Re: So-called "African Amber"
Re: So-called "African Amber" - can anyone document the popular eBay concept.... -- Joyce Post Reply Edit Forum Where am I?
Posted by: Beadman Post Reply
08/25/2007, 16:35:40

Hi Joyce,

It feels like I have posted this a million times.

The most numerous fake amber beads, found throughout Africa, and at many other places, are cast phenolic plastic beads, most made in Europe (probably Germany, as near as I can tell), and sold everywhere as "amber." This plastic was developed and commercially released in 1926. Therefore, this year, none of these beads is older than eighty-one (81) years old. Many are newer. Perhaps MUCH NEWER.

There are lots of things that can be done with and to amber to alter, beautify, or extend it. When ambroid (pressed amber) is made (by fusing very small pieces together), it is not unusual for a VERY SMALL QUANTITY of other resins or plastics to be added to increase flow. (Because true amber does not liquify when it's melted. It just gets gummy!) It would be less than 5 %—and is permitted by law to be added.

This fact, taken out of proportion and turned around, has become skewed to where people will say that their PLASTIC beads "have some amber in them." Or are "amber mixed with plastic" or "mixed with resin." 99 % of the time (maybe 100%), these are nothing more than entirely plastic beads.

There is an amber preparation, in which small pieces or particles of actual Baltic amber are suspended in Damar resin. But when you view this material, you can SEE the amber bits in a transparent yellow matrix. It is called Bernit, or Bernat. A similar material, amber bits in polyester resin, is called Polybern.

Since a high percentage (easily 75 %) of fake amber beads are phenolic, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for those beads to have ANY amber in them. Repeat—IMPOSSIBLE. The temperatures necessary for the production of the plastic would destroy any amber particles. (Amber is a delicate, heat-sensitive material.) Plus, there would be no chance for the amber and plastic to melt together. At best, we would see chunks of amber floating in a plastic base—and that is exactly what we do not see with phenolic plastic beads. The above products (ambroid, Bernit or Bernat, and Polybern) are the origin of the bogus stories that "my beads are amber mixed with resin," for what are factually just commercial plastic beads.

Since there is now at least one company that claims to be producing "synthetic amber," to call commonplace plastic beads "synthetic amber" is bogus.

While a brine test will immediately indicate imitations that are heavier than amber (such as old Celluloid and phenolic plastics), just because a material floats in brine, this does not, in any way, "prove" it's authentic amber. Some synthetic plastics float in brine, and even in plain water (!). The brine test is good to prove a bead is a fake. It does not prove a bead is authentic. To get closer to authenticity, it is necessary to perform a hot-point text. Even then, it takes chemical analyses to make a legal case, and to determine the SOURCE of the amber.

I generally do not affirm that I can prove a bead is amber. What I say is that I can often (nearly always) prove it when the bead is NOT amber.

"Amber" is a popular name. It is NOT a scientific and/or legal name (except where the name—"bernstein"—is legally regulated—as in Germany). To be scientific, we have to talk about succinite ("SOO-kin-ite"). A material is either succinite or it is not. Many fossil resins that are not succinite are still honesty called "amber." But the folks in countries that produce succinite may argue as to whether the other stuff is "amber" because it is not succinite. This alternative amber (collectively usually "retinite") comes from Burma, Sicily, Romania, Borneo, The Dominican Republic, and México. But there are no international laws that prevent anyone from calling ANY material he/she pleases "amber." The problem is that by doing so, the vast majority think the material is either Baltic amber (succinite) or from one of the other recognized sources listed above (retinite).

"Copal" collectively refers to any of several semi-fossil or even RECENT resins that may resemble amber, and like amber can be made into beads and jewelry. Some say "copal amber" to reinforce this similarity. Copal resins are raw or merely thousands of years old, and have not undergone the structural changes that true amber has received over millions of years. It is softer and has a lower melting point. It tends to biodegrade in only a few years. (It falls to pieces. Amber will do that too—but it takes much longer.)

In the current marketplace, copal is known from only three sources, in terms of being made into beads and jewelry on a commercial scale: The Dominican Republic, Guinea Bissau (West Africa), and Colombia (South America). From all three sources, this copal can be (and IS) passed-off as "amber." This is misrepresentation, pure-and-simple, because copal does not have the required physical properties of real amber (succinite and retinite). To complicate matters, from as early as 1972, phenolic plastic beads—the same beads called "African amber"—are also often called "copal"—even though the material is 100 % plastic.

It is very difficult to convince Africans, and many other people, of the truth of the above.

I moderate a Bead Group at Yahoo, to discuss just these issues and problems.


Modified by Beadman at Sat, Aug 25, 2007, 16:52:36

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