Antique 19thc Russian Ukrainian Crimean Tatar Ornate Silver Tourmaline Green 9½ For Sale
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Large Beautiful Size 9 1/2 Renaissance Era Silver Alloy Ring with a Tourmaline Green Colored Center Stone.
CLASSIFICATION: Silver/Bronze Alloy Ring with a Square Tourmaline Green Colored Reconstituted Amber “Gemstone”.
ATTRIBUTION: Crimean Black Sea Region, Southern Russia, 18th-19th Century A.D.
Tapered Width Band: 5 1/2mm at bezel; 5mm at sides; 4 1/2mm at back.
Weight: 5.18 grams.
CONDITION: Excellent! Intact, integrity unimpaired. Moderate wear from usage. No significant porosity (surface pitting caused by contact with earth while buried).
DETAIL: A handsome silver/bronze alloy ring of late Renaissance origin, of bold features, probably nineteenth century, perhaps eighteenth century, the likely origin is Southern Russia, the Crimean Region. The Crimean, now part of present-day Ukraine, was home of the Tartars (and before them ancient Greek settlements during the first millennium B.C.), across the Black Sea from what was at the time this ring was produced, the Ottoman Empire, modern day Turkey. The ring’s bands are handsomely accented with three incised lines, and of course there is a very prominent square green gemstone. The ring is composed of a silver-bronze (or silver-copper; or gold-bronze, or gold-copper) alloy known as “billion” that tends to be of a low proportion of silver.
This low-silver composite has its roots in the Roman Empire and their predecessors the ancient Greeks. The use of billion admixtures in the production of coinage became especially commonplace during the third century in the Roman Empire, during which time it was used to produce silver coinage which was the successor to the Roman denarius. Though originally composed of 40% to 60% silver, by the Middle Ages coinage produced of billion oftentimes contained less than 10% silver. The mixture today is known as “billion”, generally denominating a low-silver bronze/silver alloy which was still used as recently as the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe in the production of jewelry, as in the case of this particular ring. The ring does not really look like silver, it has more the look of gold.
There does exist some mild wear to the sides and back of the band, and the band also has a few small dings as well. With respect to the small dings, it’s not possible to tell whether this was caused by wear, or due to the fact it spent a century or two buried in the soil. However all of the original features of the ring are visible and intact. Of course, some signs of wear are to be expected from a ring several centuries old. It was produced with the idea that someone would purchase it and wear it, and that is exactly what happened. However the wear is very light, does not adversely affect the “wearability” of the artifact, and is almost undetectable except upon very close scrutiny. Despite the very modest amount of wear, it remains quite intricate and substantial, and the design of the ring and the detailed metal work evidenced in the bezel and bands is very elaborate!
The ring was probably designed to be worn by a man, and is bold and handsome enough to be worn by a man today. However the design is elaborate, elegant, and intricate enough to be worn with good taste by a woman as well. Although there are unmistakable indications of wear, they are not excessive, and the artifact’s integrity is undiminished. The “tourmaline green” colored faux gemstone is colored and molded amber resin, quite commonly used during the era to produce ersatz gemstones. Artisans of the era produced brightly colored “gemstones” such as these possessing very rich tone and even color.
The ring itself is as described above silver alloyed with bronze. This style of ring was popular throughout much of Eastern Byzantine Europe for centuries, so it is difficult to place a precise date on the artifact. However it is likely to have been produced sometime in the 18th or 19th century, and based upon where it was found, it was produced either in Ottoman Turkey and exported to the Crimean (which only a century or two before was part of the Ottoman Empire), or produced in the Crimean Region itself. In any event, this elaborate piece of Byzantine/Renaissance jewelry is in a very good state of preservation, and is quite wearable.
TATAR HISTORY:: The Tatars of the Crimean Black Sea Region are one of the ethnic sub-populations of Russia (present-day Ukraine). Prior to the current era (before 0 A.D.) the vast lands of South Russia were home to various Proto-Indo-European tribes such as the Scythians. Between the third and sixth centuries A.D., the steppes were overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions when swept through Europe, as was the case with Huns and Turkish Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled South Russia through the 8th century. They were important allies of the Byzantine Empire and waged a series of successful wars against the Arab Califates. The Early East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia from the 7th century onwards and slowly assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, such as the Merya, the Muromians and the Meshchera.
In the mid-9th century, a group of Scandinavians, the Varangians, assumed the role of a ruling elite at the Slavic capital of Novgorod. Although they were quickly assimilated by the predominantly Slavic population, the Varangian dynasty lasted several centuries, during which they affiliated with the Byzantine, or Orthodox church and moved the capital to Kiev in A.D. 882. In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus became the largest in Europe and one of the most prosperous, due to diversified trade with both Europe and Asia. However the opening of new trade routes with the Orient at the time of the Crusades contributed to the decline and defragmentation of Kievan Rus by the end of the 12th century.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, the constant incursions of nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, led to the massive migration of Slavic populations from the fertile south to the heavily forested regions of the north. The medieval states of Novgorod Republic and Vladimir-Suzdal emerged as successors to Kievan Rus, while the middle course of the Volga River came to be dominated by the Muslim state of Volga Bulgaria. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongol invaders known as the “Golden Horde”, which would pillage Russia for over three centuries. Later known as the Tatars, they ruled the southern and central expanses of present-day Russia, while the territories of present-day Ukraine and Belarus were incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, thus dividing the Russian people in the north from the Belarusians and Ukrainians in the west.
The name “Tatars” eventually become a collective name applied to the Turkic people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The majority of Tatars today live in European Russia, and are the descendants of the Eastern European Volga Bulgars who were conquered by the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. The original Ta-ta Mongols inhabited the north-Eastern Gobi in the 5th century and, after subjugation in the 9th century by the Khitans, migrated southward, there founding the Mongol empire under Genghis Khan. Under the leadership of his grandson Batu Khan they moved westwards, driving with them many stems of the Turkic Ural-Altayans towards the plains of Russia. On the Volga they mingled with remnants of the old Bulgarian empire (Volga Bulgaria), and elsewhere with Finno-Ugric speaking peoples, as well as with remnants of the ancient Greek colonies in the Crimea and Caucasians in the Caucasus.
The name of Tatars, given to the invaders, was afterwards extended so as to include different stems of the same Turkic-Mongol branch in Russia, and even the bulk of the inhabitants of the high plateau of Asia and its northwestern slopes, described under the general name of Tartary. This name has almost disappeared from geographical literature, but the name Tatars, in the above limited sense, remains in full use. Most current day Tatars live in the central and southern parts of Russia (the majority in Tatarstan), Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Lithuania, Belarus and in Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. They collectively numbered more than 10 million in the late 20th century.
The Crimean Tatars may still be found in Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine on the northern coast of the Black Sea occupying the Crimean peninsula. The Crimean Tatars are actually descendants of a number of Turkic peoples. The ethnicity of the Crimean Tatars is quite complex as it absorbed by both nomadic Turkic and European components (in the first place, the Goths and the Genoese) which is still reflected in their appearance and language differences. A small enclave of the Karaims, possibly of Khazar (i.e. Turkic) descent but members of a Jewish sect, was founded in the 8th century. It existed among the Muslim Crimean Tatars, primarily in the mountainous Çufut Qale area.
The territory of Crimea was conquered and controlled many times through its history. The Cimmerians, Greeks, Iranians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, the state of Kievan Rus', Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, and the Mongols all controlled Crimea in its early history. These were followed by the Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire in the 15th–18th centuries, the Russian Empire in the 18th–20th centuries, Germany in World War II, and now, the independent Ukrainian state. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin's government, but have begun returning to their homeland in recent years.
The ancient Greeks called Crimea Tauris (later Taurica), after its inhabitants, the Tauri. The Greek historian Herodotus mentions that Hercules plowed that land using a huge ox ("taurus"), hence the name of the land. The earliest inhabitants of whom we have any authentic traces were the Cimmerians, who were expelled by the Scythians (Iranians) during the 7th century B.C. The remaining Cimmerians that took refuge in the mountains later became known as the Tauri. According to other historians, the Tauri were known for their savage rituals and piracy, and were also the earliest, indigenous inhabitants of the peninsula. In 5th century B.C., Greek colonists began to settle along the Black Sea coast, among those were the Dorians from Heraclea who founded a sea port of Chersonesos outside Sevastopol, and the Ionians from Miletus who landed at Feodosiya and Panticapaeum (also called Bosporus).
Two centuries later (438 B.C.), the Archon (ruler) of the latter settlers assumed the title of the Kings of Cimmerian Bosporus, a state that maintained close relations with Athens, supplying the city with wheat, honey and other commodities. The last of that line of kings, Paerisades V, being hard-pressed by the Scythians, put himself under the protection of Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus, in 114 B.C. After the death of this sovereign, his son, Pharnaces II, was invested by Pompey with the kingdom of Bosporus in 63 B.C. as a reward for the assistance rendered to the Romans in their war against his father. In 15 B.C., it was once again restored to the king of Pontus, but since ranked as a tributary state of Rome.
Throughout the later centuries, Crimea was invaded or occupied successively by the Goths (A.D. 250), the Huns (376), the Bulgars (6th century), the Khazars (8th century), the state of Kievan Rus' (10th–11th centuries), the Byzantine Greeks (1016), the Kipchaks (the Kumans) (1050), and the Mongols (1237). In the 13th century, the Republic of Genoa seized the settlements which their rivals, the Venetians, had built along the Crimean coast and established themselves at Cembalo, Soldaia, Cherco and Caffa, gaining control of the Crimean economy and the Black Sea commerce for two centuries.
After the destruction of the Golden Horde by Timur in 1441, the Crimean Tatars founded an independent Crimean Khanate under Hacı I Giray, a descendant of Genghis Khan. The Crimean Tatars controlled the steppes that stretched from the Kuban and to the Dniester River, however, they were unable to take control over commercial Genoese towns. After the Crimean Tatars asked for help from the Ottomans, an Ottoman invasion of the Genoese towns led by Gedik Ahmed Pasha in 1475 brought Kaffa and the other trading towns under their control. In 1774, The Crimean Khans fell under the Russian influence in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. In 1783, entire Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire.
HISTORY OF SILVER: After gold, silver is the metal most widely used in jewelry and the most malleable. The oldest silver artifacts found by archaeologists date from ancient Sumeria about 4,000 B.C. At many points in the ancient world, it was actually more costly than gold, particularly in ancient Egypt. Silver is found in native form (i.e., in nuggets), as an alloy with gold (electrum), and in ores containing sulfur, arsenic, antimony or chlorine. Much of the silver originally found in the ancient world was actually a natural alloy of gold and silver (in nugget form) known as “electrum”. The first large-scale silver mines were in Anatolia (ancient Turkey) and Armenia, where as early as 4,000 B.C. silver was extracted from lead ores by means of a complicated process known as “smelting”. Even then the process was not perfect, as ancient silver does contain trace elements, typically lead, gold, bismuth and other metals, and as much as a third of the silver was left behind in the slag. However measuring the concentrations of the “impurities” in ancient silver can help the forensic jewelry historian in determining the authenticity of classical items.
From Turkey and Armenia silver refining technology spread to the rest of Asia Minor and Europe. By about 2,500 B.C. the Babylonians were one of the major refiners of silver. Silver “treasures” recovered by archaeologists from the second and third millenniums demonstrate the high value the ancient Mediterranean and Near East placed upon silver. Some of the richest burials in history uncovered by archaeologists have been from this time frame, that of Queen Puabi of Ur, Sumeria (26th century B.C.); Tuankhamun (14th century B.C.), and the rich Trojan (25th century B.C.) and Mycenaean (18th century B.C.) treasures uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the skin of their gods was composed of gold, and their bones were thought to be of silver. When silver was introduced into Egypt, it probably was more valuable than gold (silver was rarer and more valuable than gold in many Mesoamerican cultures as well). In surviving inventories of valuables, items of silver were listed above those of gold during the Old Kingdom. Jewelry made of silver was almost always thinner than gold pieces, as indicated by the bracelets of the 4th Dynasty (about 2,500 B.C.) Queen Hetephere I, in marked contrast to the extravagance of her heavy gold jewelry. A silver treasure excavated by archaeologists and attributable to the reign of Amenemhat II who ruled during the 12th Dynasty (about 1900 B.C.), contained fine silver items which were actually produced in Crete, by the ancient Minoans. When the price of silver finally did fall due to more readily available supplies, for at least another thousand years (through at least the 19th dynasty, about 1,200 B.C.) the price of silver seems to have been fixed at half that of gold. Several royal mummies attributable to about 1,000 B.C. were even entombed in solid silver coffins.
Around 1,000 B.C. Greek Athenians began producing silver from the Laurium mines, and would supply much of the ancient Mediterranean world with its silver for almost 1,000 years. This ancient source was eventually supplemented around 800 B.C. (and then eventually supplanted) by the massive silver mines found in Spain by the Phoenicians and their colony (and ultimate successors) the Carthaginians (operated in part by Hannibal’s family). With the defeat of Carthage by Rome, the Romans gained control of these vast deposits, and mined massive amounts of silver from Spain, stripping entire forests regions for timber to fuel smelting operations. In fact, it was not until the Middle Ages that Spain’s silver mines (and her forests) were finally exhausted.
Although known during the Copper Age, silver made only rare appearances in jewelry before the classical age. Despite its infrequent use as jewelry however, silver was widely used as coinage due to its softness, brilliant color, and resistance to oxidation. Silver alloyed with gold in the form of “electrum” was coined to produce money around 700 B.C. by the Lydians of present-day Turkey. Having access to silver deposits and being able to mine them played a big role in the classical world. Actual silver coins were first produced in Lydia about 610 B.C., and subsequently in Athens in about 580 B.C. Many historians have argued that it was the possession and exploitation of the Laurium mines by the Athenians that allowed them to become the most powerful city state in Greece. The Athenians were well aware of the significance of the mining operations to the prosperity of their city, as every citizen had shares in the mines. Enough silver was mined and refined at Laurium to finance the expansion of Athens as a trading and naval power. One estimate is that Laurium produced 160 million ounces of silver, worth six billion dollars today (when silver is by comparison relatively cheap and abundant). As the production of silver from the Laurium mines ultimately diminished, Greek silver production shifted to mines in Macedonia.
Silver coinage played a significant role in the ancient world. Macedonia’s coinage during the reign of Philip II (359-336 B.C.) circulated widely throughout the Hellenic world. His famous son, Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.), spread the concept of coinage throughout the lands he conquered. For both Philip II and Alexander silver coins became an essential way of paying their armies and meeting other military expenses. They also used coins to make a realistic portrait of the ruler of the country. The Romans also used silver coins to pay their legions. These coins were used for most daily transactions by administrators and traders throughout the empire. Roman silver coins also served as an important means of political propaganda, extolling the virtues of Rome and her emperors, and continued in the Greek tradition of realistic portraiture. As well, many public works and architectural achievements were also depicted (among them the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus). In addition many important political events were recorded on the coinage. You can Romaan coins which depicted the assassination of Julius Caesar, alliances between cities, between emperors, between armies, etc. And many contenders for the throne of Rome are known only through their coinage.
Silver was also widely used as ornamental work and in other metal wares. In ancient cultures, especially in Rome, silver was highly prized for the making of plate ware, household utensils, and ornamental work. The stability of Rome’s economy and currency depended primarily on the output of the silver mines in Spain which they had wrested from the Carthaginians. In fact many historians would say that it was the control of the wealth of these silver mines which enabled Rome to conquer most of the Mediterranean world. When in 55 B.C. the Romans invaded Britain they were quick to discover and exploit the lead-silver deposits there as well. Only six years later they had established many mines and Britain became another major source of silver for the Roman Empire. It is estimated that by the second century A.D., 10,000 tons of Roman silver coins were in circulation within the empire. That’s about 3½ billion silver coins (at the height of the empire, there were over 400 mints throughout the empire producing coinage). That’s ten times the total amount of silver available to Medieval Europe and the Islamic world combined as of about 800 A.D.
Silver later lost its position of dominance to gold, particularly in the chaos following the fall of Rome. Large-scale mining in Spain petered out, and when large-scale silver mining finally resumed four centuries after the fall of Rome, most of the mining activity was in Central Europe. By the time of the European High Middle Ages, silver once again became the principal material used for metal artwork. Huge quantities of silver from the New World also encouraged eager buyers in Europe, and enabled the Spanish to become major players in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Unlike the ores in Europe which required laborious extraction and refining methods to result in pure silver, solid silver was frequently found as placer deposits in stream beds in Spain’s “New World” colonies, reportedly in some instances solid slabs weighing as much as 2,500 pounds. Prior to the discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World, silver had been valued during the Middle Ages at about 10%-15% of the value of gold. In 15th century the price of silver is estimated to have been around $1200 per ounce, based on 2010 dollars. The discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World during the succeeding centuries has caused the price to diminish greatly, falling to only 1-2% of the value of gold.
The art of silver work flourished in the Renaissance, finding expression in virtually every imaginable form. Silver was often plated with gold and other decorative materials. Although silver sheets had been used to overlay wood and other metals since ancient Greece, an 18th-century technique of fusing thin silver sheets to copper brought silver goods called Sheffield plate within the reach of most people. At the same time the use of silver in jewelry making had also started gaining popularity in the 17th century. It was often as support in settings for diamonds and other transparent precious stones, in order to encourage the reflection of light. Silver continued to gain in popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and by the 20th century competed with gold as the principal metal used in the manufacture of jewelry. Silver has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of any metal, and one of the highest optical reflectivity values. It has a brilliant metallic luster, is very ductile and malleable, only slightly harder than gold, and is easily worked and polished. When used in jewelry, silver is commonly alloyed to include 7.5% copper, known as “Sterling Silver”, to increase the hardness and reduce the melting temperature. Silver jewelry may be plated with 99.9% pure ‘Fine Silver’ to increase the shine when polished. It may also be plated with rhodium to prevent tarnish. Virtually all gold, with the exception of 24 carat gold, includes silver. Most gold alloys are primarily composed of only gold and silver.
Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B. C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals. Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement. Precious minerals were likewise considered to have medicinal and “magical” properties in the ancient world. In its pure form silver is non toxic, and when mixed with other elements is used in a wide variety of medicines. Silver ions and silver compounds show a toxic effect on some bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi. Silver was widely used before the advent of antibiotics to prevent and treat infections, silver nitrate being the prevalent form. Silver Iodide was used in babies' eyes upon birth to prevent blinding as the result of bacterial contamination. Silver is still widely used in topical gels and impregnated into bandages because of its wide-spectrum antimicrobial activity.
The recorded use of silver to prevent infection dates to ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates, the ancient (5th century B.C.) Greek "father of medicine" wrote that silver had beneficial healing and anti-disease properties. The ancient Phoenicians stored water, wine, and vinegar in silver bottles to prevent spoiling. These uses were “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages, when silver was used for several purposes; such as to disinfect water and food during storage, and also for the treatment of burns and wounds as a wound dressing. The ingestion of colloidal silver was also believed to help restore the body's “electromagnetic balance” to a state of equilibrium, and it was believed to detoxify the liver and spleen. In the 19th century sailors on long ocean voyages would put silver coins in barrels of water and wine to keep the liquid potable. Silver (and gold) foil is also used through the world as a food decoration. Traditional Indian dishes sometimes include the use of decorative silver foil, and in various cultures silver dragée (silver coated sugar balls) are used to decorate cakes, cookies, and other dessert items.
HISTORY OF AMBER: Amber is fossil tree resin from long-extinct coniferous (pine) tress. Amber has been found throughout the world, but the largest and most significant deposits occur along the shores of the Baltic Sea in sands between 40 and 60 million years old. Fossilized amber started as blobs of resin exuded from a tree, which eventually were covered over and buried in the earth before being weathered out of the soil, then released into the sea where they drifted to shores as far as England. The oldest fossilized amber deposits discovered contain amber which is approximately 360 million years old. Amber has been treasured and used for millennia; beads, necklaces, buttons, and other ornamental carved objects have been made from this gemstone. Stone Age peoples believed that amber contained the resting place of the spirit, or soul, and that amber possessed supernatural properties. For this reason it was a very powerful material from which to fashion magical amulets.
Archaeologists have found amber pendants, beads, brooches and statuettes of people at excavation sites of Stone Age settlements, and believe that the statuettes and amulets represented protectors - world rulers - of those times. Two noteworthy discoveries have included Paleolithic-era beads from 11,000 B.C. found in Southern England in an ancient cavern known as “Gough’s Cave”; and a human-form amber pendant from about 7,000 B.C. discovered in an ancient peat bog in Denmark. An enormous collection of ancient amber amulets was discovered in 1860. The amulets dated back to the 3rd millennium B.C., and were known collectively as the "Juodkrantë Treasure". Consisting of 434 pieces, all were described in the book "Stone Age Amber Adornments" published in 1882. Unfortunately the entire collection disappeared during World War II, and has never been located.
The Greek name for amber is electron, and amber was thought to be pieces of the sun, broken off and fallen in the ocean. In Greek Mythology amber was the tears of the Heliade Sisters, who had been turned in to black poplars by Zeus who was furious over the fact that they were crying over the death of their brother, Phaethon, son of Helios, who was killed by Zeus for driving his sun chariot too close to earth, and setting it ablaze. The ancient Greeks attributed to amber the power as a cure for deafness (when mixed with rose oil and honey) and eyesight improvement (when mixed with honey alone). The fourth-century B.C. Athenian statesman Callistratus stated that insanity or wild and irrational behavior could be cured by the administration of powdered amber in wine. In addition to the ancient Greeks, amber had great value and significance to the Assyrians, Egyptians, Etruscans, Minoans, and Phoenicians.
The fossilized resin gives a pine tree aroma when burned and in ancient Egypt as well as in India amber was used as an incense to in religious ceremonies to purify the surrounding area. The ancient Egyptians also often utilized amber in the mummification process. In Chinese amber is translated to "the soul of the tiger" from the ancient belief that amber was the spirit of a tiger. Another ancient Chinese legend has it that amber was formed from drops of Dragon's blood which solidified when they hit the ground. It is known from written records that amber was coming to China through India early in the Han Dynasty, perhaps as early as the second century B.C. In Norse Mythology, Amber is sacred to the Goddess Freya, whose magic girdle “Brisingamen” was carved from the stone. It was widely used in rituals to encourage passion or fertility.
During the Bronze Age (perhaps as early as the fourth millennium B.C.), amber was partly responsible for a network of roads built to facilitate the trade. The first trade roads archaeologists have evidence for are from the ancient Biblical/Mesopotamian city of Ur (home of Abraham). By 1700 B.C., the Minoans had established jealously-guarded trade routes from Knossos (Crete) to Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Scandinavia where they traded amber, as well as copper, ivory, amethyst, lapis-lazuli, carnelian, gold, and other important commodities. By about 1500 B.C. many of the roads in Eastern and central Europe had linked together into an extensive trading network known as the “Amber Routes”. The ancient amber trade route ran from the Baltic Sea, down the Elbe River, and on to the Danube. When the Minoan civilization was destroyed around 1200 B.C., it was the Phoenicians who filled the void, prospering as a sea-trading power from 1200 to 800 B.C. Amber was one of the Phoenician’s more significant trade commodities.
By the time the Roman Empire arose, the roads of the “amber route” led overland from the Danube through the Brenner Pass into Italy, the heart of the Roman Empire. From Rome the roads wove throughout the far-flung empire. One principal route ran all the way from Italy to Spain via Marseille and nearby Heraclea, close to present-day Avignon. These roads were constructed of multiple layers of logs, and remnants of some of these roads dating back to before 1,500 B.C. still exist. In ancient Rome amber was worn to prevent insanity and to arouse sexual desire. It was also believed that an amber talisman protected the body from physical harm, so Gladiators would often carry such a charm for protection in the arena. One first century Roman historian credited the source of amber to the urine of the lynx. However first century Roman historian and naturalist “Pliny the Elder” correctly identified the source of amber as being the resin of pine trees, and also correctly identified the origin of amber as being north of Germany.
For the better part of a millennium, Rome was the undisputed center of the amber industry in the ancient world. The Romans sent armies to conquer and control amber producing areas. Exotic ornaments made of amber were in great demand. The Romans apparently valued amber even more than the Baltic slaves who harvested the amber. During the reign of Nero, who was himself a great connoisseur of amber, Pliny wrote that the price of an amber figurine, no matter how small, exceeded the price of a living healthy slave. Not until the third century A.D., when wars with the Goths made such trade in luxury items unsustainable, did the Roman domination of the amber industry come to an end. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing “dark ages”, for 700 years all traces of the amber trade disappeared from written history. Nonetheless during this time Anglo-Saxon and Celtic crafts people produced some of the most beautiful and exquisite amber pieces despite the barbarity of times.
By the twelfth century, as Europe rebounded from Rome’s collapse and headed into the High Middle Ages, the Baltic region was under the rule of the Dukes of Pomerania and, later, the Teutonic Knights, and the amber trade resurfaced. Both the Dukes of Pomerania as well as the Teuronic Knights exercised absolute control over all aspects of the amber trade. They even prohibited the unsupervised collection of amber on beaches under penalty of hanging, and required fishermen to swear an oath that they would not retain the amber that came up with their nets. Even the mere possession of raw amber was illegal in most of Europe by the year 1400. As the Knight's power waned, monopolistic trade guilds became increasingly important players in the amber trade. The amber guild established in Danzig in 1477 still exists today.
During the Middle Ages, especially within the Byzantine Empire, amber was considered the best material for rosary beads due to its smooth silky feel. The Germans burned amber as incense, so they called it bernstein, or "burn stone." In Medieval Europe the demand for amber was not only for its value as a gemstone, but also for its medicinal uses. According to one Medieval text amber was used for childbirth, to treat excess stomach acid as well as throat disorders, and was used as a poison antidote. It was believed that the smoke from burning amber drove poisonous insects away and the same smoke was recommended as a fumigation to protect against the plague (“Black Death”). It was even recorded in this same source that amber, “if laid on the breast of a wife when she is asleep, it makes her confess all her evil deeds.” Medieval shamans believed that amber could stimulate visions containing glimpses of ancient knowledge.
The art of skillfully working amber into beautiful objects d'art flourished in Europe from the late sixteenth century to the mid-eighteenth century, especially in the Northern Germany, Prussia, Poland and the Baltic countries. During the succeeding Victorian Age, due to the belief that amber could impede the transmission of diseases, it was used to produce stem-pieces for cigarette holders and pipes. Amber has also sometimes been used as an ingredient in perfume, and since the fifteenth century has been used as a flavoring agent in the Scandinavian akvavit liquor. From ancient times through the Victorian Era, most amber has been gather along the shores of the Baltic Ocean after violent storms which dislodge the amber from the ocean floor, whereupon it is cast onto the shore. A seventeenth century book on the subject describes amber divers who carried a wooden spade to dislodge amber from the ocean floor, as well as surf riders who on horseback gathered amber in nets mounted to poles.
Contemporarily, the largest mining operation for amber in the Baltic region is in Russia, west of Kaliningrad, which produces about 90% of the world’s best gem-grade amber. Baltic amber is also found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland; and occasionally washes up on the shores of the Baltic Sea as far away as Denmark, Norway, and England. Other amber sources include Burma (Myanmar), Lebanon, Sicily, Mexico, Romania, Germany, and Canada. Amber gained a great deal of popularity recently after the release of the movie “Jurassic Park”. You’ll recall that “dino dna” was extracted from mosquitoes which had “dined” on “dino blood”, and then been trapped within amber. Far-fetched? In 1994, a molecular biologist at Cal Poly extracted DNA from a weevil that was trapped in amber 120 to 135 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The amber, which was from the Lower Cretaceous period, was mined in the mountains of Lebanon south of Beirut. The amber was part of a collection of amber pieces containing 700 insects, including termites, moths, caterpillars, spiders, scorpions, and midges, which did suck dinosaur blood.
Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B. C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals. Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement. In the ancient world it was believed that amber was a “healing” stone, capable of disinfecting and encouraging the healing of wounds. Turns out that amber contains succinite acid, which has anti-bacterial properties. Science finally acknowledged what our ancestors thousands of years ago knew. Even ancient baby-teethers made of amber have been uncovered by archaeologists. Other attributes given in the past have included the calming of nerves a spirited disposition. Amber has in many cultures been believed to bring both good luck and long life to the wearer. Amber was also believed to encourage bravery and self-confidence. On the metaphysical plane amber was believed to stimulate intellect and creativity. Modern-day practitioners believe that the bright healing energy emitted from amber draws out negative energy, counteracts belligerent and aggressive behavior, purifies the heart and spirit, and helps in making difficult choices by the removal of self imposed obstacles.
Domestic shipping (insured first class mail) is included in the price shown. Domestic shipping also includes USPS Delivery Confirmation (you might be able to update the status of your shipment on-line at the USPS Web Site). Canadian shipments are an extra $8.99 for Insured Air Mail; International shipments are an extra $8.99 for Air Mail (and generally are NOT tracked; trackable shipments are EXTRA). ADDITIONAL PURCHASES do receive a VERY LARGE discount, typically about $5 per item so as to reward you for the economies of combined shipping/insurance costs. Your purchase will ordinarily be shipped within 48 hours of payment. We package as well as anyone in the business, with lots of protective padding and containers.
We do NOT recommend uninsured shipments, and expressly disclaim any responsibility for the loss of an uninsured shipment. Unfortunately the contents of parcels are easily “lost” or misdelivered by postal employees – even in the USA. If you intend to pay via PayPal, please be aware that PayPal Protection Policies REQUIRE insured, trackable shipments, which is INCLUDED in our price. International tracking is at additional cost. We do offer U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail, Registered Mail, and Express Mail for both international and domestic shipments, as well United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (Fed-Ex). Please ask for a rate quotation. We will accept whatever payment method you are most comfortable with. If upon receipt of the item you are disappointed for any reason whatever, I offer a no questions asked return policy. Send it back, I will give you a complete refund of the purchase price (less our original shipping costs).
We travel to Russia each year seeking antique gemstones and jewelry from one of the globe’s most prolific gemstone producing and cutting centers, the area between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, Russia. From all corners of Siberia, as well as from India, Ceylon, Burma and Siam, gemstones have for centuries gone to Yekaterinburg where they have been cut and incorporated into the fabulous jewelry for which the Czars and the royal families of Europe were famous for. My wife grew up and received a university education in the Southern Urals of Russia, just a few hours away from the mountains of Siberia, where alexandrite, diamond, emerald, sapphire, chrysoberyl, topaz, demantoid garnet, and many other rare and precious gemstones are produced. Though perhaps difficult to find in the USA, antique gemstones are commonly unmounted from old, broken settings – the gold reused – the gemstones recut and reset.
Before these gorgeous antique gemstones are recut, we try to acquire the best of them in their original, antique, hand-finished state – most of them centuries old. We believe that the work created by these long-gone master artisans is worth protecting and preserving rather than destroying this heritage of antique gemstones by recutting the original work out of existence. That by preserving their work, in a sense, we are preserving their lives and the legacy they left for modern times. Far better to appreciate their craft than to destroy it with modern cutting. Not everyone agrees – fully 95% or more of the antique gemstones which come into these marketplaces are recut, and the heritage of the past lost. But if you agree with us that the past is worth protecting, and that past lives and the produce of those lives still matters today, consider buying an antique, hand cut, natural gemstone rather than one of the mass-produced machine cut (often synthetic or “lab produced”) gemstones which dominate the market today.
Our interest in the fabulous history of Russian gemstones and the fabulous jewelry of the Czar’s led to further education and contacts in India, Ceylon, and Siam, other ancient centers of gemstone production and finishing.
We have a number of “helpers” (family members, friends, and colleagues) in Russia and in India who act as eyes and ears for us year-round, and in reciprocity we donate a portion of our revenues to support educational institutions in Russia and India. Occasionally while in Russia, India, Siam, and Ceylon we will also find such good buys on unique contemporary gemstones and jewelry that we will purchase a few pieces to offer to our customers here in America. These are always offered clearly labeled as contemporary, and not antiques – just to avoid confusion. We can set most any antique gemstone you purchase from us in your choice of styles and metals ranging from rings to pendants to earrings and bracelets; in sterling silver, 14kt solid gold, and 14kt gold fill. When you purchase from us, you can count on quick shipping and careful, secure packaging.
We would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from us. There is a $2 fee for mailing under separate cover. Please see our "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE."