Lecture "Imitations of amber" took place in the museum

20 November 2014
Press Office of the Amber Museum

Lecture "Imitations of amber" took place in Kaliningrad Regional Amber Museum. It was conducted by the museum's leading research fellow Zoya Kostyashova for teachers and students of Kaliningrad Art and Industrial College, as well as for specialists of the regional companies that produce items made of Baltic gem. The event took place within continuing education course, which is realized thanks to the Kaliningrad Regional Entrepreneurship Supporting Fund.

History of production and usage of amber imitations extends back over centuries. Stories about some counterfeits are extant. So in the first half of the 18th century drawings of fraudulent inclusions among original showpieces of the inclusion collection of August II the Strong were published in a work of natural scientist Nathan Sendel from Elblag.

In the 19th century fabrication of faked items made "amber-like" and of pseudoinclusions became even more popular. And after plastics were invented in the 20th century the whole industry of counterfeits started forming in Europe and beyond its borders. Over the time this industry appeared to be a serious threat for the natural succinite market. However it is just today when amber imitations have become a disaster.

The first imitations were made of coloured glass (inorganic material) known in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in 3400 B.C. Today to produce an amber imitation modern resins are used, which undergo the forced natural hardening in air influenced by oxygen, light and mineral salts in poachy soil - for instance kauri gum from New Zealand (age of several thousand years), as well as copals - natural, subfossil resins (age up to 10 Million years) from the Southern hemisphere. Copals are softer than amber, they are made harder by treating in special autoclaves; it happens at the jewellery market that they are sold not just as amber imitations, but also as natural amber.

Development of amber imitations production was clearly connected with progress in plastics manufacturing technologies. The first actually artificial material was bakelite, which was announced by Leo Baekeland in 1907. Even products of Konigsberg State Amber Manufacture included items made of bakelite and resolan - phenol resin. There were jewellery and mouthpieces.

Acrylic resins especially polymethyl methacrylate, as well as polyester resins and epoxide resins are among the materials used in the past and today for manufacturing of Baltic amber imitations. Today imitations of inclusions in amber are very popular; they are available also at Kaliningrad market.

Specialists give some advises in recognition of imitations:

  • - analysis of external characteristics and comparison of such qualities as transparency, evenness and colour with kinds of Baltic amber;
  • - definition of the approximate density. Density of Baltic amber depends on its type and it's higher than by copals and less than synthetic resins have. To define density - in the simplest cases - you can use salt solution;
  • - determination of solvability in such solvents as diethyl ether or acetone. Succinite almost doesn't dissolve in the named solvents. This quality can be used to distinguish amber from easier dissolvable copals. Solvability of synthetic polymers depends on their structure and some other things. Here you should use professional literature;
  • - smell and reaction when burning. Succinite burns with typical yellow smoky flame and distinct smell. Smell and burning of synthetic polymers depend on their chemical composition. For instance, galalite has typical smell of burned milk and polyesters produce floral scent and smoky flame.

Currently method of infrared spectroscopy is considered to be the best one in definition of Baltic amber, special equipment - spectrometer is used for it. 


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