Any of you who were avid fans of the Downton Abbey TV drama will remember the chunky, graduated strings of beads worn by Lady Mary or Cora, The Countess of Grantham. These were lovely examples of early 20th Century Amber beads that were very popular then and are now both valuable and very collectable. Some strings of amber can selling through our jewellery auction at the same weight value as 22-carat gold.
Amber is a natural substance formed from the fossilized resin of prehistoric conifer trees and is mainly found in the Baltic region, however, small quantities of amber are found in other regions of the world including Egypt, Italy, India and the Caribbean where the rare blue amber is found in the Dominican Republic.
The popular colours used in antique amber bead jewellery varied from opaque yellow known as butterscotch or egg yolk amber to dark red opaque beads known as sherry or cherry amber. The transparent amber is commonly known as Baltic amber often containing fossilized insects or debris is still widely found today in a variety of jewellery as well as antique specimens. Other colours also include pale yellow, green, black and white but these are rare to find as items of jewellery.
Amber is a soft material so wearing a lovely valuable string of antique beads should be done with care. As it is a natural substance it can be scratched or damaged by chemicals such as soap, perfume or hair spray, it should also be stored carefully in a soft cloth when not being worn as if the beads rub together their surface can become damaged so losing their natural lustre. A string of amber beads should be treated very similarly to a string of pearls and it is preferable if each bead is individually knotted to avoid friction.
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of amber over the years, there have been a lot of imitations and fake beads produced of which some are difficult to recognize. Copal is used as a substitute as it is a younger form of amber so is a good imitation but is identifiable by its sticky surface when rubbed thus often forming a crazed surface without amber’s lustre. Bakelite and plastic are also used but neither will be static when rubbed or have a coniferous odour like amber.
Amber is also warm and tactile to the touch and is lightweight which is one of the many reasons why it is so nice to wear. Look out for a string of amber at your local auction house or if you are very lucky you may have a string in your drawer left by a favourite relative that you were not aware is so valuable. Wear and enjoy!
Upcoming amber lots:
December 3rd, 2018:
Lot 415 – A selection of Baltic amber jewellery including pendants, earrings, brooches etc
Lot 405 – A butterscotch amber 10-bead elasticated bracelet, approx 50g
Lot 404 – A string of graduated butterscotch amber beads, approx 17′ & 25.5g
Lot 403 – A string of graduated butterscotch amber style beads with a barrel clasp, some damage to the outer coating on some beads and air bubbles in many, approx 24′ & 53g
Lot 402 – A string of butterscotch amber beads of faceted and smooth form, approx 70g
Lot 401 – A string of cherry amber style cylindrical and spherical beads, approx 105g
Lot 394 – A small selection of Baltic amber jewellery in white metal mounts including rings and pendants
Lot 159 – A lady’s dress ring having an oval Baltic amber stone in a decoratively moulded mount on a white metal loop stamped 925, size Q