The word ‘copal’ comes from the copalli, which in Nahuatl means 'incense'. This fragrant stone has fascinated people since its dawn with its resinous smell and unusual appearance. Nowadays, it is often compared with Baltic amber because of its similar appearance, despite its different properties.
Natural resins are divided by age: older fossil resins (e.g. Baltic amber) and younger called subfossil resins (e.g. Colombian copal). Copals are between 10,000 and 1 million years old, and according to some researchers up to 5 million years .
The exact name of the copal usually comes from the place of extraction or from the name of its tree, which they are come from. The most popular copal is resin from Colombia, which is characterized by a yellow-greenish color and high transparency. Its native tree are tropical deciduous trees Leguminosae (similar in appearance to modern acacia).
Resin from Colombia is collected from the ground surface or extracted at small depths. The largest deposits are located in the Andes in the departments of Boyaca and Santander.
Colombian copal is successfully used in jewelry and sculpture. However, due to its softness, it undergoes a thermal process in an autoclave to increase its hardness (and thus enable polishing). Varnishing of the resin surface is also encountered to increase its resistance to mechanical damage and to give it a better gloss .
Baltic amber sometimes is replaced by a copal from Colombia, there is nothing wrong with it until the person concerned is notified about it. The Colombian copal has the unfair opinion of being an imitation of amber, although it is a precious and unique stone in itself. Both resins are of natural origin and, when heated, emit a beautiful resinous smell.
What distinguishes Colombian copal and Baltic Amber?
l Age – the copal is up to 5 million years old, and Baltic amber is around 40 million;
l Native tree – resin from Colombia comes from deciduous trees and Baltic amber from conifers trees;
l Plasticizing and melting temperature – much lower in the case of Colombian copal;
l Hardness – the "Baltic" is much harder, it does not need autoclaving to be used in jewelry;
l Reaction to acetone – the copal is covering with a sticky layer, Baltic amber does not react;
l Succinic acid – 0-3% in copal, 3-8% in Baltic amber.
In our Amber Laboratory, we use infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) to distinguish different resins from each other so that the buyer can be certain of what he is purchasing.
 Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, B., 2012. Amber in Poland and in the world. first edition edited by Warsaw: University of Warsaw Publishing House.
 Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, B., 2001a. Amber and other fossil resins of the world. Artificial copals and resins - imitation or forgery of amber. Polish Jeweler, Issue 1 (12), pp. 24-27.
 Kosmowska-Ceranowicz, B., 2013. Amber and its imitations. Warsaw: Sadyba Publishing House.