Current Events and You

Cushion Cut DiamondAs some of you know, I believe that professional pearl and bead stringers must take the time to learn gemstones and to occasionally venture outside their jewelry-making niche to acquaint themselves with current news and events regarding gemstones.

So, guys, brace yourselves. This advice extends to royalty and royal engagements such as, yes, indeedy, Prince Harry and Meghan Markel.

“Why?” You might ask with some justification.

Because your credibility is one of your most most important assets. Clients recognize it and rely upon it. You MUST know gemstone basics and you MUST interest yourself in events in which there is broad popular interest. You don’t need to know every detail and you certainly don’t need to become any kind of expert about royal engagement rings, but you do need to be able to discuss them with at least some authority.

In this case, if the avalanche of news about this romance has gotten a little stale on the backend, I’ll do it for you.

Here is what you need to know:

Trilogy Ring – the ring is called a “trilogy” or “trinity” ring where the stones represent the past, present and future. The two flanking round diamonds apparently belonged to Diana (past) while the center stone is from Botswana, a major diamond source and a favorite destination of Harry’s (present and future). DON’T confuse the design with the sentiment. The sentiment, as a selling point, is relatively new with commercial jewelers, however, the design, a center stone flanked by other, smaller stones is as old as a jeweler’s torch.

Setting – The diamonds are set in white gold and the band is yellow gold. Since the nineteenth century platinum has been the preferred metal for setting diamonds because its grayish white color is a perfect complement to diamonds. It’s also very strong. There is no such thing in nature as white gold. To obtain white gold, yellow gold is alloyed with another metal to achieve the white color. Both are beautiful with diamonds and before platinum was discovered, white gold was the preferred metal for setting diamonds.

Diamonds – The center diamond is cushion cut, a somewhat old-fashioned diamond cut with large open facets and rounded corners. (I’ve inserted a chart above with common diamond cuts.) Cleave and Company, which fabricated the ring, isn’t releasing details about the stones, but other experts suggest it’s 2.5 to three carats. (I estimated three carats.) The round diamonds flanking the center stone are estimated at .75 points to one carat. (I thought they might be one carat.)

Design – The company that fabricated the ring has announced with some fanfare that they’ll never “recreate” it. Duh.  Despite every attempt by the GIA and others to reduce diamonds to a commodity, every diamond, like every gemstone, is unique. So, of course, Cleave will never recreate the ring. Will the design be recreated? Of course. It’s been around since jewelry first began to be fabricated.

Value – Who knows? The ring is not available for examination and frankly, who cares?

OK, friends, there it is: all you need to know about the engagement ring. And, although I’ve been a little snarky about it, make no mistake: you need to acquaint yourself with this stuff. Your expertise is one of your most important assets. Clients will rely upon it and it will distinguish you from others in your field. Besides, it’s interesting. We got into this because we love jewelry and learning about it is an ongoing pleasure.





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Surprise Endorsement from Former Student

Former Students Sends Lovely MessageSome of you know that years ago when I ran the gallery, I gave a jewelry making course in my studio behind the gallery. I had a wonderful time doing it and firmly believe that professional pearl and bead stringers are among the nicest people on the planet. In the entire 10 years I gave the course, I had only one complaint and that was from someone who wouldn’t do the work and then objected when I finally denied her access to the studio and to me.

The course was intense and cost $300. It was a reasonable amount for the amount of time and effort involved, but it was expensive enough to filter out dilettantes. (Then, as now, I’m not interested in teaching people who aren’t serious about learning.) In any event, that course eventually became the basis of the DVDs offered on this site.

Although a couple of my students became close friends, most of them drifted away. When the gallery was open, some maintained sporadic contact but, not surprisingly, that stopped when I closed the gallery.

So, I was absolutely delighted when out of the clear blue sky I recently received the following message:

Fleury, Just a greeting from Seattle, WA. I’m one of your students who took classes with you in Houston approx. 15-20 years ago. By being exposed to your mentorship with deep knowledge of stringing stones, I developed a lifelong love of all things pertaining to creating jewelry and gemstones, also a passion for pearls. I just retired from nursing and plan to devote more time to my endeavors. I just want to thank you for passing along your many “pearls” regarding jewelry making/stringing. How fortunate I was that you opened up this world for me. Hope that you are well and happy…Oh, by the way, I just acquired my first Mikimoto pearl necklace (6mm/18″ length). I finally made it to the holy grail!

You can imagine how delighted I was to receive this kind of communication. And, although she promptly agreed to allow me to make the message public, the fact that I’m able to use it here has nothing to do with the pleasure it brought me.

I thought you might be interested.







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SSL, Google & Pearl and Bead Stringers

Many professional pearl and bead stringers maintain their own websites – as I do – to introduce themselves and to acquaint potential clients with their jewelry.

In my case, the idea is to introduce myself and to describe as thoroughly as possible the various products I offer for sale.

PayPal logoIf someone is interested in purchasing any of these products, they click on the Paypal button and are taken to that site where the actual transaction is made. Paypal is of course a trusted platform for making payments over the internet and in addition to serving people with Paypal accounts, also accepts credit cards from people without those accounts. (I posted the Paypal logo opposite in the remote chance that a reader may not be familiar with PayPal.)

In other words, I do NOT actually make the sale. Nor do I collect any transactional information on anyone buying a product from me. I couldn’t if I wanted to because the ACTUAL transaction is made off my website and on a site which specializes in internet purchases and which is well known for its commitment to security. As a seller of products on the internet, I have that obligation to clients to ensure that their information is secure and PayPal has earned my confidence as it has tens of thousands of other small merchants.

(Stay with me here. This is not a paean to PayPal. If you maintain a website, there’s a high probability you might want this information.)

Enter Google & SSL

While I do not follow the rumblings of Google in the way that experts do, I maintain my own website and as a consequence notice major shifts in Google policy especially as they affect the functioning of my website.

In the past few months I’ve become aware that Google is indicating that website owners should add what’s called a “secure socket layer” or SSL to their websites to encrypt and protect information that is collected by that website. To signal to website visitors that their information is protected, websites who add this SSL will have a lock in the upper left corner and https:// in the url itself. The configuration will look like this:

URL for

Notice the lock on the left; the “Secure” language and the fact that the URL has changed to https://

I admit to an initial reluctance to begin to navigate the always complicated process of changing the basic structure of the website.  Surely, I reasoned, this recommendation would not apply to an informational site where transactions occur on another site.

“Oh, yes, it does,” said SEO experts. “If you don’t comply, visitors to your site will get warnings that look like this:”


I’d be worried if I saw that kind of warning on any site I visited. In addition, when I researched the issue, I was assured by experts whose prose I had difficulty reading that the SSL was necessary and important. So, scared by the warning messages, bullied by Google and advised by SEO experts, I decided to acquire SSL even though I was and am perplexed about the need for one.

SSL Installation

Not being familiar with SSLs or how to install them, I did what most people do when they want to acquaint themselves with a new subject, I went to Youtube.

There, I learned that SSLs can be obtained in one of two ways. You can get a free one from several sources. In addition, some, but not all, web hosting companies offer free SSLs. Second, of course, you can buy one.

I quickly learned that my web hosting company, Hostgator, does NOT offer free SSLs. So, feeling injured because I was bullied into this in the first place and because I dislike being compelled to spend money, I went for the free SSL from a company called “Cloud Flare.”

Webmaster Hell

Thus, I inaugurated ten days of pure “webmaster” hell as my site became, first, inaccessible to me through the administrative back end and then began to reflect the  most dire warnings Google can devise on the front end.

After trying repeatedly to uninstall the SSL from Cloud Flare, I contacted my hosting company, requested that they uninstall it and, of course, bought the SSL which was in the neighborhood of $40.

I will not bore you with details, but will tell you it took about 10 business days to resolve the damage to the website and install the new SSL so my site reflects the new level of security Google is insisting upon.

My Advice

I (apparently mistakenly) regard myself as having at least some competence when it comes to navigating Google headwaters. I’m obviously wrong! So, I have two bits of advice.

First, whether you think it’s important or not, I strongly recommend you incorporate an SSL into your website. You just can’t fight city hall. You just can’t. This is google’s play pen and it makes the rules.

Second,  please, please avoid the mistakes and worry I brought upon my myself. Skip the well-meaning people on youtube and go directly to your hosting company and, if necessary, buy the SSL. Then let them install it.





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Bead Stringers, What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Faulty ManufactureProfessional Pearl and Bead Stringers will instantly know what wrong with this picture. And, our reaction is the same “WHAT???!??” we experience in high end department or jewelry stores when we see jewelry with similar issues…which all too often we do.

In this case, the bracelet is from the early 1920s and a nice example of Art Deco. It is composed of coral beads, onyx and diamonds mounted in platinum.

The bracelet is part of an auction at a high end European auction house and its value is set at between $14,000 and $17,000.

But when you look at the image, where does your eye go?

Yes, of course, right to the stretched thread at the clasp, central ornament and between the beads.

Obviously, this is unsightly, frankly, it’s unacceptably unsightly. But, in addition, it’s dangerous. We site knots between beads to prevent them from rubbing against one another and also to prevent loss when and if the thread breaks. (The idea is that if the strand breaks, only one bead will be in danger of being lost.)

Here, I would judge breakage to be inevitable and sooner rather than later. (I could be wrong, of course, but it looks like a pretty easy call to me.) So, in addition to looking terrible, at the least one bead from a valuable bracelet could be lost.

(And, as an aside I would note that these beads would be difficult to match given the scarcity of coral, especially Mediterranean coral, on the world markets.)

In its description, the auction house doesn’t mention the provenance of the jewelry – that is, who owned it, what house manufactured it, etc. But, even if the thread is the original thread (and it probably is), there is no value in it.

The opposite is in fact the case.



Posted in Business, Gemstones, Manufacturing Tips | Tagged

Yurman’s New Book has Real Lesson for Professional Pearl and Bead Stringers

Lesson for pearl and bead stringersJewelry designer David Yurman evokes a number of reactions from his peers, including admiration, contempt and jealousy.

The last is certainly understandable if not especially admirable. Yurman is one of the very, very few “artist” jewelers who have managed to achieve commercial success. That success, of course, was built on his “cable” bracelet, which Yurman describes as “the river that runs through all of our collections.” Cable, in the sense used by Yurman, is twisted wire, usually sterling silver in a variety of diameters, whose terminals are simply or elaborately decorated with precious metal and/or gemstones. The bracelets (and later, the rings, watches, and various collections) are instantly recognizable as Yurman and for many women are status symbols.

The problem for many studio jewelers is that twisted wire paired with gemstones and/or contrasting metal is not an especially new concept. Artisans have been doing it for literally hundreds of years. Later, jewelers I knew who pointed out Yurman’s dependency on a familiar and ancient “design” concept were especially furious when he introduced the “Celtic knot” as an element in his jewelry and then had the effrontery to trade mark the designs.

Putting aside (for the moment) Yurman’s success, we are faced with the age old question of whether Yurman’s jewelry really is “art” and whether his design concepts justify both the acclaim and prices he commands for his work.

Rather than get into a convoluted discussion, let’s take the easy way out and ask whether his designs retain their freshness and vitality over time. (This is a legitimate question. Yurman’s cable bracelets first appeared in 1983, more than three decades ago, plenty of time for evaluation.)

Perhaps I’m a little jaded, but to my eye, the earliest bracelets seem a little tired, but truthfully that may be a result of having seen the same design in different iterations over multiple decades.

For professional pearl and bead stringers, though, there is another lesson to be drawn from Yurman’s career. Recently, the company announced the release of his book “David Yurman Cable.” (I’m not suggesting you buy it. At $90, I’ll wait until I can get it on the remaindered table and even then, I’ll probably pass.) The point is that whatever his achievements as an artist, Yurman is a master marketer and the book, trust me, is primarily a marketing tool to position Yurman as an artist and buttress his legacy. He was born in 1942.

This is the point that many artist/studio jewelers miss. If you don’t put your work out there, no one sees it. If you rely exclusively upon others to market your work, you’re don’t get to talk about your work – others do it, assuming anyone actually sees it.

Some of the best and most well-known designers are also exceptionally good marketers. In my experience, the best and most professional studio jewelers understood the value of marketing and made it an integral part of their day-to-day activities.

Whatever you think of Yurman’s work, he got this part of it right.

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Jewelry History, Sales | Tagged ,

Gemstones, Style and Reputation

GemstonesAs professional pearl and bead stringers, we’re often asked about issues that might seem a little far from our area of expertise, including questions about gemstones and cultural history. Rightly or wrongly, our ability to answer these questions influences the way we’re regarded.

I’ve found that I enjoy following — to some extent – the big auction houses whose offerings are often reflective of key design moments in the history of jewelry. Knowledge about the general trend of jewelry history in turn establishes a reputation for expertise that is truly invaluable.

One such auction occurs today. Sotheby’s Hong Kong is offering a Tutti Fruitti bracelet as part of its Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Autumn Sale. The bracelet is from Cartier and is characterized as “rare” by the auction house, which unfortunately hasn’t provided much more about its provenance.

Tutti Fruitti is the name bestowed upon an Art Deco style in the 1970s. The style itself was created by Jacques Cartier in the 1920s and was the result of a creative surge catalyzed by his exposure to the jewels of the Indian maharajah including carved colored gemstones as leaves, flowers, berries and fruit.

It’s also notable that the gemstones incorporated into these designs are opaque, not transparent, a revolutionary development in perceived value. That is, opaque gemstones were not generally considered suitable for jewelry at the time.

Tutti Fruitti BibPerhaps the most famous piece of Tutti Fruitti jewelry is the Collier Hindou, commissioned by Daisy Fellowes in 1936. The bib included 785 gemstones, including 594 diamonds, supplied by Fellowes. Cartier added 238 diamonds and eight rubies to the total. It’s also noteworthy that although the Tutti Fruitti style was Indian in its origin, Cartier included 13 faceted sapphires in the final design. Sapphires are considered an unlucky stone in Indian tradition, a tradition that continues to this day.


Posted in Gemstones, Jewelry Design, Jewelry History | Tagged ,

Even Unintentional Deception is Still Fraud

The other day I was talking to a man who has visited the public sections at the big winter gem show in Tucson. While I was chatting with him, his wife wandered over and when she discovered the topic of the conversation announced that she wouldn’t buy anything at the gem show because she would be afraid of being cheated.

I was surprised how annoyed I was at that assertion – that her very real expectation was that she would be cheated. It didn’t occur to her that most people in our trade wouldn’t risk putting their livelihoods in jeopardy to make a deceptive sale. Bottom line – it’s just not worth it.

But the comment does bring up a very real issue for jewelers – and here I include pearl and bead stringers. Too many in the trade fail to learn about the materials they work with, either the gemstones or the metal. In all innocence, a metalsmith, for example, could sell a blue topaz as an aquamarine or even a tanzanite because he or she hasn’t taken the time to learn how to identify them.

In another example, many people, jewelers, bead stringers and metalsmiths, confuse reconstituted amber with untreated amber when it’s really simple to identify the difference.

In other words, it’s all too easy for customers to buy from ignorant sellers and then feel cheated and deceived when they discover the product is not as it was presented. In these situations, I believe that the seller, however, well-intentioned, is at fault and is perpetrating fraud.

There are far too many resources and organizations that provide information to people who sell gems either as a part of a finished product or as unfinished goods. It’s our job to take advantage of them so that if we have a question about the materials we’re using we can answer it – for ourselves and our clients.

When I ran the gallery, I would automatically reject jewelers and beadstringers who didn’t take the time to learn about the materials they were using. I found it unacceptably sloppy (and lazy). It was one of the few rules I had, but it was an inflexible one.

Please take the time to learn about the materials you’re using in a piece of work. It’s not hard to find the information. There will always be people like the woman referenced above who believe that given the chance, the trade will cheat a customer. But, by increasing the level of knowledge we bring to sales, we not only reduce that chance, we heighten our personal reputations – and presumably our own pleasure since we’re in the business because we love it. Right?

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Sales | Tagged ,

Natural Pearls & Jewelry Designers

I was reviewing my gmail account today for various notifications and a number of pre-Christmas articles reminded me of one of my pet peeves. Jewelry designers are always hungry for publicity and rightly so. After all, we can’t evaluate, search for or learn about emerging designers without exposure.

But with exposure, jewelry designers ought to make their work publicly available. I seriously dislike being presented with an article about a new designer with a single photo of him or her bent over the bench. I want to see the jewelry, not the jeweler at work. Tell me why I should make an effort to read an article written by a layperson who more often than not can’t describe the work accurately? Tell me why I should spend that time when a couple of images will tell me whether I want to pass or learn more?

I know from first-hand experience that a significant degree of this reticence derives from the fact that designers, particularly in the early stages of their careers, fear that people will steal their designs.

My advice: Get over it.

Your unique design vision will manifest in the body of your work. Rip-off designers can’t sustain your vision because they don’t have it. Moreover, you need a public record of your work. I know one designer – one of the most creative pearl and bead stringers who ever lived – who refuses to make images of her work public. When she departs, her work, in large part, will depart with her. This sickens and saddens me.

Yes, designers swap ideas. Notice the proliferation today of oxidized silver, a trend that began a decade ago with prominent German designers. But, your vision is your own. That’s what’s sustainable and that’s where your reputation will stand or fall.


Natural PearlsChristie’s is auctioning a 19th century natural pearl necklace owned by Queen Isabella II of Spain today in London.

I mention this because it is entirely possible that a professional can spend their entire working career in the trade and never see a natural pearl – that’s how rare they are.

First, a little background on Isabella. She was born in Madrid in 1830. Her father, Ferdinand VII of Spain originally collected the pearls for his wife, Marie Christina of Bourbon.

Notice the word “collected.” We’re so used to looking at matched pearls on strands and hanks, we sometimes forget that before the advent of cultured pearls – that is pearls cultivated by mankind – natural pearls were collected one pearl at a time and then laboriously matched to form a strand, an effort that often took years. Pearls, of course, are still matched by hand by technicians working on pearl farms or elsewhere on the supply chain. But, scarcity of cultured pearls isn’t an issue today.

The necklace was originally sold at auction in 1878 after Isabella was deposed in the “Glorious Revolution.” It was sold again in 1960.

Pearl and bead stringers, notice the knots between the beads.

Posted in Jewelry Design, Jewelry History, Pearls | Tagged , ,

New and More Affordable DVDs

Four Volume DVD SetYears ago when we developed our first and flagship product, the two-volume Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing DVD, compression technologies weren’t as accessible as they are today. The choice we had back then was to ignore information we regarded as important or to create a two-volume set. We opted for the latter.

Although we made every effort to keep costs down, the result — at $39 — was a relatively expensive product.

We were and are proud of that effort. It enjoyed tremendous success and hundreds of students took the course and went on to create beautiful and beautifully manufactured jewelry.

Recently, though, we reorganized and updated the material and compressed it onto one disc. The result, at $19.99, is a far more affordable DVD. In addition, we’ve “bundled” that DVD with a second one which contains information we developed over twenty-five years in the gem trade. Finally, we’ve priced the entire set — that is, the four DVDs in our suite of products — at $39, the price of the original DVD. Learning the material on these discs enables the student to master all the jewelry making skills in these niches. The next step would be learning how to solder.

The second change we’ve made is to eliminate free shipping. Our margins are just too small not to include a minimal shipping charge. We do understand that many internet marketers have used shipping as a profit center and as a result have made consumers wary of them. However, we do not. Our shipping costs are straightforward and are explained here.

Learning how to string pearls and beads and how to manipulate wire are life-changing and life-enhancing skills. We hope you’ll enjoy our new product and business model.


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“Natural” Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces

I am re-printing material here I developed in connection with another project. You may be approached for an opinion on the necklaces and/or you may be asked to manufacture one. I’m also posting the following as a downloadable pdf if you wish to keep a copy for reference.

I believe the issue is an important one and one which our community should be knowledgeable about. The following is a little long, but I  hope you’ll at least skim through it.

Rethinking Natural Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces for Infants and Toddlers

"Baltic Amber" Teething NecklaceI recently became aware of the apparently growing practice of parents providing infants and toddlers with amber necklaces for help with teething discomfort. I discovered this while researching another product for Unicorn Station, a company with which I am associated – and in the spirit of full disclosure, Unicorn Station offers a teething necklace.
I wish to emphasize that the following is my own opinion, informed by nearly 30 years in the gem trade. I intend for this to offer parents and gift-buyers solid advice, and hope it will add value to your decision whether or not to buy an amber teething necklace for your infant or toddler.
Fleury Sommers

Is it Really Amber?

Amber ChipsI recently became aware of the volume of amber chips being sold on Amazon — and I assume other platforms — as teething necklaces for babies. The chips are described as anti-inflammatory and as providing a “natural remedy” for drooling and teething pain.
Most of the marketers also make some kind of claim about the necklaces being made of the highest quality certified Baltic amber.

As someone who loves amber, studies it and collects it, I was stunned just as I was a number of years ago, when as a young gemologist, I overheard a dealer tell a client that the “cherry” amber the client was considering buying was natural.

Whether these sellers are deliberating distorting the truth or are as credulous as their buyers, they do a disservice to the gem industry. In my opinion, they are selling a product that in all probability is mislabeled, but one that could pose a real danger to teething infants.

First, it’s important to understand that even among professionals amber is one of the least understood of all the gemstones. That’s because it can be imitated so easily and, unlike diamonds or colored gemstones, there is no consistent demand for it. That is, demand goes up or down depending upon various marketplace trends or fads. As a result, amber is not studied as carefully by professionals as other stones which are more consistently in demand.

So assessing sellers’ claims is a little imprecise, but it can be done, usually with destructive tests. My objective here isn’t to describe those tests, which can be found on-line and which are destructive to the amber being tested. My objective is to give you a glimpse of how gemologists think about gemstones and whether they are as described by sellers.

Let’s begin with the easiest and perhaps most important clue first: price.
Most of the teething necklaces sold on Amazon are priced between fourteen and twenty dollars and are accompanied by some sort of “certification” from sellers. Even if you know nothing else about amber except that it is considered an important organic gemstone, do these prices make sense? Of course they don’t.

Now, consider that genuine natural Baltic amber chips sell on the wholesale gem market for at least double the retail prices asked on Amazon.

That fact in itself does not inspire confidence that customers are getting the “genuine natural Baltic amber chips” described in the promotional materials. So, of course, the question is what are they getting?

There are other clues. But, first a little background.

At the lower end of the amber market, there are three major types of amber imitations and/or synthetics.

First, a colorized plastic is heated and pressed or tumbled into various forms including beads. I own a “cherry” amber necklace from the 1920s. The necklace is interesting. Some might consider it beautiful. But it’s not amber because cherry amber does not exist in nature. It’s a polymer that has been pressed into beads. Plastic is the easiest material to use in imitating amber. But remember, amber is a resin, not a polymer. Plastic also presents with a uniform color, unlike the different colors you will find in a single piece of amber.

Second, manufacturers take the shavings and other leftovers from the tumbling and polishing process, heat them to a high temperature, and form them into beads, chips and other forms. This is called reconstituted amber. Reconstituted amber might or might not contain materials such as oils and other resins. The processes used and the materials in them are kept secret for obvious competitive reasons. The image below is of reconstituted amber. Note the uniformity in color. Also, note the “spangles” in the amber. These are gas bubbles that have burst in the heating process, but which mimic the inclusions for which amber is famous.

Reconstituted Amber

Third, copal is a young or semi-fossilized amber from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. Copal is young only in comparison with genuine amber which is 40 million years old. Copal can range in age between fifty and 1.6 million years. In addition, copal is the product of different trees. So, copal is similar to, but is not amber.
To the untrained eye, copal can look very much like amber as this image from Wikipedia demonstrates.


Without resorting to destructive tests, one clue is the number of inclusions in the copal which will not present in amber at the same price points. Another is the fact that the surface of copal will be subject to small cracks as it gets older.

So, uniform color, star bursts or spangles in the beads and an abundance of inclusions suggest that the material is not amber. Couple this with the price points described earlier and then compare them with the wholesale costs of genuine natural Baltic amber chips, and I think most people would conclude that most of the products offered as “genuine Baltic amber teething necklaces” are either plastic imitations, reconstituted amber or copal. Now, please remember that nothing is wrong with imitations, reconstituted gemstones or copal as long as those facts are disclosed to the buyer.

If you conclude as I do that in this context the buyer is at risk of purchasing something other than that which is being described by the seller, you must also conclude that you don’t want your infant or toddler chewing these products. You need to know what going into your baby’s mouth.

It’s important to say that if you find the necklaces beautiful, by all means buy and wear them. You’re not going to chew on them.

In the next section, I’ll review the health claims made by these sellers that I believe should be viewed with deep skepticism.

You’re Kidding, Right? Health Claims Made for Amber

Gemstones have been associated with myth and legend since mankind began to adorn itself. Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought. Pearls are said to offer the power of love, money, protection and luck. Hematite was worn by Roman soldiers who associated it with Mars, the god of war. They believed hematite would protect them in battle. Lapis Lazuli, a gemstone often associated with royalty, is believed to strengthen awareness, increase creativity and cure insomnia.

Do soldiers believe hematite shields them from danger? No, of course not. Do we really believe lapis cures insomnia? I don’t. Do we believe that pearls bring us happiness, money, protection from danger and good luck? No, but it’s fun to know these associations. They increase our appreciation of the gemstones and their histories.

Through the centuries, amber has been used primarily as adornment. It has also been used for healing by societies that relied on primitive medicine. The Romans, for example, used amber to protect from madness. They ground it into powder for use in curing throat, ear, eye and stomach disease. In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat jaundice and in alchemy experiments. In tsarist Russia it was used as a protection for nannies and babies.

All of this – and much more – would be simply fun and interesting information if amber advocates were not using this history to promote the notion that amber’s “healing” properties actually reduce mild pain, including the pain involved in teething.

The supposed “science” cited to support healing claims can sound serious enough to be credible. Baltic amber contains succinic acid. The theory advanced is that amber is heated via contact with the baby, releasing the acid from the beads into baby’s skin. This in turn has an analgesic effect that reduces the pain of teething.

There are a few things wrong with this:

First, it is extremely unlikely that your baby’s skin is warm enough to cause amber to release succinic acid into his or her body. Remember that Baltic amber becomes softer at about 150 degrees centigrade or 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and melts at 300 degrees centigrade and 570 degree Fahrenheit.

Second, as I described, I do not believe that the majority of necklaces sold as natural Baltic amber are indeed Baltic amber or even natural. This means that if your amber necklace is releasing some substance onto your baby’s skin, you can’t be sure what it is. But remember, even if the necklace is natural Baltic Amber and in the extremely unlikely event your baby is hot enough to cause the amber to sweat succinic acid, you still don’t know how much acid your baby is absorbing. Does this sound like good or smart parenting?

Finally, there is no evidence that succinic acid is effective as an anti-inflammatory or general analgesic. There are no studies small or large in any scientific publications that support the claims that succinic acid, via amber, is a pain remedy.

Next, more safety issues.

Teether Guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission

Consumer Product Safety CommissionIn the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for monitoring the safety of rattles, squeeze toys and teethers. The commission also issues regulations and safety tips concerning the usage of these products.

Like many safety tips, from government and elsewhere, these guidelines are mostly a matter of common sense. But in this context, they’re worth repeating since amber teething necklaces violate two of the CPSC’s three applicable safety guidelines for pacifiers and teethers.

First, the commission advises consumers to “check all rattles, squeeze toys and teethers for small ends that could extend into the back of the baby’s mouth.” If the item is too small, the commission suggests throwing it out.

The commission posts the template reproduced below and advises that “anything that fits inside this template is a choking hazard.” Amber chips are only a few millimeters in size. Entire necklaces can even fit into this template.

CPSC TemplateThe Commission also advises that “Teethers, like pacifiers, should never be fastened around a baby’s neck.”

Teethers fastened around a baby’s neck present a manifest choking hazard, yet there are a multitude of images online with babies wearing these necklaces. I’ve removed the baby’s face from the image below, but it is an example of the type of image you’ll see.
Baby with Amber NecklaceIt is appalling to me that retailers suggest directly or by implication that a baby should wear anything around the neck.

I do believe that the vast majority of these sellers offer the product with no ill intent. I also believe they are naive in the extreme if they actually believe the product claims they’re making.

Finally, I’d like to add a word on the manufacture of these necklaces. Marketers will tell you that knots placed between chips reduce the possibility that baby will swallow a chip if the necklace breaks. The knots can prevent all the beads downstream from the point of the break – except the one set free by the break — from scattering. Of course, and with respect, they don’t mention the possibility that baby will put that one chip in his or her mouth.

But there is more. As the name suggests, “chips” are small fragments of a gemstone or imitation gemstone. The drillhole through which the chips are strung therefore is proportionately larger than in other, larger gemstones. The very size of the drillhole increases the possibility of the chip breaking and of chips being swallowed by baby. These chips can have sharp edges and as I’ve mentioned, in all probability we don’t know exactly what the material is.

In sum, we don’t know exactly what is being sold as “Natural Baltic Amber.” The so-called healing properties of Baltic Amber are based on ancient reports of primitive medical practices, and on unrealistic and illogical temperature and chemical-release scenarios. And, finally, the usage of amber teething necklaces violates safety guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As a responsible parent, do you really want to take that risk?


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