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 ingrid Langerak on October 7, 2013 at 13:08

Dear Sarah, also I know about this development of mysterious amber.  And like you said the Chinees and Tibettans are after the real pieces. Unfortunately I was for many years owner of some beautiful strings like long strings of eggs shaped Ethiopia amber worn by the nobilities of the town Harrar, and the large chuncky ones from the province.  All  sold this last year because of circumstances. I know that in West Africa amber was sold in weight. In Ethiopia is was sold as a whole necklace. And did I see some beauties.  Now in the antique centrum where I have my little togo lots of amber chains are put on sale and like you said, all false, sofar none of them passed the  water test. They do pass the heat test and some even have the sweet parfum smell.  But the ones here are still with the small holes.

There were two very large chuncky chains with the large holes and lovely repaired with metal bands to prevent a crack furthering. Which I have observed they are also repaired in the Maroccon region.But very heavy in weight. It could have been copal from China or Tibet.

Now the once reconstituted they feel very sticky to the touch. Ethiopian amber feels more dry and are opague but when a light is shone through you can distinguise a swirly pattern in it. So also often in the copal. 

Here sofar my contribution and looking forward to more contributions on the subject. (I am still hurting for not having one chain left, now I have just the yellow and antique red copal, also nice but different referency , in my case. Gr. Ingrid.

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