Nature’s Gemstone | National Geographic in Russia

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National Geographic takes you inside Kaliningrad, the amber capital of the world.

[OCEAN SOUNDS] SERGEY GORDEEV: On beaches like this one outside of Kaliningrad, precious gemstone amber is so plentiful you might simply find it washed up in the sand.

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Amber is actually fossilized tree sap that's 50 million years old. 90% of the world's supply of it comes from right here.

In Kaliningrad, amber is big business. Mined in massive quarries using pressurized water, the most valuable pieces are first sorted by size, then polished with wooden cubes in huge rotating machines to remove impurities, shaped by hands using powerful saws, and then prepared for manufacturers to ship out to artisans and jewelers all around the world. The best of their work over the past centuries is housed here at the city's amber museum.

Have attitudes towards amber changed in recent times?

KATYA MASHEGIROVA: People started to use amber in Russia in 10th century. It was as precious as gold. But the attitude is changing because before the attitude was like, oh, it's the stone of my grandmother because it was very popular in the '60s, but now even the local young people are wearing jewelry made of them.

SERGEY GORDEEV: To see some of these new styles, I decided to pay a visit to a local jewelry designer who specialized in making customized new designs for the next generation.

They really are cutting edge. They use 3D modeling to create a design, then use wax models to create plaster casts filled with molten silver. Amber pieces are sorted by exact shades of color, polished to a brilliant shine, and then laser soldered into place. It really was quite impressive.

So when you come to the amber capitol of the world, you know exactly what to bring home as a souvenir. It's the perfect gift for someone you love.