Baltic Amber Imitations

Gabriela Gierłowska

Imitations are made in order to replace traditional and scarce products made of natural materials. They are their cheaper substitutes. Baltic amber is imitated because it has found its place in the public consciousness and is therefore highly valued, desirable and sought after.

Baltic amber is a unique mineral which is found in a limited area in Central Europe. It has been tied to Polish tradition for many centuries. There is an abundance of sources which report of gifts made of amber or of natural amber nuggets sent as talismans or as get-well gifts. I feel it's worth citing the request of Jan Ugowski, a young Polish nobleman studying in Italy, sent in a letter to his father, dated 10 July 1660. He asks his father for "some amber object," which he would like to give to a certain Roman, as "something beautiful from Poland." For centuries, travelers and diplomats visiting our country would buy amber here and treat it as something remarkably precious, as something valuable and unique. Today, amber remains a unique and valuable asset, which we are rightly proud of.
 Amber imitations began to appear very early on, as soon as material which could function as a surrogate for Baltic amber became available. Initially this was glass, then other natural resins, and in the 19th century - plastics. Today, it is accepted that a Baltic amber imitation is a raw material, semi-finished product or a product made of a surrogate, cheaper material, similar in appearance to amber, but with different chemical and physical properties, and that these include:


  1.  natural or modified sub-fossil resins, such as Colombian copal, New Zealand kauri copal
  2. artificial materials: glass, celluloid, polyesters, phenyl resins and other
  3. pressed Baltic amber with the addition of plastics or copal
  4. Baltic amber crumbs embedded in natural and artificial resins.


Today, amber imitations are manufactured practically all over the world, with some of them specially made in such a way (from hi-tech plastics and almost to perfection) that they can be used as Baltic amber forgeries. Identifying such a forgery is very difficult. To this end, experts use their professional expertise, long-term experience, information on the current amber market and the kinds of imitations appearing on it.
 The simplest form of identification consists in the comparing the amber's characteristic features and their critical assessment. Other methods include: the popular scent test (after heating), solvent tests, the examination of the differences between surface cracks, differences in internal cracks (the so-called "scales"), the examination of the amber's hardness, the scratches on its surface, and also the brine method, where artificial resins usually sink in the salt solution.

Being aware that "Many imitations made today from modern plastics are so perfect that the difference between amber and an imitation cannot be noticed using simple analytical methods" (A. Golloch), the experts, also turn to such advanced methods as the FT-IR Spectroscopy test for the infallible identification of Baltic amber (succinite) thanks to the appearance of the so-called Baltic curve in its spectrum, coupled with gas chromatography and electron microscope examination.