It's a fashion trend 30 to 90 million years in the making. The Budget Babe's International Shopping Advisor Fifi LaMode reports on how and where to shop for amber. —TBB
by Fifi LaMode
Amber, Baltic Gold, has been around a long time. Amber jewelry has been found in King Tut's tomb. The Amber Trade Route has existed since ancient times and runs from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. This fossilized resin is indigenous to the Baltic Sea and comes in a variety of colors, primarily shades of brown, yellow, green, and the rarer "blue" amber (it's actually more white with bluish veins). Some pieces are almost transparent, others look like pebbles.
Amber jewelry has come a long way from the clunky coarsely-cut strands of the 50's and 60's which grannies used to smuggle in from the old country. If you wear amber next to your skin, the iodine from the sea purportedly has healing properties. We don't actually know if it's good for you, but it feels good wearing it! A quality piece of amber jewelry won't cost you an arm and a leg and will last a lifetime.
Beautiful amber can be found in Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Every country bordering the Baltic sells it and each place will tell you its amber is the best. Here are our favorites:
Design: Poland. There's just nothing to compare with the quality and artistic imagination of Polish amber jewelry. Styles range from art nouveau to very modern and eclectic, with the best selections in the Old Towns of Gdansk and Warsaw. The Cloth Halls in Krakow are cheaper, but the pieces are more generic, i.e. great for gifts, but if you're buying a single item for yourself, go to a jewelry shop. Latest trend: Yellow amber mixed with turquoise. Just passing through? Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport has great jewelry shops—they all sell amber.
Best Amber learning experience: Vilnius, Lithuania has an Amber Museum in the Old Town. In addition to learning how amber is made, the uninformed shopper can get a quick course in what to look for when buying amber jewelry. There is also a gift shop with a small selection of high quality items at very good prices. The museum has some pieces on display with insects in the resin—these are very, very old (remember? Jurassic Park??) and increasingly rare. If you see these in market stalls, they are fake. (Reputable jewelry shops carry certificates stating that the amber they sell is genuine.)
Best value for money: Vilnius, Lithuania. If you want strands of good quality stuff and more basic designs, this is the place. If money is no object (cough, cough—gosh, that's hard to say), there's amber jewelry with gold instead of silver. We've found silver to be more versatile, however.