Amber is the name for fossil resin or tree sap that is appreciated for its colour. It is used for the manufacture of ornamental objects and jewellery. Although not mineralized, it is sometimes considered a gemstone. Most of the world's amber is in the range of 30–90 million years old. Amber is highly desirable, and that leads some unscrupulous dealers to sell false amber. How do you tell if your new amber item is real?
There are multiple ways to determine if a piece of amber is genuine:
Specific Gravity or "float test": Dissolve two tablespoons of table salt in eight ounces of water. Remove the amber from any mountings and drop it into the solution. It should float if it is amber.
Hardness or "Moh test": Try scratching the amber with your fingernail. Amber has a hardness of approximately 2.5 on the Moh's scale. If you can scratch the specimen with your fingernail, it may not be amber.
Static Electricity or "shock test": Place some small pieces of tissue on a flat surface. Rub the amber vigorously against a piece of velvet until it is warm and hold it about one-half inch above the tissue pieces. If the pieces of tissue are not attracted to the specimen, it may not be amber.
Hot Needle "or hat pin test": Heat a needle until the tip is red hot, then place the point into the specimen. If the needle goes in easily, or if a bad smell is emitted, or if the needle leaves a black mark on the specimen, it may not be amber. If the needle enters the specimen slowly and the specimen emits a pine or turpentine smell, it may be amber.
Color test: False amber is usually a very bright or neon orange. It looks "fake".
These tests are decently accurate, but are not definative. For instance, some dealers coat their amber with a plastic resin to protect the amber, which will cause most of the tests to fail. The only way to tell if the item is real in that case is to look at the color, as the resin coating will not affect the color.