Known to mineralogists as succinite, amber is not, strictly speaking, a stone, but in fact a fossilised resin from ancient tree sap. So it is organic rather than mineral. In order for it to become fossilised and hard enough to be cut for jewellery setting, a substance called succinic acid must be formed, which takes at least 30 million years. Consequently there exists "young" amber- merely a few million years old, and without succinic acid it is too brittle to be cut and polished. This is probably the material most often mistaken for true amber, although there are many others. It is also known as rosin, and is used for treating the bow of a violin.
Amber is faked or enhanced in a number of different ways, ranging from completely false but effective man-made resins that can even include realistic shading and inclusions, to small but real amber pieces being melted and formed into a larger piece
The most valuable types of amber are naturally formed and not heat-treated (this is sometimes done to clarify the amber, and usually produces a more brown colour, and sometimes quite attractive fractures in the amber)
The most sought after pieces are naturally clear, without heat treatment, and if they have one or more insects that have not been put in, their value is increased greatly.
The amber in the image is all genuine
How to tell good amber from fake or altered amber? Not easy. Some of the traditional tests will also work with man-made resins. The real thing is very light, and will float in salt water. It also becomes statically charged when rubbed and will pick up tiny pieces of tissue. Any sign of mould marks means it is fake or at least pressed (re-constituted). Regularly spaced inclusions or areas of different colour are a bad sign, and close observation of the area around a trapped insect sometimes can reveal signs of a drill hole that has been filled with resin that is not exactly the same colour as the surrounding amber. Insects that were naturally trapped in the amber millions of years ago, before it hardened, are unlikely to have their legs and wings nicely spread so that they can clearly be seen.
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