Fossilized, lustrous amber stirs the imagination and lures collectors
It is early morning after the violent storm. A lone man sees something golden glowing in the sand. He cautiously picks it up and it is warm to the touch. He feels the first rays of morning sun warming his face and looks toward the sky.
He then realizes that in the palm of his hand he holds a piece of the sun that fell to earth during the storm. He marvels at his find and clasps it firmly.
This is special. This will give him great power. While we now know that amber is not a piece of solidified sunlight but the fossilized sap of extinct pine trees, the magic and lure of amber are as strong today as they were thousands of years ago.
It is thanks to amber that traces of primeval life have been preserved until today, entrapped in the resin. Amber has become a scientific source material, truly a golden window on the past giving us a glimpse into a world that is millions of years old.
Amber’s original purposes to protect and decorate extend even into present times where amber is avidly collected not only for scientific interest but also for its incredible beauty as a gem and for its reputed curative powers.
Amber has been designated into over 250 color classifications including white amber which the ancient Romans once burned as incense, egg yolk, butterscotch, cherry, as well as the rarer, green and black amber, red amber from the volcanic soil of Sicily – and even a blue amber from the Dominican Republic. Amber can be opaque, transparent, or a combination of both. It is found in many places around the world but the most highly prized and most coveted by connoisseurs is Baltic amber.
The history of amber is intriguing. In 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, an attempt was made to hide all the national treasures. But the greatest treasure of all, the Amber Room that was an intrinsic part of the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, was at the time 12 times more valuable than gold.
To create the room, tons of amber were fished from the Baltic Sea, gently heated and shaped before being slotted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle to cover the walls. Not only did the amber pieces have to be meticulously cut and fitted together and selected for aesthetic relationships to each other, but also the amber had to be compatible with mirror pilasters, gilded wooden cornices, sculptures and bas-reliefs covered in gold leaf, gilded bronze candlesticks and chandeliers.
It is thought that when German troops invaded and discovered the treasured space, the Amber Room was dismantled in thirty-six hours, and shipped to an undisclosed location. As the Nazi war machine crumbled, the panels were crated up and moved out of danger, but their eventual fate is unknown.
In 1982, the order was given to begin the reconstruction of the Amber Room, a process that took more than 20 years. It is estimated that the new Amber Room has a value of up to $500 million.
Opened in 2003, the restored Amber Room is a unique testament to the painstaking care of the craftsmen who created it. One can only wonder how it compares to the master craftsmanship of the original.
After World War II, the amber industry changed considerably. The primary amber factory became the property of the Soviet Union, but developments in design did not keep up with foreign demand and, sadly, the current Russian market showed little regard for amber products which perhaps accounts for the general decline in amber craftsmanship.
This decline caused the price of antique amber jewelry and objects to rise. Historical amber, particularly items from before the 19th century, are genuine rarities and, when available, bring astronomical prices.
But as with most valuable items, let the buyer beware. To be considered true amber, a resin must be fossilized. Newer resins may be natural but if they are not fossilized they are not amber. If you want to purchase amber with a sense of security, shop only from reputable dealers.
Amber has been designated into over 250 color classifications including white amber which the ancient Romans once burned as incense, egg yolk, butterscotch, cherry, as well as the rarer, green and black amber. The Dominican Republic even produces blue amber.