Amber – The Baltic’s gift with history and colour

Amber Amber

For years amber, also known as succinite, the stone that dates back at least to 12,000BC, was seen in street stalls and souvenir shops and not considered sophisticated enough for the savvy jewelry collector. However, as with other stones, there are the good, the bad and the ugly and lest we forget, the fakes.

This fossil resin from pine trees has a very complex formulation. Isomeric, polymerization and oxidization all play a part in the process where bacteria are also involved. But even with this complicated composite, professionals often are fooled with faux amber

Recently on a trip to Poland where some of the finest craftsmen work with amber, it was an insight to learn that this ‘gem’ found in the Baltic Sea area, comes in a variety of colours from green, to ivory white, from black to blue, and of course in the various shades of yellow. That palette too, has major differences that run the course from costly cognac colours with inclusions of fossils to the purest transparent stones and textures and from rough and unpolished to smooth as silk.

Polishing and working of this resin is one of the oldest crafts practiced in the coastal areas of Poland. Gdansk, a ship building city, had the most highly acclaimed amber artisans in the world.

There was a period when amber became of great interest to the nobility and ruling classes. Then, like a pendulum, it swung in the other direction and lost its glitter. And locals never really appreciated their mother lode of these stones. Perhaps familiarity does breed contempt! But savvy tourists today, especially the French and Germans, are snapping up these versatile stones. No matter where you travel in Poland, amber has a presence.

Amber Amber

Polish designers have taken amber and created hip and youthful designs with great ingenuity, giving new respect to a stone that hasn’t been, for some time, seen around necks, wrists, earlobes or fingers of trend setters. That’s about to change with European fashion designers taking a second look at the modern direction and the integrity of amber and its jewelry designers.

Never had I considered purchasing any amber but my attitude entirely changed and became an occupational hazard when I met my first interviewee, Marcin Zaremski. An entrepreneur who learned his trade at his father’s jewelry bench, as did his two brothers, Zaremski’s small but stunningly contemporary shop, Metal jewelry Boutique, is situated on one of Poland’s most beautiful squares- Warsaw’s Old Town Square, now an UNESCO listed heritage site. And Zaremski’s shop is located in a perfectly replicated building in a city where almost 90% was destroyed during World War II.

This jewelry designer has turned the tables on amber snobs. Metal jewelry Boutique’s vitrines feature his truly stunning designs, some oblong rough and polished with wide brushed silver links and another grouping includes mosaics of multi coloured amber brooches, earrings and cuff links, all set in silver, either matte or polished.

“After the war, the only metal we could afford was silver so you won’t see much amber set in gold,” says Zaremski. “Besides, I think the silver colour is a much better companion.”

The entrepreneur‘s boutique, is connected to his popular restaurant and fashionable outdoor café, both called Metal. When Zaremski is in Warsaw, since he lives and works in a small town about an hour away, it’s usual to see the jauntily hatted, bespectacled, man sitting under a bronze coloured umbrella, sipping espresso or showing his designs to interested tourists as well as inquiring locals.

Another stylish amber boutique is Studio Marki. Owned by the savvy former journalist and TV personality, Bozena Marki, her gallery is on two floors in an historic building over the café where composer Frederic Chopin was a regular. Several times a year, she invites, in her opinion, the best Polish jewelry designer to exhibit on the upper floor. Timing is everything and when I arranged to meet this versatile woman she was busily arranging displays for the evening’s opening. One designer, Danuta Czapnik featured a piece with two large oval shaped, clear yellow with a splash of milky white inclusions set on a thick curved silver cable neck piece, the stones at each end. A matching bracelet made up the set.

Sylwia Gobszewica displayed irregular large amber beads combined with oxidized silver cubes and contrasted with turquoise beads.

Using unusual black rough textured amber, Zbigniew Kabski also combined various tones of unpolished yellow amber which he attached to strands of black leather.

Amber Amber

The Nowinska family, mother, father and daughter, each have a different ‘take’ on their designs which are seen in the top 5 star hotels, Le Regina, Palonia Place, Bristol, and Intercontinental. All designs are completely hand-made and range from the conservative Mrs. Nowinska whose choice of beads and colour combinations add zest to the often boring strands of amber. Sculptor Mr. Nowinska adds dashes of shiny stylized silver to his favourite shape, very large cognac coloured hearts. But it’s daughter, Katarzyna (Kate) Nowinska, in her early twenties, who really sets the pace with her choice of stones and designs. Chic, trendy, all the rage, cool, are perfect adjectives for her collection. Her preference is easily identified throughout the various shops with her emphasis on the translucent faceted amber. The showcases, of course, show the trio’s work but it’s the blue eyed beauty who captures attention with her very imposing pieces. While there, I spotted a one-of -a-kind knock-out. It wasn’t her preferred see-through stone but instead she used three huge irregularly natural shaped discs, hanging pendant style, one from the other, from a silver neck ‘rope’. Impact and certainly a huge statement maker, this vogue-ish amber piece is the ‘piece de resistance’ in the collection.

Danuta and Mariusz Gliwinscy, an artistic jewelry team, (their company Ambermoda), have been creating their own style since the seventies. The Polish Amber Association, who grants certificates only to firms with a perfect reputation, has sited the Gliwinscys. They often lend their jewelry to Polish high fashion designs’ shows. Manually, they form the silver surfaces for the fine amber and emphasize the natural beauty of the stones. Their works has been exhibited in galleries around the world including Singapore, Bergen, Brussels, Budapest and St. Petersburg, as well as taking part in the International Amberif Fair.


About a 3 hour train ride from Warsaw, is the former capital of Poland, Krakow, the city of Copernicus and Wieliczka Salt Mine. The flower stalls, churches and café, filled the car-free Market Square, (Rynek Glowny). Also rebuilt to its original state, it’s the largest in Europe and certainly compares in beauty with Warsaw’s square. Here the centrally located Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) dating from 1257 is the focus of the city. It’s where everything seems to radiate. On satellite streets like Florianska, Santa Anna and Mikolajska, there are several amber specialty shops with very high quality amber which rate consideration.

Galeria Ra has two locations within this small area featuring stylish items, as does Boruni of the Mikolajczyki Amber Group and Galeria OFIR.

The constantly rising prices are an indication of the new popularity of amber. However, a good rule of thumb is not to buy from stalls but only reliable jewelry stores. There’s an old amber adage “if it floats, it’s the real thing”. If it sinks, don’t dive for it.