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Integration is the only solution for the amber industry – an interview with Adam Pstrągowski

How much has the epidemic impacted the European amber industry? Though we will learn what the real size of the crisis is in autumn, amber makers are already counting their losses and wondering what’s next. Non-standard situations call for non-standard solutions.

There are no tourists in holiday resorts, so there’s no amber products trade – what does that mean for the industry?

The trade of the amber industry was mainly based on tourists and took place mostly in the holiday resorts in the Baltic Sea basin in the north, through Cracow, to Prague in the south. Tourism was stopped in March and up until now it hasn’t returned to what it was like before the pandemic, so it seems that this season is pretty much a write off for the industry.

One may wonder about the Christmas season, but even there I wouldn’t be too optimistic… In the situation when the Chinese market is closed – both due the virus and saturation with the products from Poland and Lithuania combined with the easy access to the raw material from Russia for the Chinese producers – the threat of collapse is looming over the industry. The only hope in the situation might be, and should be, production diversification – relying on only one type of product and particular target customer is inadvisable. Local clients may be a solution – regardless of the country in Europe – they may fall in love with amber jewellery and start perceiving it as something special, something that they will covet.

How has the S&A Jewellery Design managed the last few months?

Exactly thanks to diversification. We have received many orders from our clients for jewellery products, including the ones that in a normal situation would most likely be realised by Indian or Chinese companies. We have survived the most difficult period of the lockdown only because amber is about 50 to 60% of the S&A product offer, rather than 100%. The jewellery market in the world has been changing in the last few years, and during the quarantine the process of clients turning away from buying larger jewellery products that stand out thanks to their uniqueness has accelerated even more. Currently, the markets are dominated by the trend for minimalist, understated, and simple jewellery. The kind that you can wear every day, to work, to go shopping, etc. The jewellery world is changing and we, the producers have no choice, but to adjust and adapt our designs to the current market demand.

The Amberif trade fair has been moved from March to August – is there a chance that it can change something in this situation?

I’m afraid not. Especially that we can’t predict whether the buyers – even if they come – won’t place orders or will place really small ones, as their warehouses are still full. Let’s not forget that sales stopped for 3 months, not a lot is being sold now as jewellery is not a basic necessity product – especially in the situation when recession and an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases are predicted.

The situation is very difficult on all markets. The ones who will suffer least from it are the Russian producers because they have a huge local outlet with the purchasing force of about 130 million inhabitants of the entire Federation who know and love amber and call it their national stone. It won’t be easy for the Ukraine either, as it wasn’t even possible to start their production properly and now the interest in the raw material will most likely plummet. The Poles and Lithuanians can already strongly feel the results of the lack of tourist trade, especially that they have become specialised in souvenir products with amber.

Is there any solution for the amber industry?

Everyone will probably be looking for the right solutions for their own company here and now, but I think that we should start thinking about acting on a wider scale and longer term. What could really help us all is consolidation of the amber industry located in the countries with strong amber making traditions – that is Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. And who knows, perhaps the Ukraine, who is launching effective activities putting in order amber mining, would be willing to join the project? In order to avoid the serious threat of recession we need a coherent raw material distribution policy and joined actions on the world scale aimed to promote Baltic amber – not Polish, Lithuanian, Russian or Ukrainian, but Baltic – as a unique, natural jewellery stone. The assumptions are simple: the Russians have the largest deposits of amber in the world, which instead of selling to China they could process locally and make profit on selling semi-finished products to Polish and Lithuanian companies specialising in making high quality products. They in turn could sell the products to customers all over the world. Good cooperation is the basis – we could all benefit from setting up a Baltic consortium modelled on the European airbus, which for decades has been contributing to strengthening cooperation in the region and at the same time supporting economic development.

What should be the beginning of such cooperation?

In my opinion the simplest way would be by combining the fair trades that take place in the region, that is the Amberif in Gdańsk and Amber Trip in Vilnius in order to create one large joint event that would help to strengthen both Polish and Lithuanian industry. I will use a comparison here again, this time in the diamond industry – the stones are mined in Africa, Australia, Canada, India and Russia. They are cut in Israel, India and Russia, however it is European Antwerp that is an important world diamond trade centre. It is about best using all existing possibilities – if we don’t do anything, the industry may shrink to the size of a disappearing craft in the next 10 years…

Adam Pstrągowski is the president of the S&A Jewellery Design – producer of high quality jewellery with Baltic amber and natural stones and distinguished by modern design, created in cooperation with the leading Polish jewellery designers.

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