Amber - a gem of a business idea
2008-01-24 15:41:44 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss,  SANDY HAZEL speaks to Tomasz Sapalski of My Amber, a retailer/importer of Baltic amber jewellery 

Tomasz Sapalski hails from Poland. “When we joined the Euro-pean Union, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their labour market to us,” he says. “Swe-den was too cold so myself and my wife decided to come to Ireland.”

Sapalski has a Master’s degree in Computer Science with a specialisation in telecommunications systems. “I had experience too as a team manager in computer programming,” he explains. “In Ireland I started with BT in customer service which was great for brushing up my language skills. Then I got a job in programming with another company dealing with pharmacies and hospitals in Ireland and the UK. I’m now a senior programmer with a transport company in Ireland.”

While this varied career experience has seen him learn diverse skills, Sapalski also had one completely different idea that he really wanted to get off the ground. “I am from Gdansk, which has been the European capital of amber for centuries,” he says. “Amber is a resin from wood, and when the wood, over thousands of years, becomes covered by the sea, the wood rots but the amber floats and is found all along the coast of the Baltic Sea.”

Sapalski is very enthusiastic about amber: “The most common amber is orange in colour, but its properties can change depending on how much air was trapped inside during formation, creating tiny air bubbles. Heat can also affect the colour of the stone, making it green and even black. It is flexible to work with and is prized by many as a beautiful gem.”

Sapalski realised that while amber is popular as a jewel in Poland, it was not widely available in Ireland. “I looked at the market in Ireland for jewellery and saw that it is very polarised,” he notes. “While there is very expensive jewellery to be bought for thousands of euro, there is also only the cheap kind at the other end of the market.

“There seemed to me to be a gap in the middle ground, where people might buy good designs, with good quality metal and stones, for a reasonable price. I saw a niche in that market for someone who wanted to spend about 50 euro to 120 euro on a decent piece.”

Sapalski knew some jewellers in Poland who could supply him with well-made pieces of amber set in hallmarked silver in modern designs. And with the logistics and insurance sorted out, Sapalski formed My Amber, and designed a website specifically to market the jewels at

While the website has proved very popular, according to Sapalski, it is not the only outlet for the jewellery. “I decided to also have a physical presence in the market place so people could see and try the pieces so I will do more craft markets,” he says. “My wife and I did the Christmas market at the Docklands [in Dublin]. Business was so good that we have nearly sold out. I am waiting for a new delivery of stock this February, with new designs coming online soon.”

Selling wholesale will also feature in My Amber’s future plans: “We are sourcing buyers through events that we attend – we use those markets to network.”

What advice would Sapalski have for anyone wanting to start selling online or at markets? “Do courses through an enterprise board,” he says. “There are many start-up business courses and the one I did was really great. It was with Dublin Enterprise at the National College of Ireland. It opened my eyes.

“There is much valuable advice to be had: marketing, legal and accounting. I learned also that a lot of start-up businesses put in the hard work but forget to make a profit.”
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