In 1716, Prussia gave Peter the Great of Russia an extravagant gift honoring the peace between their nations - an entire room made of amber and encrusted with beaded jewelry. The panels were backed with gold leaf, which made the entire room glow with a topaz-like warmth.

The gorgeous Amber Room, made of real amber and beaded jewelry, glows like citrine or topaz. Image from Wikipedia.

the amber room

It was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Historians estimate that today it would be worth $146 million. The Amber Room was moved between several locations but wound up at Catherine the Great’s Palace. After a few renovations to make sure it fits its final installation, the Amber Room covered 180 square feet and included six tons of amber and other semi-precious beaded jewelry ornaments.

The Russian nobility had different ideas for how the Amber Room should be used. As the room symbolized peace, Czarina Elizabeth liked to use it for meditation. Catherine the Great used it as a reception room to impress visitors. Alexander II thought the room, with all its glowing warmth and impressive beaded jewelry, was the perfect display area for his trophies.

During WWII the Nazis also had ideas about the Amber Room. They thought it had been made by Germans—and for Germans (perhaps because the initial designer, Andreas Schluter, was German, but perhaps because they believed everything of value was German). Curators at the palace tried to disguise the amber panels and beaded jewelry elements with wallpaper but to no avail. The Nazis found it.

For a short while, the room was in a German museum in Kaliningrad, but it was hidden away before the end of the war. After the city was bombed, the Amber Room’s trail goes cold. Some say it was destroyed by the bombings, others that it rests in crates at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

A replica, complete with real amber panels and gold beaded jewelry embellishments, was completed in 2003, but the original room is still missing.

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