|Basket of Treasures
The Lure of Amber
I first encountered amber in the Middle East. We were in Jordan in the early eighties, and I was looking at old Bedouin silver jewelry. The vendor--expats called him Shifty—easily found the houses of expatriates, and rang their doorbells on lazy long afternoons. Hauling a large bag brimming of silver jewelry, copper trays, and Bedouin coffee pots, he trundled into their living rooms, and began unpacking it like an exotic, kaffiua clad Santa Claus.. For us it was free entertainment in our own house. Shifty picked up a coffee pot—“not one mittel hada (like this) in Jordan” he would chortle proudly. Well, that was a lie. There were thousands of those. Bedouin necklaces were plentiful too; some even had real coral, or amazonite stones. But once, he held up a necklace with yellow- orange barrels. “AMBAR: he said in a hushed voice. “rare rare. Not one mittel hada in Jordan”. I held it. Amber. I’d heard of it. But the price was prohibitive and I had to pass. However, his voice, the price, and the rarity, gave birth to a new passion for me.
That was 1980. Now it is almost 30 years later, and I have collected a lot of amber. I also know the differences of “amber” and amber, and African amber and Tibetan amber , Baltic amber and Victorian. Those barrel shaped beads on Shifty’s necklace were not the 50 million year old resin material. They were Bakelite, though original Bakelite sold in the African trade as amber over a hundred years ago. African amber it’s called, and it is, in its own right, very valuable and expensive. Baltic amber is translucent, the real deal, and comes from the Baltic Sea. Butterscotch amber refers to the color—an opaque rather than clear material.
Amber has become very sought after and thus very expensive. It isn’t uncommon to find strands of African amber, or genuine amber on auction sites for thousands of dollars. Single beads go for $20 to $50. There is something addicting and alluring about the beads; is it the color? The texture? The lore? The price? The mystique?
Before we left Jordan in 1985 I had purchased one amber necklace from Shifty; it was long, with silver beads with six large “amber” balls. I later broke it up, remade it into another necklace. I have several amber necklaces, mostly on display. Though my lust is appeased, amber still has a mysterious power .