and tiny shaved pieces can be removed without any splintering of the material.







P.S.- I learned about this the hard way.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, I have a good and a bad news for you. The good news, in that there is amber in the southeast Mexico, very near, and not expensive. I have a piece from there. The bad news, is that a guerrila army controls the area, the Zapatista National Liberation Front, so, there is not much amber for trade. Let´s see if that changes.



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  • 2 months later...

thought since its again in the news







was wondering if anyone had backed amber with gold leaf?


Over the years, the chamber was decorated with a total of eight tonnes of Amber, backed with gold leaf. It took almost ten years to complete the 50 square meter room.
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  • 1 month later...


sorry if the question had been asked...

I have a special project, and I'm searching about a "big" piece of amber( big for me...). not colored or little colored if possible, with no crack (it' for carving) , and the dimensions are 5inch x 1 inch1/2 x 1 inch 3/4 ...

Is someone can tell me where I can ask that?

I'm searching too some piece of colored amber: red, green, yellow and blue 1inchx1 inchx1inch...

Thank you very much if someone have some informations!

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  • 8 months later...

Hi, hope I'm not 'necroing' this thread too much.


I've worked with amber a bit, and whilst I love the real thing, lately I've been working with various copals. I've found an amazing variance in copals, from those that are completely on par to nice baltic amber, to those that are completely unusable.

For the australians, or just those who enjoy eBay, there's a couple living in Brisbane who hail from Madagascar, and import copal from there. The prices are cheap, though the pieces are only occaisionally of decent size. I have no idea of the age of the material, but it carves wonderfully, (by hand mind you, applying anything motorised to it will melt it and gum up your tools). The colour is very pale, has some nice inclusions, and takes a lovely oily shine/polish. I've also worked with some copal from Mexico that I've found terrible. In warm weather it actually becomes tacky to touch and is pretty much unworkable. Interestingly perhaps, the awful Mexican copal has a wonderful deep 'amber' colour, whilst the decent Madagascan stuff is almost colourless. Over time, all copal I've worked with and kept has become crazed and cracked on the surface, though at different rates. Even material supposedly from the same locale have crazed at different rates, that being said, if you planned ahead I imagine the cracking/warping of the surface could probably be used to nice artistic effect.


On a side note, for anyone who uses amber or copal, I take all my excess debris and burn it as incense. Every locale of copal and amber has it's own unique scent.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Since the thread is mostly about transparent amber and copal, I hope that a note of the look of rough (unheated, un-melted, un-spangled... un-worked) Baltic amber in not unwelcome... Once upon a time, the best quality would have been buttery, semi-translucent or bright golden yellow with dark cherry, gray-green and 'pink' (a bright reddish orange - quite rare) in a world apart. Even early plastic imitations knew that. Now, it is all about transparency. [i am not that old, just learned my amber from some who were and still feel that the old ideas are holding their own]. A link below goes to some examples.


Large pieces come out with 'bark' on them (tough skin, often stable, sometimes not) that reminds of exotic wood. I see these pieces offered partially polished in amber shops (Prague and Copenhagen, fly-overs mostly) but cannot remember any from trips to the US (East Coast)... You may find such amber blocks deployed as unusual Chinese 'viewing stones' with their natural features left as backdrop for carved details. Otherwise, natural features are not usually forgiven - much as is with wood when the sum-total of its uses are considered.


I wasn't sure how to illustrate the story before the next occasion to take a camera to the rocks, but I do not have any travel scheduled through any amber hot spot for months. The lack of images held back this post, until I happened upon a web-shop's display of similar goods HERE.


There isn't enough detail shown to make differences between this rough and copal or the blue amber talked about up this thread. I am not aware of similar semi-translucent and opaque amber from those other sources, and the woody 'bark' with textured colors layered beneath are associate with them.


There is some Romanian amber, but the deposit is not being worked as far as I know.





I have been reading the forum because I admire it's object and some of the materials typical for small carvings. I wish there was something I could contribute in return, but since I am not a carver, it is not too obvious...

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Hello NotCarver,


Thank you for your thoughtful contribution. I appreciate learning of other viewpoints regarding the varieties of amber, etc., in the world. We are here to learn, and you have brought to us more to investigate on the subject. Thank you!


In my amber drawer, I have both clear and opaque, with a nearly white small piece or two. I am waiting to carve them until the subject appears to fit the material. It took much time to make the initial selections, and with only the clear pieces was clarity and transparency important. The opaque pieces have character all their own, and I hope to use it well when the time for carving it comes.



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  • 7 months later...

Dear fellows:


It seems that I arrived to the forum topics really late, ja, ja, ja...my experience with amber is not very sucessful because I don´t like materials that resemblance plastic when you work with them....yes there are some beautiful variations in amber tones and colors, but deep red and bluish-green are the most wanted by carvers I guess (also the price of amber is related with the invertebrate and floral species inside it, vertebrates are very rare and scarce in amber), related to the bluish amber in a documental years ago I saw that comes only from Mexico ¿Is this true? and related to the dark red amber I saw a beautiful but rough piece made by Denmark vikings, also I remembered a beautiful etruscan piece made with deep yellow amber. The best piece I saw without a doubt is an elephant Ganesha hindu God made in a large piece of amber, I´m sure there are many amazing amber pieces but I need to dig in books and Internet sites you offer in this topic to discover more. Anyway I´m not so fan of amber as material as I said, sorry, amd I think amber could work better as an inclusion in the piece than a carved piece. Nevertheless there is an history guys that you must post her: the history of the famous russian amber room stoled by nazis in the Second World War and never recovered as a mistery, of course Iknow the russians restored the amber room but in this moments I don´t know where I put the article...A big room full of tons of amber!!! that´s really amazing you don´t think so??? Good luck and my best wishes to the amber carvers....ADRIÁN...P.D: My friend here on Ecuador sell in the Market copal ¨amber¨ with termites from Colombia, he told me is a real resin but not so old in chronological time, but in the last years the amount of colombian copal resin decrease because like in Mexico the ¨guerrillas¨ stop the searchers in the jungle. If the copal amber/resin is true amber or not because is not a true fossil amber is not of my interest but I understand than Dominican, Mexican and Baltic amber is the best wanted for dealers.

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Just by the way.

Kauri has been mentioned earlier, together with copal. Well, here in New Zealand it is well known that kauri gum is not true amber, and it is not sold as such, either. (trade name is "kauri gum".) On the other hand, we are not talking 250 years, either. Normally you are looking at a couple of hundred thousands of years. Yes, the species trapped are more-or less modern. But just where is the dividing line between fossil and recent?

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