Copal. The difference between Copal and Baltic amber
Baltic amber accounts for nearly 80% of amber around the world. Amber is not actually a stone, but rather, tree resin—much like sap—which escaped from trees in what is now the Baltic Sea millions of years ago. The resin leaked from holes in the tree trunks and eventually hardened with the flora and fauna which became trapped inside. Baltic amber is the lightest in color of all amber. It is often a yellowish gold color and translucent.
Copal is also tree resin but that from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, not from the Baltics. While used as incense, copal is softer and gummier than amber. It may contain some of the same types of particles inside, but not always. White copal is hard and expensive while yellow copal is soft and inexpensive. It is the yellow copal which is often mistaken as Baltic amber.
While copal is not bad as a stone, if you want amber, then you could be paying a lot more for something much more malleable.
There are many ways to tell the difference between copal and Baltic amber. Copal is often a substitute for amber and many people who make purchases online or at local markets may be unaware that they are being given a fake.
Salt Water Test
When purchasing loose stones you can place them in salt water. Real amber will float. Even if you made the purchase online, you can test them upon arrival (assuming you invested in a return policy) by mixing two tablespoons of salt into one cup of water. Put the amber into the solution and see if it floats.
You can scratch your amber pieces with a fingernail or small coin lightly. Copal is a popular substitute and is easily scratched. While amber is soft, it cannot be scratched with something as light as a fingernail.
You can place your amber pieces under an ultraviolet light. If there is a blue glow, it is real. If there isn’t, you should get your money back.
You can rub the amber against your sweater or a cloth until it becomes warm. After this, smell it. It should smell like turpentine or pine. If it smells like a chemical, it might be fake.
Look at the bugs contained inside. If you or someone you know is an expert with bugs, see if the one contained in the amber is extinct or looks like a typical beetle or ant. If the bug is rare, then the amber is valuable. If it is a standard bug from your backyard, the piece may be fake.
How to cut Baltic amber stone
Amber is a naturally occurring element. It is not stone nor is it a gemstone, but rather, hardened tree resin. Amber has been located around the world in places such as Russia, Poland, Romania, Sicily, Myanmar. However, most amber comes from the Baltic Sea region.
No matter where the pieces are found, no two pieces are the same. The features are widely different due to age and the geographic origin of the piece.
Amber is prized because is often contains:
- Fossilized insects
- Plant matter
- Animal life
All of these provide scientists with a glimpse into the far past. The older the amber pieces are, the harder they are. This makes them more challenging to cut. Amber is prized because of its color and its translucence but cutting can still be very beneficial. Amber can be cut so as to provide the best display of those items fossilized inside. The task is not an easy one, but it can be done.
When you are cutting into pieces of amber you will need three things:
- A fine blade, hacksaw, or a jeweler’s saw
- A nylon brush
Follow the 4 steps below:
When you begin cutting into pieces of amber the first thing you should do is determine how you imagine the finished piece will look. You must decide which part of the amber you want to showcase and whether or not any larger pieces need to be removed, or just small ones.
The second step, once you have determined which areas need to be removed, is to saw the larger pieces you do not want off of the section of amber. To do this you should use the fine-bladed hacksaw or the jeweler’s saw. Work either tool slowly and be sure to use even strokes.
After you have cut away the larger pieces you do not want, you need to use the file to smooth the remaining amber piece. Use this tool until you have carved out the rough shape you want as the end result. You should start with a coarse file and begin working through one or two grades of coarseness until the desired results have been achieved. You may have to use the nylon brush to periodically clean your files since amber has a tendency to crumble.
The fourth and final step is to sand the finished product. To do this you should use aluminum oxide paper or sandpaper attached to a piece of wood. Sand the amber product slowly, holding the piece in between your fingers and rubbing the piece over the sanding board. Be sure to use a circular motion when doing so.
Once you have finished and achieved the desired look for your piece of amber you can polish it to perfection.