IN UKRAINE, FRENZIED AMBER MINING HAS DESTROYED THOUSANDS OF HECTARES OF FOREST AND MARSHES.
In scenes reminiscent of the gold rush in America’s Wild West, greed is corrupting not just the land but also the lives of the villagers hoping to make their fortune from it.
By Naomi Gryn
Illustration By Chris Gambrell
According to the ancient Greeks, Phaeton – the son of Helios, god of the sun – used his father’s golden chariot to ride across the sky. Fearing that the earth would be set on fire and destroyed, Zeus struck the chariot with a thunderbolt. Phaeton was thrown into the river and drowned. His grieving sisters became poplar trees, and their tears turned into amber, known in Greek as elektron, or made in the sun.
When you wear a piece of amber, you link yourself to the time of the dinosaurs. This fossilized tree resin, warm and soft to the touch, dates back millions of years, with inclusions such as insects, leaves, flowers, even dinosaur feathers that give us a window onto prehistoric ecosystems.
European amber has a rich honey color. It comes from a forest of giant conifer trees that once stretched for thousands of miles. The world’s largest known deposit is found along a coastal strip by the Baltic Sea, northwest of Kaliningrad, where it has been excavated since the mid-nineteenth century. Then, in the 1990s, Ukraine started to mine its own Rovno amber, called after the Rovno, or RIvne, district in northwest Ukraine, it what is now known by locals as the National Republic of Amber.
In China in ancient times, it was believed that tigers could live for 1000 years. After they die, their souls turn into amber – hu po in Chinese, meaning ‘tiger spirit’ – which was thought to bring good luck and have healing powers, and was used in jewelry, ornaments and medicine. In recent times, as supplies of jade became exhausted, a Chinese craze for hu po led to the price of amber soaring from $900 per kilo in 2011 to $2000 per kilo in 2015, and up to $4500 per kilo for very large stones.
Amber excavation in Ukraine became incredibly lucrative and, after the ‘EuroMaidan’ Revolution of 2014, as the country descended into lawlessness, criminal gangs operating in co-operation with corrupt police officers, Ukraine’s security service and politicians took charge of the country’s burgeoning amber trade. Amber miners – mostly villagers from areas with high unemployment – some equipped with pumps made from car or van parts, others with simple shovels, descend on forest areas where amber deposits have been found. Miners blast craters in the sandy soil and flood them with high-pressure water, so that amber will float to the surface. Then they wade into the water and use nets to fish out the stones.
Excavating as much as 400 tonnes of amber a year, the process has already turned many thousands of hectares of land into desert. No longer able to support plant life, once lush pine and birch forests and marshes now resemble a moonscape. Rivers and streams are polluted. It’s an ecological disaster.
Illegal miners have been making up to $50,000 a day, while the average salary for a Ukrainian factory worker is just $2,100 a year. Local youngsters now refuse to work in other jobs. There are drunken brawls and frequent fights over money: life in and around the amber fields resembles the wild west of America at the height of the gold rush. With no other means to support their families, the miners have been known to face down armed police trying to stop their activities. They bring guns, knives, even grenades to the pits. The amber is sold either to illegal Chinese wholesalers, or smuggled into Poland where it can be passed off as legally excavated Baltic amber and sold at the Gdansk stock market
With so much money to be made from bribes, no one involved in the protection rackets wanted to see Ukraine’s amber trade legalized, but at the end of last year, a bill was passed to try to control amber production.
Meanwhile, the oversupply of Rovno amber has drastically reduced its value, which has dropped to just $450 per kilo. And Chinese customers have become more discerning, now preferring smaller pendants to large ones, wanting only top quality beads of a certain size, color and shape. But our love story with amber is only on pause as it is still gaining popularity in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran where it is used for prayer beads.
The wisdom of the ancient Greeks echoes through the millennia: as we tear up our forests to raid their resources, we risk setting our world on fire and destroying the precious ecosystems that support human life. The amber tears of Phaeton’s sisters are a warning: enjoy our planet’s magnificent treasures, but guard against human greed so that our children and grandchildren might share them too.
FIVE STRANDS OF AN EXTRAORDINARY AND RARE STUNNER
Some creations belong to no one. Like our children, each with their own unique individuality.
Some things can never be forgotten. Like this exquisite necklace, flawless and pure.
Here is one of my favorite portrait paintings by Chris Gambrell. Hiding under a swaddling cloth is my newborn son, just a few weeks old, who also has skin like an angel.
Around my neck is the one-of-a-kind, divine Hemmerle necklace: five strands of pale-blush, ancient and extremely rare angel skin coral, complemented by diamonds and rose gold. So rare, in fact, that it took several decades for the jewelers of Hemmerle to collect the necessary amount of coral, simultaneously making sure that the beads all match in texture, tone and color, a faultless achievement of balance and symmetry.
A moment of perfect harmony, balanced by two of nature’s most extraordinary gifts: one in my arms and the other wrapped around my neck…
THE AIRY, SCULPTURAL, HYPNOTIC CREATION—LIKE A PENDULUM, WHICH WILL ALWAYS RETURN TO EQUILIBRIUM, HOWEVER DRAMATIC THE DISPLACEMENT
The somewhat uneasy look in her eyes is wondering what happens next, but the aura of the painting is serene—like the rhythmical ticking of a metronome, which looks so much like the Rocket earrings, in gold, jade, tourmaline and white diamonds, by a gloriously Brazilian designer Fernando Jorge.
The harmony of the delicate design, the inherent movement and intimate energy, the contemporary aesthetics, the magnetic elegance of these infinity circles turn them into a sensual, asymmetrical yet perfectly balanced pendulum.
Beauty is everywhere, and this realization is soul-healing.
VHERNIER ONCE AGAIN PROVES THAT, EVEN IF CREATIVE GENIES ARE A MYTH, IT HAS CREATIVE GENIUSES OF ITS OWN.
As a result of exceptional craftsmanship we can admire four new, alluring and sensual Aladino rings.
The master jewelers must have used some kind of wizardry, so pure and smooth are the shapes, so deep is the color play of the stones, and all of this so true to the spirit of Vhernier.
The streamlined, almost aerodynamic, shape and smooth implementation make these rings, despite their voluminosity, look almost weightless—the Vhernier paradox, echoing the dual nature of a modern woman: strong yet graceful, captivating yet subtle. The clear, glassy rock crystal seamlessly fuses with rose gold, allowing the colors of the stones, placed in between, to shine through: the aquatic blue of lapis lazuli, the subtle cloudiness of white mother of pearl, the depths of the Universe in grey mother of pearl, and the joyful greenth of jade.
The signature sculptural design makes these sizeable rings perfectly wearable. A reflection of the jeweler’s imagination not to be admired under glass but worn in comfort and shown to the world. And it won’t rub against your skin, sparing you any discomfort or unexpected appearance of magic spooks.
Easily recognizable by their particular, sophisticated design, these subtly futuristic pieces remain true to the architectural principles of Vhernier jewelry. Each piece is shaped like a miniature, unique, avant-garde structure, with an eye toward the environment in which it will be exhibited. Like the graceful Italian architectural masterpieces, designed bearing in mind their surroundings, the precious pieces of Vhernier jewelry are crafted with consideration and respect to the ambient space and the wearer’s body.
Victoire de Castellane, Dior’s Creative Director of Fine Jewelry, was the first person to change my mind, throw away stereotypes and take a fresh look at this quirky, charismatic stone. A precious stone that invites you to dream, invokes colors you have long forgotten, along with all the fairy tales that seemed to have long gone.
‘A combination of the incompatible’, was a phrase I overheard at the presentation of the Dior et Moi high jewelry collection this winter in Paris. It cut to the core of the bold and glorious, exuberant and sublime style of Victoire de Castellane, looking into the heart of beauty without bias or prejudice. A beauty that couldn’t care less: is this (st)one precious enough?
‘When I look at it, I see the earth from afar, the oceans, the archipelagos, and the reflections of stars on the waves,’ says Victoire in an interview with DIORMAG. www.dior.com/diormag/en
When a talented artist Hakan created this captivating 3D video, my first impression was fire from the opal.
A beautiful stone with a strong character.
But not all things fragile are inherently subpar and unlucky. Sometimes fragility makes beautiful phenomena and feelings even more precious.
So let’s keep on dreaming colorful, opalescent dreams of magic, purity, sensuality, femininity and beauty!
For one gorgeous moment, imagine a world where every stone, given the right context and design, can shine like NO OTHER, where the hallmark is not price or prestige, but beauty combined in a perfect work of art.
Illustration by INKYCUBANS
Even if not the bullseye definition of this collection, it nonetheless lingered in the air, illuminated by soft magenta and hushed blue lights, for it cut to the core of the bold and glorious, exuberant and sublime style of Dior’s Creative Director of Fine Jewelry, Victoire de Castellane, looking into the heart of beauty without bias or prejudice.
A beauty that couldn’t care less: is this (st)one precious enough? Indeed, one of the most prominent pieces in the collection is an opal necklace in yellow and white gold, diamonds, pearls, garnets, sapphires, peridots, emeralds and lacquer: with a semiprecious, not precious, stone as a centerpiece.
‘Dior et moi’: Me that is not the same anymore, Me that is free in spirit and decisions, Me that creates and sees the world differently.
Diamonds, emeralds and sapphires are set in perfect balance with tourmalines, rubellites, opals, garnets and peridots, previously considered less precious or important. The new generation has a different vision, and a new era in jewelry is following their path and experiences.
Playful and colorful jewels, full of asymmetrical details, a mix of stones of different caliber. “It’s an homage to Art Deco, but in 2020. Like little pieces of sci-fi architecture,” says Victoire de Castellane in an interview for Vogue.
The genius and exquisite invention of the Maison makes it possible to put the necklace on with one smooth move, without assistance and without fear of breaking this extremely complex, yet pliable masterpiece.
Actually, the deal was really big back in 1879, when Boucheron designed the first Question Mark necklace. At a time when Western women’s fashion was still fundamentally reigned by corsets, rigidly structured bustles, ultra-restrictive, heavy, long skirts, profuse decoration, extremely tight sleeves, and tall, fitted, boned collars—all ingredients for zero convenience—this innovative mechanism was revolutionary, giving women, apart from the obvious beauty of the necklace, a long-sought feeling of independence, freedom and power.
The patterns borrowed from nature, leaves, flowers, petals, Art deco-style natural pearls, a peacock’s feather have been carefully studied and reproduced in precious metals and stones. The idea, the design, the implementation, the history behind the piece, even the way it laconically captures the natural body shapes and gives a subtle yet sublime focus to the chest. In modern times, when women are free to dress however they like, this asymmetrical, light, graceful Question Mark necklace remains Boucheron’s answer to the timeless question of beauty, femininity and freedom of self-expression.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel—everything that’s good about love has already been described by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Poe, as well as Pablo Neruda in his Love Sonnet XI:
I hunger for your sleek laugh,your hands the color of a savage harvest, hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails, I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
Yet the history of love has a dark side too. So here comes the bad about Valentine’s Day.
Although its origins are buried deep in the past, historians presume that it was started by (pretty much naked) ancient Romans celebrating the feast of Lupercalia on February 13–15: sacrificing animals and whipping women with their hides, while young women willingly lined up for this questionable ritual, believing in its fertility-bringing power. The name of the modern day of love may have also come from ancient Rome, where Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on February 14, whose martyrdom was subsequently honored by the Church with St. Valentine’s Day.
Hopefully (though this is arguable), people today are much less bloodthirsty and more chill and prefer tokens of love to being whipped with the hide of a sacrificial animal. So here comes the last—and the most beautiful—part of our Valentine’s story: the jewelry.
Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to remember the wonderful and unrivaled YOU, along with the beauty incarnated in gorgeous jewelry pieces by exceptional designers and artists. Charms and necklaces: heart, lips, coins, keys to your heart in yellow, white and pink gold, titanium, rhodium, diamonds, multicolor sapphires, rubies, tourmalines, corundums, enamel, quartz, ebony and pearls—everything your heart was longing for, and much, much more.
Chocolate will taste sweet for a moment, while jewelry will last for ages. An old proverb says: “Love is a collaborative work of art”. And as we know now through modern medicine: love is obsession, manifesting at the chemical level and showing at brain scans. So why not surrender to the sweet, innocent obsession with jewelry on this Day of Love and surround yourself with these vibrant pieces of art.
This day is about you.
Treat your loved one and yourself with a precious heart from the gorgeous selection at the Moda Operandi trunk show. A heart that is extremely hard to break.
The fairytales are anything but forgotten. Reinvented by the artistic duo through precious and peculiar materials, imaginative and eccentric designs, perfect asymmetry and advanced techniques, they take a physical form of colorful, delicious, exuberant and happy pieces. Red, pink, yellow, blue, gold and white, little crowns, hearts, lips and stars—the castles, clear skies, princesses, romantic stories we were told as kids, still alive at the back of our minds.
The ribbons of the Cadeau Pink earrings, a ‘present’ in yellow gold, enamel, diamonds and lemon quartz, wrap around the sublime fantasies hovering in the air, swinging to the gentle footsteps of a modern woman, open to the beauty and art of enchantment.
A FULL IMMERSION INTO TIME, NATURE, LOVE AND ITALY: A PRECIOUS PUZZLE BY VAN CLEEF & ARPELS IN MILAN
Illustration by INKYCUBANS
Today they host Van Cleef & Arpels. Over 400 pieces of jewelry, watches and precious objects—produced since the establishment of the Maison in 1906—are exhibited alongside archival documents, sketches and gouache designs, deconstructing the creative process and leading you through the intricacies of artistic thought that gave life to these poetic creations.
The Palazzo looks different with walls draped in red silk, surfaces covered in gold leaf, pink and aquamarine lighting, showcases made from plexiglass, mirrors transforming and amplifying the space around you. Everything reflects and refracts in everything, echoing the luminosity and shimmer of the jewels, with a scenography designed by Johanna Grawunder.
You enter Time, Nature and Love.
Guiding you through a maze of gold, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, platinum and sapphires is the curator of the exhibition, Alba Cappellieri. Connecting the Maison and Time through the literary work of Italo Calvino, she accompanies you to the various rooms of the Palazzo—Paris, Exoticism, Lightness, Quickness, Visibility, Exactitude, Multiplicity—followed by intersections with Dance, Couture and Architecture. After you have passed Time, you will enter the Love section, displaying precious and symbolic romantic gifts, for love was at the very origin of the Maison. Once you have satisfied your hunger for love, dive into Nature—flowers, birds, animals, colors and shapes—an inexhaustible source of beauty and inspiration for an artistic soul.
Pieces of the puzzle come together as you immerse yourself in this divine concoction of exquisite jewelry, modern scenography and elite literature. The seemingly complex interrelations become clear as you walk through the exhibition from one creation to another, savoring and relishing, allowing the story to tell itself.
Join the experience at Palazzo Reale in Milan, from November 30, 2019, to February 23, 2020.