Amber Mining in Poland Today
by Andzia Chmil
Mostly everyone who visits Poland brings back a piece of amber jewelry to keep or give as a gift. Years ago it was common to hear someone newly returned from Poland to say “I got this piece of amber for three dollars.” Of course, people returning today from their trip to Poland now say I got this in Poland and, “Wow — it wasn’t cheap!” “Bardzo drogi!”
Today Baltic amber is in great demand and short supply. The great mines in Sambia, the lone outpost of the Russian Federation in the Kaliningrad Oblast situated on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, were flooded in 2004. These mines are said to contain upwards of 85% of the world’s supply of Baltic amber. The Russian
government has, for the most part, allowed it to stay submerged. Production is rumored to be down to 90 per cent or less of what it was previously. For those of us who have studied relations between Russian and Poland, this comes as no surprise.
Even “suitcase” amber — long a staple of the Polish amber industry has shrunk to such a degree that it is no longer deemed significant. This illegal source typically comes into Poland either directly from the Ukraine or from Russia via Lithuania.
The same is true of other legal sources such as amber gathering from Polish beaches and fishing for amber in the sea. Each of these activities is steeped in history, mythology, poetry and art and have been highly romanticized in the Pomeranian region. Both methods are back breaking, labor intensive and generally take place during winter storms when the waves and the wind churns up amber chunks and pieces that can be captured in nets or thrown onto the beach and quickly retrieved — often a lot of work for a small return.
There are today credible and workable deposits in the Ukraine and in Poland. Stricter environmental regulations in Poland, typical bureaucratic reams of red tape, and the agonizingly long process of granting licenses to producers to rinse amber deposits from under the Vistula River Delta all slow the mining process down. Presently less than 10% of the Polish manufacturing needs are met domestically.
Pawel Adamowicz, the Mayor of Gdansk, signed a decree in July of 2007 allowing licenses for amber rinsing on a dozen or so small plots owned by the city of Gdansk. Bear in mind that most, if not all, of these plots were prospected extensively and legally as far back as 1972, and unlawfully for many years before and after. To put it mildly, results have been less than stellar up to this point.
On the positive side, resuming amber mining in Gdansk, the undisputed amber capitol of the world provides a strong symbol of the Polish domination in the amber jewelry market. The City of Gdansk and the International Amber Association are constantly striving to improve and increase the mining situation and the marketing of Baltic amber. There are active plans to have a working amber mine become a tourist destination which will undoubtedly be a huge draw.
As the supply of raw amber continues to shrink, Polish amber producers have become quite sophisticated with their designs and their marketing strategies. Today’s styles incorporate much more sterling silver than amber and rely on design, craftsmanship and quality amber as major selling points. The days of huge chunks of amber with little or no style and big, bulky amber bead necklaces are relegated to the past. Simply put — it’s not your Babcia’s amber anymore!
The Polish amber industry is experiencing a renaissance in craftsmanship and integrity that is closely watched and monitored by the International Amber Association in Poland, among other interested groups such as the Gdansk Chamber of Commerce and the office of the Mayor of Gdansk. The International Amber Association in Poland (IAA,) is a group of scientists, producers, experts, publishers, educators, artists and others who not only promote Baltic amber but also keep a close eye on the authenticity and integrity of the amber product offerings. In addition, they are diligently working with amber producers and government officials to open up amber mining in the Gdansk area.
Andzia and Holly Chmil are owners of Andzia’s Amber Jewelry, known on the web as www.amberjewelry.com.
Andzia began working with amber in 1995 and her daughter Holly came on board in 2004 as a web developer. The company has been recommended by the prestigious International Amber Society in Poland every year since 2003.
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