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Friday, October 10, 2014

Creativity and Originality in Polish Jewelry Design

Amber and silver "Dragon" ring by Jacek Ostrowski

When a friend from the Polish jewelry industry told me during the recently concluded "Gold Silver and Time" tradeshow that the price of amber is comparable with the price of gold, I thought she was exaggerating. It turns out she was being conservative. Good rough amber sells for up to $60 a gram, about $20 per gram more than gold. 

Colorful cuffs by Marcin Zaremski

This came home to me when a woman working for Amber Apple, an amber and jewelry company, showed me a giant bracelet made entirely of rough amber. It was hard to me to believe it was a serious piece of jewelry for anyone other than Wilma Flintstone. I asked who would wear such a thing? The woman behind the counter said "A very large woman." It turns out she would also have to be a very rich woman as that bracelet was valued at more than $10,100. 

Rough amber bracelet by Amber Apple valed at more than $10,100.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The reason for this is none other than China, which seems to be sucking up the world’s natural resources (amber is fossilized tree resin) faster than the billions of years it took the earth to produce its bounty. The Chinese are buying rough amber, driving up the price to a ridiculous level, and using it to make inexpensive jewelry to sell to its own market. 

Pendant necklace made with layers of amber and driftwood by Marta Wlodarska of Amberwood 

Much of the amber in the US and other markets is used for inexpensive jewelry matched with silver. However, the escalation in its price has had a detrimental impact on this market. The result is that with rough amber costing more than gold, the Polish jewelry industry has turned to the creativity and originality of its top jewelry designers to distinguish itself in the international marketplace. Poland is the world’s second largest producer of silver jewelry and many of these designers primarily work with silver, gold and other metals.

3D necklace made of oxidized and gold-plated silver by Alicia Jakub Wyganowscy. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

At the tradeshow, 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.

Bracelet made with exotic wood, silver and gold by SzwedDesign

“The young people are creating jewelry that is interesting and different … very creative,” says RafaƂ Galimski, president of the MCT International Fair Centre, co-organizer of the trade fair. “We try to help them with the 60 stands.”

Amber and silver firefly resting on a piece of amber by Malgorzata Wasowska Jewellery Company

One of the selling points of Polish jewelry 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 is already an EU member and someday the country will adopt the European currency, although there is no timetable to do so. Once that happens, the cost of Polish jewelry will increase significantly. Collectors of modern jewelry may want to stock up on these pieces now. While acknowledging that adoption of the euro will be good for the country overall, Galimski says he isn’t looking forward to the increase in jewelry prices that will no doubt follow.

A yellow amber necklace by Marta Wlodarska of Amberwood. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Poland’s largest jewelry markets for Polish designer jewelry 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.

Amber and silver necklace by Jacek Ostrowski. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

“Poland is a post-Soviet country,” said Warsaw-based Marcin Zaremski, the veteran of seven jewelry designers who presented their works to reporters. “We didn’t have the formal education, so we had a lot of artists that created jewelry. I think we developed in that direction very well.”

Coloful metal necklace by Marcin Zaremski

While speaking for Polish jewelry designers in general, Zaremski wasn’t necessarily speaking for himself. He did have a formal education, attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw with the intent of pursuing an interior design career. However, he chose to follow his parents lead and take up jewelry design but with a personal take. His jewelry and art objects are perhaps the most accessible of the group, creating pieces with all kinds of metals from gold and silver, to steel and copper.

A piece of Csarite, a gem known for changing colors, along with jewelry made from the gem exclusive to mines in the Anatolian mountains of Turkey by Novvak Jewellery. The same gem is also marketed as Zultanite. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

A younger designer whose is getting international attention is Jacek Ostrowski from the northern Polish city of Gdansk, the center of the country’s amber jewelry industry. He works with silver, colored acrylic, crystal Swarovski Elements, and of course, Baltic amber.

“My projects are dominated by the geometry of the shape,” he says. “I’m fascinated by the simplicity of form.”

More rough amber from Amber Apple. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Meanwhile, Marta Wlodarska of Amberwood is a purist. As amber is fossilized tree resin, she chooses to create jewelry by pairing the material, sometimes in its natural state, with driftwood from the same beaches of the Baltic Sea where amber is found.

“I am fascinated by these two organic materials … the possibility to discover the things that have been hidden for millions of years,” she says. “Every piece of amber has its own story.”

However, she doesn’t shy away from using more exotic woods, such as African ebony, brick-red Padouk, and violet Amaranth.

There were plenty of traditional manufacturers working with silver, amber and other materials that were interesting as well. Among them was Novvak Jewellery, a Warsaw-based company working with a gem marketed under the name, Csarite, which comes from specific mines in the Anatolian mountains of Turkey. It’s unique to the remote area. The gem is known for its ability to change colors, from green to purplish-pink depending on the light. The same gem also is marketed under the name, “Zultanite,” which will no doubt be confusing to consumers. But it’s rare to be able to know the original of a gem without trusting the supply chain, which can be unreliable.

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes website.

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