Plastic Amber Dilemma

Fellow Orchidians,

I have a dilemma and maybe some of you can help me out. Some years
ago I purchased a few pairs of beautifully cut (what I thought was)
amber from one of the very reputable German companies that sell in
Tucson. Eventually I made a pair of fairly pricey earrings using one
of the pairs. Recently one of the earrings was damaged. When my
goldsmith went to repair it, he did a few simple tests on the
amber–touching it with a hot pin to try and get the resin scent and
then dropping it into salt water. The carved drop seems to be
plastic, not amber.

So my question is this: what do you think I should do now? It is
very likely that this company will be in Tucson this year as I have
seen them every year there. Probably I can unearth the invoice for
the “amber” though I don’t know how I could prove to them that this
is indeed the piece I bought from them. It has been several years
since I made the purchase. The “amber” is carved and not all that
ubiquitous so maybe they will recognize it as their product.
Meanwhile I have this 22k granulated pair of earrings made to fit
this carved plastic.

I am interested in what you think about this. It’s really pretty

Thanks for whatever input you give me,

Janet Alix

I am interested in what you think about this. It's really pretty

The first thing to do would be to confirm the identification. If
your goldsmith is a properly trained and credentialled gemologist,
have him or her perform the full array of tests. Amber can be a bit
easy to confuse, as can some plastic, so be sure it’s really a fake
before pursuing it. For example, whether amber floats in salt water
depends in part on how saturated the salt solution is. If just a bit
of salt is dissolved in water, that doesn’t do it. Must be fully
saturated. And the scent test with a hot point also depends on the
acutity of the testers nose. Me, I could never tell one from the
other, as I’ve a poor sense of smell (inherited from my mom, not
adquired due to exposure to stuff in the shop or anything).

If indeed you confirm the tests and know for certain that the piece
is not what it’s identified as on it’s invoice, then by all means,
take it back. Neither fraud nor an honest mistake becomes any more
correct with the passage of time. If the seller has decent integrity,
they’ll attempt to correct the situation.

If the stuff is plastic, and you cannot get it replaced, then you
have to choose between using it as is, and selling it as such, or
having something custom cut to fit your piece. It then would not have
to be amber, if you’ve got a good carver working on it…


Hi Janet,

If you can find the invoice great, if not, I would approach them very
politely anyway, with the exact that you have approached
us with. Of course bring the work along. See first if they will take
the pieces back. You said it has been several years, still, if they
are reputable as you say, they should allow the return pending their
own tests on the pieces. If your jeweler proves correct, and this
company is indeed reputable then they would want to know. Second,
find out if they can cut and carve replacements in the same pattern,
this time in amber, as that is what you believed you had purchased in
the first place. That way, you can fit the earrings you have made for
those pieces.

If they will not take the pieces back or replace them, then let it
go. Instead of amber you have purchased on who not to buy
from. There are loads of cutters and amber dealers in Tucson. Show
them the earrings, and have one of them cut something to fit the

Above all, be polite and keep an open mind, as there always remains
the possibility that your jeweler was incorrect. Nothing like angrily
going off on someone only to be publicly proved wrong. We have seen
that here on Orchid recently, with amber that a customer believed to
be fake, but apparently wasn’t… :-).

Good luck,

Lisa, (Off to do my yearly charity Christmas caroling. Last 2 weeks
at Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House for kids, the cancer
center at Cedar’s Hospital and the Motion Picture Home for retired
show biz folk. This week, Juvenile Hall, the Downtown Mission,
Shriners’ Hospital for burns and finishing at the Dorothy Chandler
Pavillion. 'Tis the season ho ho ho.) Topanga, CA USA

Hello Orchidians,

I wanted to update the group on the amber story–I had an expensive
cut piece that tested ( salt water and hot needle ) as plastic.

It came from a very reputable German company and when I brought it
back to them, the guy was absolutely adamant that it could not be
anything but amber. He absolutely recognized the piece as one of
theirs and said that he knew the rough. He took the piece and has
promised to have it tested at a lab to prove to me what he says. I
told him that if he was acting, he should change professions–I
totally believed him, tho he’s still going to send me a lab report.

So what does that mean about the usual way we test for amber?

Well, maybe we wait for the lab report…unless anybody knows
anything relevant to this situation.

I really enjoyed meeting those of you I was able to meet at the

Janet Alix


I just tried the needle test with a spare unpolished yellow piece of
amber - the hot needle went in very easily, and the stuff that was
displaced out of the hole looked powdery. Also the pine smell was
unmistakable. Then I did it to a honey transperent picece - the
needle went in like you would expect it would into a piece of
plastic, with melted crater forming around the hole, the pine smell
was still there. My needle was actually a soldering stick.

I was just curious what happened with your amber when you did the
needle test? Looks like it behaves differently with different quality
of amber.

– Ruslana