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Ask The Expert: Buying Amber


What should you look for when selecting amber jewellery? Sally McIlhone turns to seasoned professionals to learn the golden rules and enlists the help of Pia Føns, director and purchasing manager of Copenhagen’s House of Amber

Sally McIlhone,

1. Know your amber
House of Amber is one of the most visited shops in Copenhagen. This, Føns explains, is a direct result of the company’s expertise in selecting the finest amber to use in its jewellery. ‘Only 10% of the world’s amber meets House of Amber’s exacting standards,’ she says. If you want to ensure the quality of your amber purchase, this is the store to visit.

Most jewellery aficionados know where amber comes from, but for the uninitiated, Føns clarifies: ‘Amber is the fossilised resin of trees from pine forests which existed more than 30 million years ago. Over time, the resin hardened, but it didn’t turn into amber until more than one million years later.’

2. Intricate inclusions
The key features that affect amber’s worth are ‘inclusions’ trapped within the resin. ‘Irregularities such as insects, wood and air bubbles make the pieces even more rare and valuable,’ explains Føns. A small percentage of the amber fragments that have survived the ravages of time have tiny prehistoric insects and plants preserved within them. These inclusions are far from common. Føns says that ‘only one piece out of 1,000 includes insects’; such pieces are the choice of a true connoisseur.

3. Colour coded
Amber is available in an exceptional spectrum of shades, from the most common cognac-coloured nuggets to pieces in milky white, orange and reddish hues, and even bold greens and blues. The shade of a piece of amber doesn’t denote a specific price tag, but tells a story about its past. ‘The colour depends on where it was found and what kind of environment or earth it was found in,’ Føns explains.

That said, the most sought-after tone of amber is known as ‘antique’ – the honey-coloured shade that looks like a piece of solid butterscotch. ‘Antique amber has more tiny air bubbles inside, which create an opaque quality,’ says Føns. As she explains, this shade is particularly popular with Chinese clients. ‘Amber is one of the seven treasures of Buddhism and [antique] is the Buddhist-preferred colour. Therefore this shade is more difficult to find and the prices on it go up.’

4. Healing and luck
According to Henrik Busch, House of Amber’s chairman, it’s not only Buddhists who revere this ancient material. ‘For centuries, giving amber meant good fortune. This is one of the reasons amber is very popular in China. It is believed to protect you and cure you from diseases.’ Føns agrees. ‘Amber is thought to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Today, people still wear amber necklaces to alleviate arthritis discomfort.’

5. Avoid imitations
There are two clear indications that ensure you are investing in the real deal; weight and temperature. ‘Amber is warm and light like resin and not cold like a stone,’ says Føns.

6. Raw power
The most exceptional products on sale at House of Amber are the amber pendants set in 18-carat gold studded with diamonds. However, it may surprise jewellery fans to hear that House of Amber’s most expensive piece isn’t for sale.

Across town from the House of Amber flagship is a museum, also run by the brand, which showcases some of the most spectacular amber pieces from around the world, including figurines and a delicately carved amber shrine. The museum’s most prized possession is a piece of raw amber weighing over four kilogrammes, found by a Danish fisherman in 2010. This colossal chunk, the largest piece of amber found in Denmark in over 240 years, is valued at over 500,000DKK. ‘True natural amber which is not pressed or formed is most valuable since the raw material is more difficult to find in big pieces,’ explains Føns. ‘A round amber pearl loses up to 80% of its raw material when we cut and polish it.’

When you set eyes on the fiery splendour of an intricate piece of polished amber jewellery, its beauty tells a story that will never date. There is no more chic backdrop than the House of Amber emporium on Nygade to put your newly discovered amber expertise to good use.

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