How old it is, nobody knows. However, it can be assumed that over 45 million! In the Vistula lands, it was manufactured thousands of years ago, and today there are also many enthusiasts of it. Amber. Gold of Pomorskie, the great Baltic treasure, the pride of Gdansk.
“Amber speaks to us”, says Zbigniew Strzelczyk, a Gdansk amber artist. His amber gallery and workshop at Long Embankment glistens with brown and gold colours. “Oh, here you can see a lump of amber with a negative imprint of a tree. Here, in turn, we have traces of an animal paw,” says the artist and craftsman. And Zbigniew Strzelczyk has enormous knowledge, because he has been dealing with amber for 45 years.
Pomorskie.travel: Where did amber come from in Pomorskie?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: The truth is that Baltic amber, because today we call it that, had no connection with the Baltic. Baltic amber is at least 45 million years old, while the Baltic Sea is only about 18 thousand! Baltic amber deposits occur from the Baltic Sea region, especially the southern and south-eastern one, through the West Pomorskie Voivodship, Kurpie region, the Lublin Region, to Rivne in Ukraine.
This line is a glacial trough, because it was this glacier that brought and deposited amber here. When? We do not know. How many years ago? We can only guess based on the age of the geological deposit in which amber occurs here. And geologists estimate this deposit from 45 to 75 million years old. Therefore, for the safety of amber dating, we say that Baltic amber is not younger than 45 million years.
Pomorskie.travel: Can we define how rich amber deposits we have in Pomorskie?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: It is difficult to say because there was no comprehensive study of amber deposits in this area …
Pomorskie.travel: But a tourist walking along the seashore can find a piece of amber on the beach?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: Of course it can happen. Especially at the end of storms or after a storm. However, for this to happen, the wind direction is very important. It must be northeast. Sea waves blow seaweed, among which amber is carried. This is because the specific weight of amber is slightly higher than the specific weight of sea water. If we add vegetation and waving strength, the effect is that amber is thrown onto the beach.
Zbigniew Strzelczyk przy pracy, fot. Amberstyl.pl
Pomorskie.travel: Do you use only Baltic amber in your studio?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: Yes. I only use Baltic amber. This is resin, and we evaluate it by hardness and by the amount of succinic acid, if not the oldest, is one of the oldest on Earth. First of all, it has beautiful, rich discoloration, which other resins do not have.
Pomorskie.travel: On the table in your studio I see different colours of amber – beer or milky. Are these natural colours or tooling effects?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: I am not improving amber colours. In the necklace or bracelet, I only choose pairs of pieces with different colours. Transparent amber differs from the opaque one in which there are more air bubbles. The more air, the whiter the amber is. It’s easy to check. White amber floats in plain water, transparent sinks. Some say that white amber is royal amber, older. But that’s not true! Here is an example – a lump of amber cut in half. Here you can see elements of transparent and opaque amber. They come in one piece, so their quality is the same. They are also the same age.
Pomorskie.travel: What are our methods of amber approach?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: A specific lump can tell us what to make of it. It suggests to us with its shape or colour. But amber only speaks to those who want to listen to it, who are humble. This material can be grateful, but not for everyone. The second method assumes that we have a project and are looking for a specific lump of amber for it. It cannot be too big, because then we will have too much grinding losses. The lump must have many shades as we had assumed. I will say it again: you have to be very humble about amber. It can repay with beautiful colours, a very nice composition, absolutely random, which the customer will later accept. But the lack of humility is the loss of these colourful values, and worse, the loss of inclusions! Because there are inclusions in amber. A piece worth PLN 50 after finding the inclusion in it will be worth PLN 1,000. So humility has its financial dimension.
Pomorskie.travel: What does the classic process of grinding amber look like?
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: Let’s imagine, I have a lump of amber that a tourist brought to the gallery. He found it on the beach. First of all, we need to check if it is real amber, not flint or quartz. When we know that it is amber, the client asks what I can create from such a lump. It often happens that I take a tourist to the back of the gallery, to my studio, sit next to the grinders and, according to my and the client’s suggestions, do something that will later please the eye.
Amber processing is cutting it with a saw. Nevertheless, I use it very rarely. I try to choose one piece from which I create something specific. I sand with sandpaper in two or three stages. Then it’s about pre-shaping, smoothing, pre-polishing and final polishing, or making a hole so that you can hang this piece of amber on a thong, for example.
Pomorskie bursztyny uchodzą za jedne z najpiękniejszych na świecie, fot. Rafał Baranowski/Pomorskie.Travel
Pomorskie.travel: Amber is said to be gold of Pomorskie, our greatest treasure…
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: Until recently, amber was called “the gold of the Baltic” and then “the gold of the North”. This is a very important element in life, culture and development of this region, which occurred as a result of contacts with buyers who came from southern Europe. Today we are talking about Pliny the Younger and his notes about expeditions from today’s Italy. People came to the Baltic Sea in caravans. Such distant travels were decided because amber was found only here. It was not mined but found on the beach.
Its properties were known much earlier. Let me remind you that the ancient Greek name of amber is an electron (from electrostatic properties that are very important for a person wearing amber). Thanks to the content of succinic acid and the contact of amber with strong alcohol, we obtain a tincture (not suitable for drinking) for medicinal purposes, for inhalation, for applying compresses on the joints and for the treatment of other ailments. These properties of amber were the basis of interest in it. Due to the fact that people coming to Pomorskie came from a culture much higher than was represented by local people here, there was a rapid intellectual development, and thus the development of tools and utensils. Homer already recalls amber in Odyssey three times, right after gold in front of silver and ivory. Already then, amber was a valuable material.
Pomorskie.travel: Today, amber is still very popular, although in the 21st century its form is slightly different …
Zbigniew Strzelczyk: Amber is a very important element of community development, but it is also a beautiful, very old material used in jewellery. The properties and desire to wear amber and the desire to enjoy beautiful objects made of amber have resulted in demand for these products. We have been interested in amber for many generations, but its renaissance took place after the economic changes in 1989, when the amber craftsmen was freed and We had opportunity to open private companies. We have the Amberif trade fair in Gdansk, the largest amber trade fair in the world, where several thousand buyers from all over the world come every year, exhibiting several hundred producers. Interestingly, manufacturers compete with each other not only in price, but also in modern designs. The saying that amber is the “grandma” style material is not valid any more. Today, amber is a colourful jewellery with modern design, which is very often bought by young people.