It’s difficult for me to believe but Amber, the prehistoric tree resin that is used for jewellery and art objects in the Baltic region, now costs more than gold. The reason is China is buying as much rough amber as possible, driving up the price to unheard of levels, and using it to make inexpensive jewellery to sell inside its borders.
This escalation in its price has had a detrimental impact on low-end market for amber. This means, in order to diversify its jewellery exports, the Polish jewellery industry has turned to the creativity and originality of its top jewellery designers to distinguish itself in the international marketplace. Poland also is looking to other materials, such as silver, as it is already the world’s second largest producer of silver jewellery. Many of these designers primarily work with silver, gold and other metals.
At the recently concluded Gold Silver and Time tradeshow in Warsaw, which I attended, several designers were featured in a special exhibit that coincided with the 25 year anniversary of Poland’s Solidarity movement. Tradeshow officials also dedicated about 60 exhibit spaces to these designers at a discounted price. That’s a significant number considering the tradeshow hosted a little more than 300 exhibitors.
“The young people are creating jewellery that is interesting and different … very creative,” says Rafał Galimski, president of the MCT International Fair Centre, co-organizer of the trade fair. “We try to help them with the 60 stands.”
One of the selling points of Polish jewellery design (in addition to originality, design and craftsmanship) is value. The Polish currency, the Zolty, is worth about 25 percent of what the euro is worth. Poland’s largest jewellery markets for designer jewellery are Germany, China, Italy and the US.
Many of the designs combine a modern aesthetic with a unique artistic perspective from being isolated from the rest of the world during the Soviet occupation. In fact, the approach of many of the designers is artistic rather than market driven.
Colorful cuffs by Marcin Zaremski
“Poland is a post-Soviet country,” said Warsaw-based Marcin Zaremski, the veteran of seven jewellery designers who presented their works to reporters. “We didn’t have the formal education, so we had a lot of artists that created jewellery. I think we developed in that direction very well.”
Amber and silver "Dragon" ring by Jacek Ostrowski
A younger designer who is getting international attention is Jacek Ostrowski from the northern Polish city of Gdansk. He works with silver, colored acrylic, crystal Swarovski Elements, and of course, Baltic amber.
Pendant necklace made with layers of amber and driftwood by Marta Wlodarska of Amberwood
Meanwhile, Marta Wlodarska of Amberwood is a purist. As amber is fossilized tree resin, she chooses to create jewellery by pairing the material, sometimes in its natural state, with driftwood from the same beaches of the Baltic Sea where amber is found. However, she doesn’t shy away from using more exotic woods, such as African ebony, brick-red Padouk, and violet Amaranth.
There is plenty of creative talent in Poland. The industry needs to work harder to let the world know.