Baltic amber is one of the most valuable varieties of this ancient tree resin and is a great addition to any jewelry collection. Here are some tips to help you evaluate Baltic amber before buying it.
What Is Baltic Amber?
Baltic amber refers to amber found not only in the Baltic region but also in parts of Germany, Russia, and Poland.
This type of amber is more than 40 million years old and contains succinic acid, which is the reason that Baltic amber is also referred to as “succinite.”
Evaluating Baltic Amber
The value of Baltic amber is determined mainly by its color.
Clarity also plays a role, although the relationship between it and price is not always straightforward.
Treatments to improve Baltic amber’s appearance are pretty common and do not necessarily diminish its value.
Let’s take a look at each of these factors in detail:
The Color of Baltic Amber
The most common color of Baltic amber is light to medium-dark yellow (usually described as lemon-like or honey-like).
There are darker varieties that have more brownish or reddish hues, and some pieces are even white and opaque. Baltic amber with blue or green hues also exists, but such pieces are very rare.
The most valuable Baltic amber colors are honey, cognac, and red. In general, more intense hues are preferred, and paler colors are not as valuable as more saturated ones.
Baltic Amber Clarity
Baltic amber varies in clarity, and pieces can range from transparent to fully opaque. Usually, clearer pieces are preferred to those of lower clarity.
However, flaws in amber are not necessarily seen as problematic, and if they indicate that a piece is authentic and ancient, they may make it more valuable.
For example, amber with captured insects or plants inside can be sold at a premium (unless the piece is fake, which is often the case).
Treatments of Baltic Amber
Baltic amber is often treated to make its color more saturated or to improve its clarity, and such procedures do not make it any less authentic.
These treatments are very common and make it possible to buy amber that looks great at an affordable price.
The most common method used to enhance the appearance of amber is heating, which usually yields lasting results.
However, you should keep in mind that other ways of improving amber’s hue, such as covering the piece with various colored coatings, are not permanent.
There is the so-called pressed Baltic amber, which is created by melting smaller pieces of amber and fusing them together to form a bigger piece.
The resulting amber pieces are cheaper than comparable solid ones of the same size, but pressed amber is also less robust when it comes to resistance to pressure.
Fake Baltic Amber
Fake Baltic amber is often made of copal, which is a tree resin that is not old enough to have become real amber.
Glass, plastic, or some non-amber resins are also used to make imitations. It is, however, very hard to detect some of these fakes.
The most straightforward test to check whether an amber piece is fake is to burn part of it (e.g., by touching it with a hot needle) and see if it gives off the characteristic pine-like smell of tree resin.
However, since burning also damages amber permanently, this kind of testing is not really practical. Therefore, the best way to see if amber is genuine is to have it tested by a professional using special equipment.
To minimize the possibility that you might buy a fake, look for some telltale signs that an amber piece is not authentic.
First of all, any Baltic amber that seems too cheap is probably not genuine.
If the cheap piece also has some trapped objects such as insects inside, then it is almost certainly fake (very often, these “captured” bees or beetles were simply put in, and this also happens with expensive pieces).
Where to Buy Amber Jewelry?
For amber jewelry, we highly recommend that you take a look at the great selection of amber pieces available at Amazon as well as Ross-Simons and Reeds Jewelers.