Naturally polished by the ocean’s waves over millennia and cast onto the beaches of Scandinavia, the golden treasures are then transformed into ravishing contemporary jewellery at the House of Amber.
By Theresa Valbæk
Amber bedecked with gold and precious gems, shaped into stunning pearls or exquisitely small figurines, or showcasing prehistoric insects encapsulated for eternity at its golden-hued centre. At the House of Amber in Copenhagen you will find some of Europe’s most luxurious and exclusive amber jewellery in a charming downtown location.
House of Amber treats the amber gently and with infinite care from the time the precious material is gathered up on the beach until it is displayed as in the showroom as jewellery. Working with some of the best amber artists in the world since 1933, House of Amber has the expertise to carefully select only the best and highest-quality amber. House of Amber employs the talents of both Danish and international designers who ensure that the jewellery that leaves the workshop meet the highest standards of quality and design.
An impressive piece of amber
House of Amber was founded 75 years ago by Einer Fehrn, who was prompted by a genuine interest in amber to open a shop devoted to the golden material. The enterprise soon expanded, and since that time Einer Fehrn’s son Søren entered the business, introducing the House of Amber Museum and the first Copenhagen retail establishments. In 2007, the business was acquired by Dansk Generationsskifte, and today the House of Amber boasts five shops in Copenhagen and two in Germany, with future plans for expansion throughout Europe.
The Copenhagen Amber Museum is located on the floor above the amber shop in picturesque downtown Nyhavn. It opened in 1994 and over the years it has grown to encompass one of the world’s most comprehensive amber collections. The amber on display includes an array of encapsulated insects and plants from the prehistoric era, and in showcases equipped with magnifying glasses the visitor can closely examine pieces of amber 20 million years old featuring ancient butterflies, stick insects, spiders, mosquitoes and tiny flowers in all their historical glory.
The Museum is also home to the world’s largest piece of Baltic amber, visually impressive in its bulk of 8.8 kg/ 19.5 lbs. To put its massive size into perspective, keep in mind that the average piece of amber weighs in at a mere 10 grams/ 0.32 oz. The gigantic piece of amber on display at the Copenhagen Amber Museum was found in 1969 off the coast of Sweden.
Amber wards off evil spirits
The history of the amber on display at House of Amber began between 20 and 50 million years ago. Resin from enormous prehistoric pine trees was swept into the ocean and the fluid material gradually became what we know today as amber. The water masses pressed and hardened the amber until the time it washed up on beaches millions of years later, to be gathered up and made into jewellery and other objets d’art.
No one knows when amber was first collected and processed, but archaeological finds show that by 800 BC it was prized by peoples throughout Europe. The oldest of these finds, an amber disc depicting the head of a wild horse, dates back as far as 10,000 BC.
The ancient Greeks discovered amber’s ability to produce static electricity and believed that it could protect them against illness and evil spirits. Later amber would become a key export item and method of payment – thus its fabled reputation as the gold of the north.
What is amber?
Amber consists of a mix of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Its colour is determined by its sulphur content, hardness and place of origin. The number of tiny air bubbles can also affect the shade, as can dirt or other impurities.
Genuine amber emits a distinctive fragrance during polishing and processing which is somewhat akin to the scent of the Greek wine Retsina. Amber’s buoyancy in salt water is another way of establishing its purity. Amber also feels soft and warm to the touch when held in the hand, a quality that cannot be duplicated by the numerous examples of imitation amber on the market.
Amber can last forever if treated with care, and it must not come into contact with soap, lotion or perfume, all of which can cause discolouration. Amber is also very soft, and must be protected from destructive jolts, blows, light, air and sunlight, so it is always a good idea to store amber jewellery in a dark place when not in use. Translucent amber inevitably becomes lighter with time and opaque amber takes on a darker hue. These changes cannot be prevented, but amber can be polished with linseed oil and a chamois cloth if it should take on a matt appearance.
Scandinavian and Baltic amber are in a class all their own when it comes to quality, but amber is also found in Russia, Sicily, the Dominican Republic and Myanmar (Burma).