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-  Preface -

- Some advice for buyers -

- Preliminary treatment -

- Cut and polishing -

- Studying samples -

- Classification -

- Falsification -

                                      Hepatica (7mm)    (click to enlarge)


I found it quite difficult to polish and study my first unpolished amber; Internet did not yet exist and advice were contradictory, so I had to try various ways . The method I am using now works quite well, yet I should be grateful for further suggestions.

Hopefully the following notes will be of help to beginners. Remember, however, that collecting amber  requires considerable manual ability, patience and money but will offer a lot of satisfaction

Some advice for a good buy

The price for a piece of polished and transparent amber is mainly based on three factors: its weight, the dimension of the inclusion and its rarity.

On the Italian market you can find unpolished or only partly treated amber, less expensive but opaque , what makes it difficult to see inclusions.

In order to better understand what the inclusions are like I always keep ready a bit of paraffin oil. One drop will make the amber momentarily transparent. With the help of a good magnifier (10x) I may then check whether the inclusions are of any interest.  

However, these pieces have often been subject to a first selection so it is not easy to find rarities.

Whereas  necklaces of unpolished amber are available at reasonable prices ( approx. 15 – 20 € ), have not been subject to selection and may offer you some pleasant surpise.


Preliminary treatment

Once I realized that when polishing amber under running water some darker layers turned lighter at first,  to become opaque again later. 

These stratifications are due to microflaws on the surface that allowed the water to penetrate, therefore opacity must be due to some soluble material penetrated inside.

Since then, when treating a newly acquired piece of amber, I  use the following method: for one day I keep it in distilled water, then I let it dry very well, and  I repeat this various times. 

The results are not always satisfactory, but at times the opacities disappear significantly thus revealing inclusions not visible at first.

Cut and polishing

This is undoubtedly the most delicate and  difficult part of the work.

What you need is a drill, emery paper of various grain, small cutters and cutting disks, polishing paste and … a lot of patience.

Normally I prefer to maintain the integrity of a piece of amber. Yet sometimes it is necessary to cut it in order to eliminate some imperfection and to create a plane surface, possibly parallel to the inclusion.  

Small irregolarities even though perfectly transparent may allow for a good observation when slightly enlarged, but may create considerable distorsion at bigger enlargement.

Once cut the amber needs polishing with emery paper ( the same used for car repair ) and water. Best start with 100 gr and subsequently use up to 1000gr, sticking the paper on a small piece ( 2cm ) of  rubber.

It is very important to hold the amber tightly between your fingers. I found a useful suggestion on the site of Doug Lundberg: put some biadhesive tape on the tip of both your thumb and forefinger so you will be able to easily grip the amber. 

As it is nearly impossible to find emery disks of 500 to 1000gr I prepare them myself. Stick a piece of emergy paper on one side of some biadhesive tape, keeping the protection on the other side. 

With a pair of scissors then cut a few disks, take off the protective paper and stick  them on your drill base. In order to not overheat the amber it is best to cut and grind it under running water with the drill at low speed to avoid splashes (use a waterproof apron!).

When finished with 1000 gr pass on to the very polishing with the help of a cloth or fix a woollen disk  on the drill. The paste I use is the same as for cars, as it contains abrasive and a little silicone which protects the amber from aggression by the air.

Lately I bought a product offered by Gemmarum Lapidator (AT 6) that costs little and seems to work fine (via internet).

Studying samples

Now it is time to explore your amber, and it really is an exploration! 

You may find a lot of details now you haven’t seen before, some may be even more exciting than the inclusion you bought it for. 

In the beginning a magnifier (10x) will do, however, in order to study tiny details you best make a financial effort. Get  yourself a good binocular microscope for entomologists provided with a connection for a camera or a video.


A microscope for microbiology will not do so well as its angle is too narrow and the focal distance is too short to allow to explore deep enough, especially if the amber is rather thick; with such a microscope you may yet observe pollen, collemboli  a.s.o. in thin slices of polished amber fixed on glass.

Personally I use a binocular with varying enlargement (4x to 98x); with the help of an optical supplement and the video camera connected to the computer I took a lot of the photos of my visual database; furthermore I built an optical fibre lamp to illuminate difficult parts of the sample.

In order to get a better contrast or background for some pictures I use filters of coloured glass (red, green, blue and yellow).

For a complete picture of the amber I may sometimes also use the scanner.

Amber 0780
Exploration of amber 0780 (30 x 17 mm) rich of inclusions with a small magnifying.

Ants, flies, worms, stellate hairs, numerous seeds.






With 40x magnification, you can observe in detail the inclusions contained.               




Recollecting  school days wasn’t of much help, so I had to study some texts on zoology and botanics.

My thanks  to Dr. Arnold Volker who suggested a small volume by A. Ross “Amber – the natural time capsule”; it is easy too read and a pratical guide to a first classification of the inclusions.

I will often consult a more detailed book “Guida agli Insetti d’Europa” by Michael Chinery, edited by Franco Muzzio and for the aracnidia and crostacea the book by Remy Perrier “La Faune de la France”, 2nd part, edited by Delagrave; you may also find useful information on the web.

By now I am able to classify most of the inclusions by order.

I keep my samples in black  plastic folders you may find in electronic shops. They are cheap and inside there are lots of small rectangular cells. 

Lined with thin rubber on both sides the amber is well protected  from shock.

These folders are divided in diptera, hemiptera, isoptera a.s.o., but what to do in case of one piece of amber containing different inclusions? I resolved the problem ignoring it. If necessary I can consult my database and readily get a list of all samples and their respective position in the folders.

The database lists each and every amber by a progressive number, a folder number, a number for the position in the folder , a description  of the content and documentation of the inclusions.



Man has always tried to imitate or falsificate amber, even Leonardo da Vinci. See also the interesting article by Eugenio Ragazzi on the site “Amber, a View of the Past” – Historical Amber. 

In our days falsification is done with the help of fenolic resins, plastic material or by means of high pressure fonding amber scraps and plastics (ambroids).

In order to verify genuine amber there are some simple tests:

- salt water test: genuine amber will float in a mix of water and cooking salt

- needle test: heat read the tip of a needle and touch the sample: plastic will have a  bad smell whereas amber and copal smell of resin

- alcol test: amber, contrary to copal or other resins does not dissolve in alcol or ethyl oxide

- nail test: your finger nail may sign copal but not amber.

Sometimes working the amber may modify the inner aspect or even cause considerable harm to inclusions.

Autoclave heat treatment causes the microscopic air bubbles to explode, thus creating numerous and beautiful reflecting disks but damaging the inclusion.  Sometimes amber is put under pressure with coloured oil  to increase the warmer shades.
           Amber coloured by red oil

These methods are mainly applied for jewels.

Keep in mind that a good falsification of inclusions in amber requests ability and labour, so it will only be used  for rare pieces.

Diffidate from amber that contains big insects in perfect state of conservation. A big insects was hardly to remain prisoner in the resin as it had enough strength to escape. In case it got trapped and died its high content of water and organic material accelerated decomposition and thus perfect conservation was impossible.

You may find some coarse imitations in transparent resins containing big insects, which you can immediately recognize by their weight.

Copal is a ‘young’ resin (5 – 10 million years). It may have beautiful inclusions and is often sold for amber. If you are in doubt test with your finger nail or if possible ethylic alcol.

                   Stellate hairs
To be sure that your piece of amber is of baltic origin have a look  for small  polypoid inclusions of vegetable origin that are quite frequent and will not be found in copal or amber of different origin.