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Copal vs Amber


#1
 I don't know if this will be at all helpful (I know diddly-squat
about carving amber), but I noticed while searching for the green
amber cabs that www.sweetgemstones.com carries large chunks of
Colombian copal amber at what seem to be very reasonable prices.
The Baltic amber I found in a Google search was horribly
expensive. 

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to point this out, but sorry; copal
and amber are not the same thing at all. It’s like the difference
between wood and petrified wood, although the constituents of amber
polymerize over time instead of being replaced with minerals. Calling
it “copal amber” as you do above, or “new amber”, like the site you
mentioned, just confuses people in my opinion. Copal is tree sap,
pretty much unmodified. It mostly comes from Colombia, which doesn’t
produce true amber. “Colombian amber” can be taken as a geographic
euphemism like “Herkimer diamonds” or “German silver” to denote an
entirely different material. Copal can have interesting inclusions of
insects, etc., and it comes in much larger unfractured chunks than
amber usually does, which are sometimes of remarkable clarity.
Carving and polishing it is possible, but difficult, as it tends to
be gummy. Amber originated as tree sap, but it has metamorphosed into
a different material in the course of eons. Copal is at most some
hundreds of years old, as opposed to amber which is millions of years
old. Amber is easier to work with, its major drawback is
heat-sensitivity and a tendency to chip and fracture. The color of
copal is more pale than most amber - a clear light yellow is typical.
The best test I know of to tell the difference is to swab a piece
with denatured alcohol. This will have no effect on amber (or most
simulants), but copal will become sticky. Let’s use each material
for what it’s best suited: amber for making jewelry, and copal for
burning as incense…

Andrew Werby
www.unitedartworks.com


#2

Thank you to all that answered the Copal isn’t AMBER scream in my
head been down with the flu and thought I should point that out but
hoped others could straighten out the

Loves her Amber.
Teri
America’s Only cameo Artist
www.cameoartist.com


#3
Copal amber and Baltic amber are considered two different things
because they come from different plant sources (from different
areas of the world) and they have different degrees of
polymerization. 

I’d agree with this if you didn’t use the term “copal amber”. Copal
is one thing, amber is another.

Andrew suggested that "Copal is at most some hundreds of years
old, as opposed to amber which is millions of years old."  This is
not really true.  Copal often is some 500,000 to 1,500,000 years
old or more. 

Often? Have you got any authority for that? Did the person who told
you that also want to sell you some? The experts I’ve heard opine on
the subject tend to prefer a much lower age for copal. The earliest
solidly dated copal deposits I’ve heard of are in Japan, and are
~33,000 years old. But most copal is much younger (see:
http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/amber/copal.htm ) . The commonly
available Colombian material we were originally discussing is at most
1,000 years old and most of it more recent (see
http://www.gplatt.demon.co.uk/typesof.htm ). Kauri gum, a New Zealand
tree resin sometimes used for ornamental objects, is somewhat older;
10,000 to 30,000 years. But really, the absolute age isn’t the issue
as far as its usefulness is concerned. The properties of the material
are dissimilar enough to make even the oldest copal quite different
from the youngest amber. George Poinar, probably the worlds foremost
expert on amber, draws a bright line at the 1.5 million year mark -
anything younger than that isn’t amber, period. Here’s another
reference pointing out the differences:
http://www.uky.edu/ArtsSciences/Geology/webdogs/amber/copal.html ]

Both Copal and Baltic can exhibit a certain "gummy-ness" when
carved.  You have to be careful how much heat from friction that
you create if you choose to try power tools; it is possible to
discolor and/or burn the amber with too much heat.  Hand tools work
well. 

Having worked with both, I’ve noticed a big difference. Yes, it’s
possible to create a heat-affected zone in amber, especially if you
use power tools too enthusiastically, but it won’t turn to goo like
copal will.

As a low cost material, Copal amber is a pretty altenative to the
much more expensive Baltic amber. 

Maybe for a while. But due to its greater volatility, it has a much
more pronounced tendency to craze in the presence of oxygen, heat and
UV exposure, making it a poor choice for jewelry purposes.

(Always remember to disclose that it is Copal amber to whomever
purchases your pieces; that keeps everyone happy.) 

Don’t tell them it’s any kind of amber - unless you’re the sort of
person who sells graphite as “young diamond” …

Andrew Werby
www.unitedartworks.com