Approximately eighty percent of the world's amber is Baltic amber, occurring as a natural gemstone on the seabed or washed up by the tides onto the beaches of Poland and the neighbouring Baltic States. This occurs mainly in the vicinity of the Polish port, and former Hanseatic city of Gdansk, known as 'The City of Amber' because it's the recognised capital of the Baltic amber jewellery industry; an industry employing over ten thousand craftsmen producing unique and individual pieces of jewellery, often using Sterling silver.

 

The origin of the word 'amber' though is actually Arabic, or possibly even Phoenician – both of which are Semitic languages originally spoken in an area where no amber is to be found. So why is this, why is 'anbar' the origin of the word 'amber'? Although popular and highly sought-after and treasured throughout Europe since the Stone Age, in English and many other European languages we use a word derived from Arabic due to the long established trade routes taking Baltic amber to the Middle East, where, once there, local craftsmen would use the gemstones to make jewellery such as amber necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings, which, because of the scarcity of Baltic amber in the region, and its unique beauty and charm were highly valued as family and tribal heirlooms and religious artefacts.

 

The Middle Ages was the period of the Crusades, a struggle which lasted intermittently for over two hundred years, when knights from western Europe went to fight in the Holy Land. They soon noted how popular amber jewellery was with the local people and brought it home with them on their return...and so the word 'amber' in slightly different forms entered many European languages...but not all languages.

 

Heating amber will soften it, a technique sometimes used in the process of making amber jewellery; to alter the colour and opacity of the amber, or add striations, or to help with mounting. However, it will eventually burn, and that's why the gemstone is known as 'burnstone' in most other Germanic languages.

 

The modern Latvian and Lithuanian words for 'amber' are 'dzintars' and 'gintaras' respectively; both thought to derive directly from Phoenician, a language no longer spoken, which died out long before the time of the Crusades; a testament to the long-standing trade connections between the Baltic area and the Middle East. 'Jantar' a word with the same origin is used in Polish, but is considered to be archaic; the word now preferred is 'bursztyn' – merely a transcription of the standard German word for Baltic amber.

 

Finally, the ancient Greek word for 'amber' was 'electron' and was associated with the sun god, Elector, known as 'The Awakener.' Therefore, the modern terms 'electricity' and 'electron' are derived from the Greek word which was used to describe Baltic amber, 'electricity' with a slightly different definition being first used in English as early as the seventeenth century, because amber, when rubbed with certain materials, just like electricity, can attract other substances.