Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

Fossil Amber a developing story ................

The story of Fossil Amber reaches back though time to prehistory.

The latest chapter in this story is a most interesting development.

I would like to open up a dicussion for us all to add our awarenesses at this pivotal time in regard to Amber bead trade in North Africa.

My Observations are thus:

For the 12 years I have been trading in North African beads I have at any given time been able to request and see Antique genuine amber beads on offer by the Kilo.

During the last 3 years as a seller I have been inundated with requests from buyers in China to source 10 kilos of Amber for them at a time.

I have not ( for varoius reasons) chosen to supply these clients.

Last year the sources of Amber beads in Morocco were running dry. .......other than an occasional lucky find from a trusted source the  chances of finding good fossil amber were slim. ( not Impossible!)  but the prices realised for these good finds has raised from 30 - 60 dh per gram to 180 - 480 dh per gran depending on size.

The talk of amber being so expensive and the clamour to buy before it was all gone lasted at a frenzied peak until now.

( Congratualtions to those of you who have some.!!)

So now the market prices are the higest ever seen, and an interesting thing happens in the Marrakech amber trades.

Last month I was in Morocco with a group of Ladies, we were searching for Amber and asking around for connections.

I wasnt too hopeful that we would be in luck. we were shown a large strand in the south, it was 85% fine and 15% faked.. the price was an astounding $65000. the seller explained that they no longer were prepared to sell by weight!  The situation had in my view gone completely crazy!!

I encouraged my guest not to consider paying such a crazy amount, and suggested that buying outside Morocco may be a better option.

We did find a great genuine strand  later in the trip!  I shall try to get permission to add some images of the beads soon!

But the part of the tale which I feel is the most important to record is this.

In Marrakech I was offered, once during the trip in the company of guests and once after the trip , Kilos of Amber beads.

These look the part, and are strung on loops of blue nylon string. ( Not the ususal bead dealer stranding material)

When hanging in a bunch on a wall they make an impressive display....especially when the whole world is thirsty for this amber nectar!!!

As ever I carefully studied the beads..

when I look at a piece of jewellery or a bead I look for the thinks which are wrong... I fi I don't find any then I am delighted!

these are my observations..

  1. the beads are golden , slightly opaque butterscotch amber in type.
  2. the beads feel dry, and dessicated to some extent as if all of the oils have been leached from them
  3. the surface texture is too uniform, too smooth, no signifigant patina
  4. the beads are of regular sizes
  5. the perforations are huge around 1 cm , and perfectly circular..... with no wear at all
  6. the only test available to me was heat. I was eventually able to convince a trader ( who truly believed that the beads were geniune, and had bought them as such ) to allow me to needle test.  the aroma we would hope for is there, but my only way to describe it is weaker than usual.
  7. I asked to purchase one bead as an example, i was told it was available by the strand and very pricey.
  8. I asked to take pics, and again this wasnt a popular request!

I continued to ask about the beads, and they were purchased from a West African bead dealer.

There have been a few batches coming in to an Amber drought, and getting snapped up at around 180dh per gram, by dealers who are constantly looking for stock to supply the worldwide frenzy of demand.

My thoughts on the situation after careful consideration are thus.

I believe that these are recent production .

I believe that there has been a development which allows genuine amber to be somehow powdered or chipped and mixed with a natural resin , then remoulded around a 1 cm mandrel .

I believe that at the point where the market price has peaked and the resources of the real thing are sparce that a fabricated product which is almost good enough to decieve those who are not of the very observational and aware mind that our trade requires has emerged.

This is the first wave of this product, as with the chevrons from China in the last decade I am sure that the product will evolve to appear closer and closer to the real deal!

Amber was always a difficult and specialist area for identification.. Now I believe that we must all be extra cautious..

I shall continue to attempt to buy samples of the bead, I hope to have some waiting for me in a couple of weeks when I return to Morocco. I would at this point welcome the assistance of all of the Amber experts amongst the bead and jewllery world to analyse the product and together to understand this step in bead and Amber production.

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Comment by SARAH CORBETT on April 8, 2014 at 20:57

the pics here are the real Amber

i do not have a pic of the others

Comment by mus omer on April 8, 2014 at 19:37

any hint for the price ?

Comment by Ethnic Embellishments on April 8, 2014 at 19:35

From the photo, these look like genuine amber beads to me.

Comment by ingrid Langerak on April 8, 2014 at 13:46

These are genuine amber beads , same beads worn as in Ethiopia. I am not up-date with the price.

Gr. Ingrid.

Comment by mus omer on April 8, 2014 at 13:38

hi every one 

i have a pic for some amber from west sudan and i need your expert opinion if it genuine and how much it would be 


Comment by Alaa eddine SAGID on November 7, 2013 at 15:53

Another picture of TUBU women from North Chad with pretty similar beads to those Sarah posted (shape and colour)

Comment by Alaa eddine SAGID on November 5, 2013 at 18:04

INtersting subject!

I have always refused to indulge in amber buying since this material is shrouded in dark mystery and even good connoisseurs get decieved....the frenzy described in this article has all confirmed my long ago beginner thoughts!

I witnessed the last abundance of south moroccan yellow big amber beads when i first begun collecting but it is all gone, eventually west african amber was again widely available until it dried out....ect

I remember reading stories from the first times of colonial morocco where the french where reconstructing huge amber round beads, compressing small chunks and powder from smaller loose or broken beads, these were eventually offered as highly prized gifts to tribal leaders to gain their alliance; some sort of archaic diplomatic gifts!! HAHA!

But then i remeber that there is a whole unexplored amber using area in the northern half of africa besides the more famous regions of Morocco, west africa and the african horn: Namely Chad and Sudan, where amber was also highly prized and widely used among nomad population!

Here is a picture i posted i while ago of Zaghawa women from eastern Chad/ Western Sudan with loads of amber beads braided into the hair!

I don't say that the beads Sarah is talking about are from there (i actually doubt it), but it helps us know that there was a great supply of amber used over there which have obviously been abandonned, not present in reference books or published private/public collections and more importantly have not been offered in the market!!!  So where it is ?!

Due to political situation in this area for the last decade, it may only have been made available today under the pression of the high prices which compelled local dealers to export it!!

I know my theory is sooo romantic (like discovering amber's lost world!! HAHA) that is why i don't think it is true, but always helpful to throw in some thoughts.

Comment by ait ouakli on November 5, 2013 at 17:19

i asked in between some contacts and confirmed my thought. it is a  roughly polished balticum amber. this beads art is called french kids amber necklace .

available by my contacts

Comment by SARAH CORBETT on November 4, 2013 at 22:58
Mmm a very good thought too......many more thoughts and investigations needed to find the answers i suspect. Sx
Comment by Ethnic Embellishments on November 4, 2013 at 18:08

In Central America, there is a lot of really cheap copal.  This is true copal as it is much younger than Baltic amber and even that which is currently found in bead form in Morocco and Mali.  It is very, very cheap, yet it has all of the qualities one would expect from real amber.  It is made into jewelry for sale to tourists as well as export.  Unfortunately, it is very soft and chips easily.  Copal is not only found in Central America, but South East Asia (especially Indonesia, if I remember correctly) as well.  Is it possible that someone is collecting copal and selling it as amber?  The dryness could be due to using a chemical agent on the beads to make them look aged.  Copal would give off the smell of amber too.  Just a thought....



Created by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 10, 2017 at 4:03pm. Last updated by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 17, 2017.


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