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Crazing Amber


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#1 Jersey

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 06:12 PM

I recently noticed that my Baltic amber that contains two insects (one looks like a small fly or gnat and the other looks like a small moth) has developed crazing.  That crackled surface partly obscures the insects. So, I have been considering fine-sandpapering the outer portion of the amber to remove the crazing and then polishing the outer surface carefully by hand.   I used to do a little lapidary work and I suspect that the soft amber should be easy to polish up.  I'd like to know if this sounds workable or should I leave the amber as it is since I don't know how deep the crazing goes.  Also, if I am able to sandpaper/polish it successfully, is there any way to prevent it from crazing again?  The photos are of the overall (3 cm) specimen and an enlarged portion.

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  • Amber 1.jpg
  • Amber enlarged.jpg


#2 Auspex

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 06:47 PM

Crazing is often a sign of immature (or molded) amber, young enough to not be fully polymerized and still losing volatiles. How confident are you that this is Eocene amber?

 

If it is surficial, it should buff out (don't overheat it!). If it is not mature amber, it will happen again no matter what you do.


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#3 painshill

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 06:59 PM

Even Eocene amber can be prone to crazing. It’s normally the result of oxidation and is promoted by the ultra-violet part of the spectrum in strong sunlight. High temperatures and low relative humidity will hasten the process. This can result in a broad network of fine cracks (crazing) or a dense network fine cracks (crizzling). In both cases that will start on the surface but progressively extend inwards and result in exfoliation and ultimately disintegration.
 

I think it will be difficult to polish it off unless you’ve caught it really early and it will in any case re-occur. You can slow it down by keeping it in the dark in an airtight container and also keeping it away from central heating radiators or warm air vents. Fluctuations of temperature or relative humidity are also undesirable. A constant temperature between 60 - 65 F and a relative humidity between 45% - 55% is where you want to be.

 

As Auspex says, we're assuming that it is amber, not copal or remelted material that has been passed off as amber. That will craze much more readily. Although exposure to any kinds of chemical (or the vapours of volatile chemicals) is undesirable for amber, you could try just a tiny spot of acetone on it, let it dry for about 30 seconds and then see if a piece of paper tissue sticks to it. If it does, then it’s copal. Trying to polish that would be a really bad idea. The friction from polishing will warm it up enough to soften it and make it sticky.

 

The emphasis here unfortunately needs to be on prevention rather than cure and I don’t know of any tried and trusted coating you could apply which will help.


Edited by painshill, 06 April 2013 - 07:00 PM.


#4 Adie_uk

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 03:04 AM

cant really add much as its all be covered, I would say however the crazing can be rubbed out even if its copal or young amber just use a fine wet and dry sand paper and use water with it, go slowly and dip it in clean water as you go so you can keep an eye on the bugs (eye glass helps). I personally would use a 400 grit paper first to take the worst of the crazing out then when the crazing has nearly gone switch to 1000 grit. (others may say to go finer) when the crazing has gone and any marks from the 400 have gone get a soft cloth, a pea size piece of tooth pasted, a little water and polish away, after this just for extra shine do the same but with a little car  wax/polish  and buff on a clean soft cloth.  I have lots of copal that if im not careful I have to re polish the surface, not so much with Baltic. now I keep it out of direct sunlight and it seems to stay nice



#5 Adie_uk

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 03:07 AM

looking at the photo the fly does look like it maybe close to the surface, if you think its too close maybe work the opposite side a little extra so it can be viewed? just keep a close eye on it as you go.



#6 fossilcrazy

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 11:00 AM

I had the very same thing happen to me. The person I bought it from called the piece Dominican Amber. I'm sure it is Copal. Beautifully clear with a couple Termites.

After about three years of storage, I found it crazed on all surfaces except the bottom. I thought about resurfacing it with wet-or-dry sandpapers, but figured it would

do the same all over again. Time to stick it in the ground for a couple million years. 



#7 Adie_uk

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 03:05 PM

often the clearer the amber the younger. darker richer oranges and yellow often indicate age, the above does look like Baltic, strange if it was polished a while ago and turned quickly unless contaminated and stored badly.

termites are common in Columbian copal so could be that. you could try re surfacing it and wipe it clean before storing, maybe contaminated fingers left something on it that it did not like?(perfume or aftershave are just some) if not dig a hole pop it in and come back in another life when its proper amber lol



#8 Jersey

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 05:21 PM

I am grateful for the helpful information and suggestions.  Yes, the little gnat(?) is very close to the surface. So I will follow Adie's advice and will fine sandpaper (400 grit and up) and polish the opposite side of the amber. Regarding the time frame in which the crazing occurred, I've owned the piece around 35 years and I noticed the crazing just recently although I haven't looked at it closely in a while so I can't say when the damage first started.



#9 painshill

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 05:57 PM

often the clearer the amber the younger. darker richer oranges and yellow often indicate age, the above does look like Baltic, strange if it was polished a while ago and turned quickly unless contaminated and stored badly.

termites are common in Columbian copal so could be that. you could try re surfacing it and wipe it clean before storing, maybe contaminated fingers left something on it that it did not like?(perfume or aftershave are just some) if not dig a hole pop it in and come back in another life when its proper amber lol

 

Yes... contamination from handling is another possibility that may have contributed to degradation. Even lipids, salts and acids from your skin can have adverse effects and it's entirely possible for the degradation not to be apparent for some years.



#10 mako-mama

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Posted 07 April 2013 - 08:57 PM

Sounds like lack of humidity problem to me-assuming it's Baltic.  Might be a good idea to wipe it gently with a tiny amount of mineral oil--just a dab on a paper towel to prevent any further crazing.  The mineral oil will hold in the natural moisture.



#11 painshill

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 02:05 AM

Sounds like lack of humidity problem to me-assuming it's Baltic.  Might be a good idea to wipe it gently with a tiny amount of mineral oil--just a dab on a paper towel to prevent any further crazing.  The mineral oil will hold in the natural moisture.

 

I would advise against that. Mineral oil is also reported to contribute to degradation. This isn't likely to be just a "drying out" problem. I have attached a pdf which may be helpful.

 

Attached File  Care of Amber.pdf   264.36KB   54 downloads



#12 Jersey

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 08:59 AM

Thank you Painshill.



#13 Zapins

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 09:35 AM

What about applying some sort of varnish or clear plastic coating to it? Wouldn't that prevent the oxidation and humidity issues? I coat my bronze sculptures with an epoxy which prevents them from changing colors. Not sure if the material itself would react with the amber though...?



#14 Jersey

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 02:29 PM

What about applying some sort of varnish or clear plastic coating to it? Wouldn't that prevent the oxidation and humidity issues? I coat my bronze sculptures with an epoxy which prevents them from changing colors. Not sure if the material itself would react with the amber though...?

Actually, I wouldn't want to coat the specimen.  Thanks for the suggestion though.





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