So, what’s the difference?
and nothing… it very much depends on how you view it, below I’ll list the facts; what you take from it is up to yourself.
First of all, let’s start from the very beginning with, ‘What is Amber?‘
Amber is the resin from prehistoric trees, which over millions of years has gone under major changes resulting in a major metamorphosis, turning the organic resin into a gem-like mineral. It’s important to remember that Amber is not formed from tree sap, but instead comes from resin, which is a semi-solid organic substance produced in the epithelial cells of typically coniferous trees. It is typically believed that coniferous trees produce this resin to help protect against infection or insect attack when injured, similar to how our body will form a scab when we become injured. Many will believe that Amber is filled with Insects but in-fact this is quite an uncommon occurrence. Amber can also include rare inclusions such as Flowers, Lizards & Feathers; in late 2016 there was even a dinosaur tail found preserved in Amber.
So, with that being said, ‘What is Copal?‘
Copal is the resin from modern day coniferous trees which has not gone through the major metamorphosis process over millions of years, causing the Copal to remain as an organic compound. Specimens of Columbian Copal have been carbon dated to as young as 250 years old. Specimens of Copal from Madagascar and Kenya are thought to be of also a similar age, if not younger. Copal is known to be heavily included with various insects, arachnids and other small animals. Due to the readily availability of Copal, it is generally a lot cheaper with large, display specimens easily found.
So, Amber vs Copal, ‘What is the difference?‘
In essence, everything, but also nothing, it very much depends on how you wish to view it. Amber is a form of prehistoric tree resin that has fossilised over millions of years, while Copal is just the hardened resin that likely came from trees within the past couple of centuries. Amber gains a great amount of value from its rarity, age and the inclusion of various extinct species, Copal on the other hand is quite easy to find right now, relatively young in comparison and contains the same insects you’re likely to encounter on a daily basis, resulting in the two having vastly different price ranges. This all amounts to quite a difference between Amber and Copal; but none of this takes away from the uniqueness of every specimen found, whether they’re Amber, or Copal.
But, ‘How do you tell the difference?‘
There are many, easy, tests you can do at home to help identify the difference.
Take a sewing needle and heat the tip over a flame until it is glowing red, before pushing the needle into the specimen. Copal will quickly melt, allowing the needle to penetrate the surface easily while omitting a subtle fragrant odour. Amber will not melt as quickly and produces a sooty smoke.
Copal and Amber have similar but different Moh’s, using an appropriate Moh’s Scratch Kit you should be able to identify them easily, Amber has a Mohs of 2-3 while Copal has a Mohs below 2.
Identifying the Insects and Flora within the specimen can be a great way of identifying the specimen as a whole, as you’ll also be able to find out what is within the specimen. Amber will contain species that are either extinct or vastly different from their modern-day counterparts while Copal will typically contain every day insects and fauna found in its local region.
– Lighting Test
Amber is fluorescent, providing a pale shade of blue when placed under short-wave UV light, while Copal will exhibit very minimal colour change when under the same light.
Take a dropper of Acetone and place one drop in a discreet place on the specimen, after giving the Acetone ample time to evaporate gently place your finger tip on the area. Copal will become tacky (this is due to it not fossilising) while the Amber will be unaffected.
Finally, ‘Why does any of this matter to me? They look the same!‘
It would be like buying a new table, marketed as ‘genuine antique from the 1660s’, but when it arrives you realise a stamp underneath marked ‘Made in China, 2016’; It may look the exact same, but it’s not what you purchased. You likely paid extra due to the fact it was a ‘genuine antique’, you expected the distressed look of hundreds of years of use, but in reality, you got something with a high-gloss finish that you could have purchased from a furniture store for £100s less. It’s the same with Amber, you’ve spent the time to find the perfect specimen for you, taken the time to find the piece with the right shape and shade, to only discover it’s a knock off that you could have gotten from anywhere for a quarter of the price. You want what you was looking for, not a look alike, and I sincerely hope this helps you when you’re next searching for a piece of Amber or Copal.
Extra titbit, ‘What is Blue Amber, it’s fake! right?‘
Not at all, Blue Amber is a genuine form of Amber exhibiting a rare blue coloration. Blue Amber typically comes from the Dominican Republic, but can also come from Mexico and Indonesia. Little is known of Blue Amber due to its rarity, but one of the main theories behind its existence is due to an inclusion of Anthracene, which likely found its way into the tree resin due to forest fires between 25 and 40 million years ago. Blue Amber typically shows the normal golden hues when under the lights within our homes but when held under sunlight it will exhibit an intense blue glow.