All About Baltic Amber

On this page you’ll find all sorts of information about Baltic amber, how it works (theoretically), how to care for your amber, common forms of imitation amber, how to identify them, and how to test your amber to confirm its authenticity (see our updated test section below). If you get through this page and still have unanswered questions, please contact us!

Please note that all products & claims regarding properties & effects have not been evaluated by the FDA or Health Canada. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information supplied is for general reference & educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional medical advice.

BASIC INFORMATION

All amber is fossilized tree resin. Baltic amber in particular (mined from near the Baltic Sea) additionally contains a substance called succinic acid. Historically it is believe that when worn on the skin, body heat causes Baltic amber to release an oil containing succinic acid, which if absorbed into the skin, might act like a natural Ibuprofen, blocking pain and reducing inflammation. Succinic acid is an alkalinizing acid (like lemon juice) so it wouldn't add to your body's acidity, and may actually slightly lower it, making it’s compatible with hazelwood jewelry (though more than one necklace shouldn’t be worn around the neck at the same time, but you can safely wear both on different areas of the body, or use a necklace that contains both). 

TRY BALTIC AMBER 'ON THE CHEAP' WITH OUR ECONOMY OPTIONS, CLICK HERE!

 

WHAT CAN BALTIC AMBER HELP WITH?

Many of our customer have found Baltic amber to be helpful with pain and inflammation issues, particularly teething pain but also such issues as headaches. You can find more information in our customer reviews on individual product listings (such as this one) and customer testimonials regarding pain issues.

 

HOW OUR BALTIC AMBER IS MADE

Each piece is handcrafted by Lithuanian artisans, known locally as 'Masters', who carefully polish and round the shape of each Baltic amber bead so it rests gently against the skin. This ensures maximum skin contact and comfort. The string in each of our amber necklaces and bracelets is knotted by hand in between each and every bead, so should the necklace break the rest of the beads will not scatter. In the unlikely event that a bead should be ingested, amber is a non-toxic substance and is not harmful. The necklace fastens with a plastic amber colored screw clasp that opens and closes easily, and functions as the safety-release mechanism.

NOTE - We've switched over from a twist clasp to a 'pop' clasp on our children's Baltic amber jewelry, though about half of our listings still have the twist clasp as an option. Be sure to choose the correct variant from the dropdown when ordering.

Wait!  Are the old twist-clasps as safe as the new pop-clasps?  

Yes they are! :)  We're just making a switch because ultimately it seems better to have a safety mechanism that is more easily visible to parents and where if it is activated doesn't require the replacement of the necklace.  It MIGHT end up in a few more lost necklaces but we'll see. Please let us know how you like the new clasps, we value your feedback!  But yes, both clasps are safe.

Every natural Baltic Amber necklace is unique because each of the amber beads are unique. So the size, color, shape, and weight of each stone, as well as the length of the piece, will vary slightly.  We work with our suppliers to develop consistent styles of color and shape, however as Baltic amber is a natural raw material that must be mined, the end product will fluctuate along with the natural flux in the Baltic Amber market.

NOTE - We've had a customer report an skin reaction issue with leaving Baltic amber on during an extended hot bath. Normally amber is removed due to the soaps involved, but if you are giving your child a bath (or taking one yourself) without soaps or chemicals, we'd recommend removing the amber just the same. We're not sure but the hot water may have caused the amber to become tacky or soft, to which a skin reaction occurred. Please exercise caution with exposing your amber to high heat or with wearing amber after it has been exposed to high head (left in a hot car, etc.).

 

HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR BALTIC AMBER JEWELRY

Because amber is soft and can be brittle, it’s important to be careful that it not come in contact with chemicals. Your amber should not be stored with other jewelry where it can rub against other pieces, especially metals.  Be sure to keep perfume, hairspray, and soaps like shampoo and conditioner away from your amber, and never place your jewelry in commercial cleaning solutions.  Remove your amber jewelry when bathing. Also remove when applying sunscreen.

To clean your amber, use a soft flannel cloth or an unused toothbrush dampened with clean lukewarm water.  Dry in the sun or with a clean tissue or towel.

 

WANT EVEN MORE DETAILS?...

Baltic Amber is fossil of resin. Although not a mineral, it is generally classified as a gemstone.  A common misconception is that Amber is made of tree sap. Sap is the fluid that circulates through a plant's vascular system, while resin is the semi-solid amorphous organic substance secreted in pockets and canals through epithelial cells of the tree.

Because it used to be soft and sticky, tree resin amber can sometimes contain insects and even small vertebrates, known in the jewelry world as ‘Inclusions’. Semi-fossilized resin or ‘sub-fossil’ amber is known as Copal (see more on Copal below).

Amber occurs in a range of different colors. As well as the usual yellowy-orange that is associated with the color "amber", amber itself can range from cloudy white, yellowish clear, to almost black. There is also red amber (sometimes known as "cherry amber"), green amber, pink amber and even blue amber, which is rare and highly sought after.

No we don't have any blue amber, thanks for asking. :)

Baltic amber is distinguished from other amber from all around the world by the presence within it of high levels of succinic acid, hence Baltic amber is otherwise known as succinite. 

 

REAL OR FAKE?

In the middle of the nineteenth century scientists discovered ways to synthesize natural precious substances, including Baltic amber. Today the falsification of amber is widespread, although usually in amber that is of a larger size and quality than what is typically found in teething necklaces. False amber products are more often going to be priced in a three-figure range and have things like rare inclusions (bugs trapped in the amber, etc). The fear that sweeps through the amber teething necklace community every few years seems to be largely unnecessary, however for educational purposes, here’s a rundown of the usual list of materials used for amber imitations, and how you can spot them:

 

Copal

Copal, which was mentioned above, is often sold as Baltic amber. With enough time Copel would become amber, but Copal isn’t truly fossilized. Copal is ‘young tree resin’ (1 thousand to 1 million years old) whereas true amber would be closer to 40 million years old. Natural inclusions are possible in Copal, but usually they are falsified. Insects are inserted in them that are too big and too good-looking. Copal melts at a rather low temperature (lower than 150 C ), and tends to melt rather than burn. However it still will diffuses the "sweet" smell of burning resins, just like real amber, making it difficult to spot.

 

Glass

Glass is pretty easy to distinguish, it’s more solid, cold to the touch, etc. It can’t be scratched by metal and fireproof, whereas real amber can be scratched and will burn if exposed to flame.

 

Phenolic Resins

This material is commonly used to produce artificial amber beads. These amber beads tend to have very exact shapes (i.e. oval, faceted), the color is very similar to real amber (dark red, cloudy yellow). However after heating it doesn’t diffuse the smell of pine-tree resins, which is the key characteristic of Baltic amber.

 

Celluloid

Celluloid (cellulose nitrate) is usually yellow and cloudy. Optically it is difficult to distinguish it from amber. Celluloid is more solid and not so combustible. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.


Casein

This is a plastic made from milk. The beads have a cloudy, turbid yellow color. It is a little bit heavier than amber. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

 

Modern Plastic

Modern plastic (polyester, polystyrene) are used to produce artificial amber and inclusions that look very real.  However like in Copal, falsified inclusions are too big (more than 10 mm) and clearly seen, inserted in the very center of the plastic. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

 

*A Note about Pressed Amber...

When small remnants of amber are fused together using high pressure or major heat source, the result is called “pressed” amber. While pressed amber is cheap and relatively available, it will not perform the same way original, natural amber does. Because the original pieces of amber have been compressed, the singular power of each piece is compromised. It is inexpensive to buy but if you’re interested in the the healing aspects of Baltic amber, you will not experience them with the pressed product. Pressed Amber will look more like plastic, perfectly round, no air bubbles or imperfections. However it will burn and smell like real amber, so you have to rely largely on a visual inspection to tell pressed amber from the naturally formed beads. 

 

**We only carry real Baltic amber imported directly from Lithuania in the Baltic region!**

 

HOW WE TEST OUR AMBER...

After experimenting with many of the traditional tests used to determine the authenticity of amber, we have settled on the following methodology to inspect each shipment we receive (see more on these tests in the list of traditional tests further below):

1.The Smell Test - This test is pretty much unavoidable, when you first open a closed bag of a hundred or so Baltic amber necklaces, the pine scent is pretty overwhelming! :)

2.Visual Inspection - We handle each piece more than once and are pretty familiar with weight, temperature, and general appearance of real amber.

3.The Saltwater Test - Several pieces of each shipment are tested in saltwater to check that they float.

4.The UV Light Test - All of our amber is inspected under UV light to check that it fluoresces (see notes on this test below).

In all of the years that we have been providing Baltic amber we have only had a few instances where customers have contacted us regarding concerns about their amber being fake. 90% of those cases turned out to be due to a misunderstanding about how to test amber and interpret the results. In the other cases the customers were ‘mysteriously reluctant’ to return our emails after we asked them to send us the amber as an exchange or refund item so that we could test the amber ourselves. Finally in the one case where we’ve been able to get our hands on a suspected fake amber necklace we were able to ascertain that it was indeed real after using the UV and Smell Tests (which involved aggressively burning the beads).

One thing that we have learned over the years is that it is actually very hard to do these tests well. As you look through the Internet you’ll find some version of the following list of tests copied over and over again without any more real information. The culprit of most of our false alarms are with the ‘Hot Needle’ test which is terribly difficult to do.  

Below is our version of the traditional list, modified by what we have learned.  Again we recommend the Saltwater and UV tests as the easiest and most non-invasive ways to test your amber. 

 

TEST THAT WE RECOMMEND AS EASY ON YOU & YOUR AMBER

Visual Inspection (Not Rocket Science...)

The first thing you’ll want to look out for is plastic, pressed, and glass amber that is obviously ‘too perfect’. Amber beads can be polished to near-perfect rounds, but if all of the beads on your string are totally picture-perfect, something is probably wrong.  Real amber has air bubbles, and if clear enough to let light pass, you’ll see imperfections within the bead, cracks, etc. Real amber is warm to the touch and has a slight ‘tacky’ feel (verses slick like glass). It also feels lighter in your hands than you would expect it to.

 

The Saltwater Test (Easy!)

Aside from looking at your amber, the next least damaging test you can perform is to mix up some salt water (dissolve one part salt in two parts water) and throw the necklace in. Real Baltic amber floats, fakes don’t. (You can try tossing in some plastic or glass beaded jewelry as a control item and you’ll see what we mean.)


The Ultraviolet Light Test (Our Favorite!)

Real Baltic amber will fluoresce under UV light while copal  won’t. This is a super easy test to do, particularly if your amber is the on lighter side. You’ll need a real UV light (think LED UV flashlight or florescent tube, traditionally called a black light.) In addition to testing amber, these are also useful in doing your own Crime Scene Investigation, finding scorpions, and traumatizing your children after they’ve wet the bed. 

There’s almost no information on how to interpret the results of this test online but we’ve experimented extensively and here’s what we’ve found: 

- Milk & Butter and Super Butter show up like yellow highlighter at the Friday night Glow-Bowl. Almost painful to look at, extremely easy to identify the real thing. Obviously you can mimic this with fluorescent plastic, but then under natural lighting the plastic is going to look nothing like real amber, more like a neon ear stud a gothic kid would buy at the mall.

- Lemon and the Lemon bits within Dark Green will fluoresce a bluish color. Most amber UV test information will say that ALL real amber fluoresces blue, but that’s a radical oversimplification and just not true. Amber that is nearly clear (very light lemon) gives off the most bluish color.  

- As you shift hues into darker yellows and oranges with shades of Honey, the non-fluorescing colors within the bead mix with the blue color and generate greens and whatnot, with much less brightness. You’ll also note how semi-polish (polished with air instead of water) glow less, the rough surface is not as mirrored as a full-polish bead and naturally absorbs more light.

- Darker amber won’t fluoresce hardly at all. You’ll see almost no reaction in colors such as Cognac and Dark Cherry and their semi-polish variants, Nutmeg and Coffee. Some times you’ll get flecks of bright fluorescence from pocket of lighter color within the beads that you’d never notice with the naked eye.

So there you go, we’re pretty sure that we’re the first to publish this kind of information on how to interpret the UV test. Expect to see the above list copied all over the Internet on other amber sites within the next few years. :)

Below are other traditionally listed tests that are a bit harder to pull off and often involve damaging your amber... :(

 

The Smell Test (Tricky)

Natural Baltic amber has that specific pine resin smell which apparently is difficult to obtain when producing falsifications.  

Unfortunately most of the tests in this area involve heat and fire and, we’ve found, are horribly difficult to do well, particularly if you are trying to not totally destroy your necklace in the process!

To perform the smell test you have to either burn a bead (hold with tweezers into a candle flame) or, if you don’t want to destroy your jewelry, stick a hot needle into a spot that’s less noticeable. Carefully smell the smoke, if it smells a bit like Christmas (strong pine scent), you’re good. If it smells like burnt plastic, that’s bad. Please note that the pine scent can be quite strong and sometimes isn't necessarily pleasant. That is why this test is unreliable; some people confuse the strong scent emitted by the amber with what they suppose a fake would smell like since they expect the pine scent to be pleasant...it's not!

We found the needle test really hard to do (try holding a hot needle with tweezers!) so if you have a loose bead available and need a definitive answer, burning a bead is the best way to go.  You’ll note that that real amber will ‘flake’ and burn in stages, whereas plastic will melt. If you keep it in the flame long enough the bead may even shatter, so be careful that little eyes are not too close to your ‘science experiment’ (yes, testing your amber with your children counts as homeschooling).

In theory it is also possible to heat the amber by rubbing it between your palms (to produce the pine resin smell) but difficult if the amber is polished, which usually it is.

Again, this is the number one test that we have people have issues with, they’ve tried to do the hot needle test and/or even burned a bead or two and have mistaken the strong pine and smoke scent as a more plasticty smell. The pine scent is very strong, and doesn’t necessarily smell great to everyone. Let’s just say we wouldn’t burn it as incense in our home. :)

 

The Acetone Test

This test checks of the solubility of the amber in acetone, you can use alcohol (isopropanol or ethanol) or even nail polish remover. Note that this test is a bit tricky, we’ve not not found it to be terribly easy to discern the results. Put a drop on the amber and let it evaporate some. Copal will dissolve so it’ll be sticky and fingerprints can be made in the surface, amber will be unchanged. Another way is to dip the string of beads into some nail polish remover and in some cases you’ll see the color run right off of imitations. This test won’t hurt your amber if it’s real.  

 

The Scratch Test

Real Baltic amber has a hardness of 5 - 6 on the Moh’s scale so it should be easily scratched by metal. As mentioned above, glass won’t scratch. This WILL hurt your amber (if it’s real) so attempt to scratch in a unnoticeable area (kind of hard to do on an already small bead). Not a great test because it damages your amber and it’s easier to tell amber from glass by temperature and weight (glass is colder and heavier, see the Saltwater Test).  

 

The Polarized Light Test

Place the amber between two sheets of polarized glass, then rotate one of the pieces. You should be able to see a display of rainbow colors in either amber or copal. Plastic will appear unchanged.

 

The Static Test

Rub your amber vigorously with a soft cloth. Real amber will develop a static charge allowing it to pick up small bits of paper, whereas copal won’t.

 

IR-spectroscopy

IR-spectroscopy is the most effective scientific method for identifying fossil resins. Baltic amber can be characterized by IR-spectrum segment called "Baltic amber shoulder". If you have a spectroscopy machine at home, you’re all set. :) Seriously though, here's a couple of examples, reports on Baltic amber that our supplier provided us:

 

  

 

ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS:

Q: What do you recommend between a Baltic amber necklace and a bracelet?
A: Unlike hazelwood (which seams to work about the same no matter where you wear it) Baltic amber seems to be the most helpful if you can get it as close to the source of the pain as possible. So the choice of amber comes down to the symptom that you’re looking to treat. Headaches, teething or jaw/neck/upper back pain? Try a necklace. Wrist pain, arthritis, carpel tunnel? Try a bracelet. Have abdominal cramps or lower back pain? String two necklaces together to wear around your waist. And if you’ve got pain in other places, get creative in bringing the amber to where your pain is!

 

Q: Do I ever have to replace Baltic amber?  How long does it last?
A: In theory Baltic amber, if cared for, could last forever. However it is also EXTREMELY old and brittle, and eventually beads will break. Also over time the surface of the beads tend to get coated with soap scum and other substances that inhibit their ability to release succinic acid into your skin. So if you clean your amber and are careful with it, it should last for years. If you suspect it’s no longer working and you’ve already tried cleaning it, it may be time for a new one.

 

Q: I was careful but my amber jewelry lost a bead almost right away, is this a defect?
A: Yes. The process of drilling the beads can leave cracks that are invisible and only come apart after a few days of regular use. If this has happened to you, our apologies! Please visit our exchange page for more information on how to exchange it.

 

Q: Are the child necklaces safe?
A: Yes, the necklaces have been specially designed with your child’s safety in mind. If a necklace were to get caught on something the clasps are designed to either pop or break open (depending on the style of clasp you have) when a certain amount of force is applied. Additionally, each amber bead is knotted onto the string, so if it came apart, no more than one bead would come loose. If swallowed, they are small enough that they do not pose a choking hazard, and are non-toxic.

*If you are using the necklace to help with teething pain and are loosing more sleep thinking about your child wearing a necklace to bed, one option is to wrap the necklace around your child’s ankle at night.  It should still be nearly as effective and you’ll have more peace of mind.

 

Q: What size necklace should I choose for my child’s neck?
A: The necklace must be a comfortable length for your child. You should be able to slip your two fingers between the necklace and your child’s neck. The necklace should not be long enough for your child to bring it to his/her mouth since it is not meant to be chewed on!

 

Q: Can we wear Baltic amber in the shower or the bath?
A: No. Baltic amber is very susceptible to soaps and other products that might leave behind a residue. Avoid wearing it when using shampoo, hair spray, lotions, sunscreen, etc.

 

Q: I’ve heard that the lighter Baltic amber colors are more powerful than the darker colors?
A: Yes our own experience and that of our customers seems to support this. Additionally the semi-polished colors seem to be stronger than their full-polish counterparts. While the following scale is entirely made up, it gives you some idea of the range we’re talking about. Note that all Baltic amber colors work well for things like teething pain, just that some are that much more powerful and if you are dealing with chronic levels of pain, you’re going to want to get one of the stronger colors. Here are some arbitrary numbers to give you an idea of the range of effectiveness (scale of 1-10):

11 Super Butter <- Goes up to 11!
10 Milk & Butter
10 Lemondrop
9 Lemon
9 Caramel
9 Nutmeg & Lemondrop
9 Milk & Honey
8 Honey
8 Nutmeg
8 Multicolored (semi-polish)
8 Milk & Cognac
7 Lemon & Cherry
7 Multicolored (bean & round)
7 Rainbow (bean & round)
7 Coffee
7 Cognac
6 Dark Cherry
6 Dark Green

 

Q: My necklace seems to be shorter than advertised?
A: It’s possible that a step got skipped with your necklace. We order everything a hint short and then stretch them to length to get the kinks out and so it rests evenly on the skin. Here's what you should do: Carefully pull on the necklace with a few inches secured in each palm (don’t pull on the clasps!). It should feel like pulling taffy and the knots should tighten as you pull. If it does not stretch easily but instead already feels really taut, discontinue pulling as you risk breaking the jewelry. Note that this is a permanent adjustment to the length of your necklace so be careful not to stretch it to be longer than you would like!


Ready to Order?  Visit on of our Baltic amber collections:

Children's Baltic Amber

Adult Baltic Amber

 

STILL have unanswered questions?  Please write us