As home to the lion’s share of the world’s amber, Russia is the perfect place to invest in a beautiful curio or piece of jewellery. The instantly recognisable resin has captured the imagination of generations, and St Petersburg is the perfect place to be inspired by, and purchase, amber. After all, a stroll along Nevsky Prospect can only be improved by a souvenir of your own to take home…
No journey of amber discovery would be complete without a visit to the Amber Room at Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. A 40-minute drive from Corinthia St Petersburg, or accessible by public transport from Nevsky Prospect, the current iteration is a faithful reconstruction of what was once thought of as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The original room was built in Berlin in 1701, where it remained until 1716 when it was given to Tsar Peter the Great by the Prussian King Frederick William I. Peter the Great, founder of St Petersburg, installed the 55 square meters and 6 tonnes of amber at Catherine Palace. The original was sadly lost in World War II - what you can see at the palace today is a collaboration between German and Russian craftspeople that took from 1979 to 2003 to complete.
The restored room contains some artefacts from Germany, but the fate of the original room and its treasure is still shrouded in mystery and rumour. This fascinating history plus the beauty and opulence of candlelit amber make it a perfect fit for a palace of the Tsars.
As well as the most popular deep honey colour, amber can appear in a variety of shades. Generally when a piece is paler, the resin is younger (less than a million years old) and therefore less valuable. When it’s green, the amber has likely been formed in the bark of a tree rather than underground, and when it looks milky it usually has air bubbles inside. This milky appearance is very popular though so it doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper.
Factors that may make the price go up are the size of the piece – the larger the whole, the more pricey – and the inclusion of a small creature preserved in the resin. The deeper the honey colour the older, and more expensive, the piece.
Sadly, counterfeit amber still appears on the market but luckily it’s pretty easy to spot. Fakes are usually plastic so can be flushed out by heat or flotation tests, but if you are suspicious of a vendor, the easiest way to put your mind at rest is to check for imperfections. Plastic pieces are usually super perfect, whereas real amber will usually have some inclusions.
Arts Square Gifts
Located at the Arts Square opposite to the Russian Museum, shopping here is a bit of a must when visiting St Petersburg. A historic building plays home to wonderfully modern souvenirs and artefacts that nod to Russia’s heritage but have plenty of stylish appeal.
Italynskaya Street, 11
Souvenir Shop at the Hermitage Art Gallery
Find this welcoming store on the Moyka River embankment, next to the Palace Square and the Hermitage Museum. Naturally the pieces you will find here have a beautiful artistic twist, but you can also find more ornate curiosities like tea sets and trinket boxes, as well as jewellery.
Moyka River embankment, 37
Located next to Passage Mall (a beautiful historic shopping destination itself) this store is a leisurely 20-minute stroll from Corinthia St Petersburg, along Nevsky Prospect. Expect high quality, knowledgeable staff and traditional designs and souvenirs, as well as more modern pieces.
Nevsky Prospect, 46
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.