The time when huddled masses of foreign tourists headed straight from the airport to local gift shops to buy amber artifacts may be coming to an end in the Baltics. Merchants are concerned that amber jewelry sales are declining and complain that public interest toward amber is fading away.
"I can't say that amber sales are sky-rocketing, it's quite the opposite," says a manager at the Vilnius Amber Museum.
Most buyers are tourists from Italy, Spain, and Japan. Tourists like animal figures carved out of amber, yet little ship models are not very popular with them, no matter how elegantly they are designed.
Edita Koziroviciute-Miuvene, who owns the largest chain of souvenir shops in Lithuania, says that amber sales are down.
"I would think most visitors to Lithuania are budget travelers and buying expensive trinkets is not high on their priorities list."
"Jewelry these days can be found almost any place in Europe. That is why inexpensive amber (bijouterie) is preferred by most visitors as opposed to highly intricate "enclosure items" that only the sophisticated collector can appreciate," she said
Enclosures have insects or sometimes even small animals preserved in amber nuggets for millions of years, typically 30-90 million.
But Lithuanian merchants show a great deal of resilience and find new ways to market amber artifacts.
Alfredas Gerulis owns a virtual shop and sells amber jewelry on the Internet to customers even in New Zealand and Australia.
"Most customers at our Internet shop come from Western Europe. They prefer rings and brooches. For some reason, nobody from Russia buys jewelry on-line," said Gerulis.
He adds that healing qualities of amber were noticed even by ancient Greeks.
"Many people suffering from thyroid gland disorders would receive relief by wearing amber items they may purchase from us on-line," assures Gerulis. Amber has been a symbol of Lithuania and Latvia since ancient times.
On the Baltic shores, amber is used to make jewelry and souvenirs, medicine and artifacts. It is believed that amber has a certain healing power and transcends the energy of millenniums embodied in this esoteric substance to bring relief to the human physique and soul. Ancient legends of the Baltic peoples refer to amber as "the sun stone."
Despite a decline in sales, the stone still remains popular among Europeans. Visitors to Lithuania and Latvia from southern Europe remain curious about amber more so than others. Italians and Spaniards prefer red amber while Russians seem to be enchanted with the "sun stone" of light yellow or even white texture. Connoisseurs distinguish about two hundred fifty different types of amber. Amber nuggets are carefully sorted to catch their subtle gloss and inter-play of colors that place them in a certain category meant for specific use.
Palanga hosts the famous Amber Museum, which is home to the largest amber nugget in the world 's the famous "Sun stone". Its weight is 3.6 kg (8 pounds). Vilnius and Nida also boast amber museums containing thousands of amber artifacts made out of nuggets found on the Baltic beaches.