Baltic and Asian Fakes:
Much Baltic amber for example is”enhanced”, this can go even to liquefied (cleared, autoclaved, boiled, pressed it into shape, or other form of reconstruction etc.etc.) and supplemented with coloration and foreign material — a far cry from the luminescent blue or green of Dominican amber. See at the right. It is not problem, as long as the customer is made aware of it.
But the Dominican Amber jewelry producers have not yet reached this ‘artistic’ level. Which is not negative, by any means. Here you still know that you will get the REAL thing, colors designed by Mother Nature. (What a lady!)
Oh, and there are the Asians, of course. See at the left. It looks very much like the real thing, but is not made from amber. Therefore, if you are smart, just don’t expect natural AAA blue amber (sky blue – flawless) to be cheap. As amber dealers who buy the raw amber directly at the mine and have it cut in contracted work shops, we often get comments like this: “What, sooo expensive? I can buy it in China for much less less.” Yeah, sure. In China you also can buy a “Rolex” for much less than in Switzerland. In Hong Kong on the street, right below Victoria Peak or at the Stanley Market.
The Case of the Sticky Frog
Last week it happened again. Two ‘amberos’ put-putted on their scooter up to our offices and submitted a lovely fist-sized piece of blue amber. As per custom it was still covered in the dirt straight from the mine with only a thumbnail-sized window chipped into it revealing what looked like a purplish blue. The fact that the dirt on the rest of the chunk could not be persuaded to be removed was a dead giveaway. A deep look at the amberos revealed but furtive innocence. This clump was quite obviously a phony. We warned them that if the piece was a fake, we would never buy from them again. Both amberos insisted that this was not the case, this is a real one, how dare you to suggest, what with my honor, blablabla. You could hear their fingers click as they crossed.
Our polisher at first agreed with the amberos: a very nice piece. Then he tried to enlargen the window so we could see deeper into the piece. As he started on the grinding wheel he noticed an odd smell. And then chink! went the blue amber ‘window’ as it took its leave from the rest of the piece. The whole lump was cheap yellowish/brownish amber and the dirt and blue amber ‘window’ had been glued on: the Coqui Case.
The most common question about fake Dominican amber we get here is concerning copal. eBay is awash in it, some of it claiming Dominican citizenship, and we know that Colombian copal is being sold as Baltic amber. But the truth is that copal posing as amber is the least of our worries. The biggest problem we have with phony amber is the Coqui Case.
Coqui is the name of a superglue brand in Puerto Rico, which took it from its national symbol of a sticky frog (no pun intended) that likes to climb up walls and rain on unsuspecting tourists. The brand name stuck (okay, pun intended).
Since it dries to a rock-like consistency it is used by sneaky amberos to coqui blue amber chips to ordinary amber. Sometimes larger pieces of amber that broke apart during mining are coqui -ed back together and polished until the crack is nearly invisible and covered with dirt.
Another blue amber trick is chipping a window into a possible blue amber candidate to see if blue comes visible. If it doesn’t, then a different side is chipped, so long until a blue side is found. The other none-blue windows are then covered up with dirt and – yes, you guessed right – coqui. This piece then looks like a blue amber piece because one side happens to be blue. Upon polishing, however, it proves to be ordinary amber.
The Case of the Lost Impostor
Another aspect is the act of sneaking a cheapy in with the good stuff. An old peddlers trick and you got to be aware of it. A scruffy yellow amber may at times be added to a stash of blue amber, or a few pieces with nothing but dirt as enclosures may be shoved in with the good enclosures in the hopes that the buyer will not notice it. And when the keen buyer does, then the reaction is either ”oh dear, how did that get there?” or a head-on, in-your-face denial, come hell or high water this is a real enclosure, see, see? That’s a bug! — As if the power of suggestion was enough to convince us.
Since Dominican amber is found in different mines, the quality varies. The really good stuff comes from only three or four mines out of the dozen or so available. The difference lies in transparency, color and size, even shape, and ultimately price. For those uninitiated it is easy to mistaken Dominican amber for Dominican amber. Understandably. When it is too cheap to be true…well, it is.
It takes a trained eye — better yet, two — to separate a batch of raw pieces. Again the Nasty Amber Boys will mix the mines of origin to suit their needs and claim a single provenance for a higher price. They even cover the cheaper pieces with dirt from the good mines, so it looks as if it came from the good mine. Blue amber for example from some area will look wonderfully blue or purple, but after a few months in the fresh air loose the blue coloration and become boring blond.
Very unsporting, specially considering that the customer will only notice it when it is already too late. Only imagine, if they try to do this to us who are well known on the local market as the largest blue amber buyers, what must they be doing to one-time visitor.
There is just something about facing an ambero when you know you are dealing with a shenanigan: the flapping puppy-dog eyes, the sinless shadows, that immaculate smile that seems to say ”Who? Meeeee?” while they shove the bogus bagatelle in your face and speak of honor and respect. Any decent Klingon would have had their heart on a platter.
I can only attribute the will to sell the piece anyhow to the Philosophy of Instant Gratification: better to have a stack of nice bills for that trinket now and who cares about the future anyway. Some of the crooks are so good that even honest amberos with a lot of experience have been fooled.
Also, a vast gray zone exists for some who are just a little bit dishonest if an opportunity calls for it and the blue-eyed “gringo” or other unaware stranger innocently happens to stumble their way.
Nevertheless, over the years, some of the Dominican amber community have understood that they fare better with us run-of-the-mill buyers if they play fair.
Honesty breeds repeat business, and repeat business bestows moolah. A protection is to know well your sources and buying as directly as posible instead of using a network of dealers.
Atlas Shrugged Off
It’s a different story on ”The Internets”. Here knavery is elevated to an art form and the 1rst Amendment is live ammunition. The underlying business philosophy for many seems to be not so much ‘open source’, but rather an objectivistic rational egoism along the lines of ‘every man for himself’. Ayn Rand would be proud.
Sources such as eBay being flooded with cheap amber shows just how far some people will go to dip into the amber business and sell ‘cooked’ pieces or copal as pure amber, be it from the Baltic, Colombia, Dominican Republic or, for all we know, MiddleEarth.
In this case, the best way to protect yourself from shams is doing research before buying a shady piece on eBay and/or relying on known and trusted suppliers. Online groups of amber experts can also help in identifying real amber, as well as the enclosures therein. And Blue Amber? Let me just take this as an opportunity to plug ambarazul.com, the world’s leading Blue Amber supplier.
Seriously though, we got some nice pieces.
All right. Enough horn-blowing.