Mesmerizing Amber

Amber is mesmerizing. It is one of the earliest organic materials man used to adorn himself. We have been compelled, seemingly without reason, to incorporate it into our art forms and adornments since the Stone Age.

Why are we so mesmerized by amber? Amber resonates an essence of life in unparalleled volumes. It tells a story. It speaks to us in the form of subliminal echoes from the past. It haunts us from the grave, beckoning to be appreciated for the spellbinding thing that it is.

Amber has an energy that commands our attention. It’s the essence of life that holds us a captive audience, without question, sparing no expense. It is the “voice” and when we wear it, we are the “amplifier”.

Amber began as tree resin (not to be confused with tree sap). It then became buried in the earth, whereby subjecting it to a lengthy and complex amberization process and finally emerged as fossiliferous resin.

Sometimes, when the resin was new and sticky, unsuspecting creatures would come into contact with the resin and become trapped. The entombed creatures in fossilized amber are called biological inclusions. When amber has biological inclusions, not only can one see the actual creature, a creature that has close ancestors that reined in the forests primeval, but also its life story is painted within.

Some amber nuggets are like miniature glass theatres showing dramatic scenes, frozen in time, like stop-action photography. Rare specimens are highly coveted by collectors. They include predator and prey caught in the very moment of triumph and defeat, enemies striking a threatening pose in the heat of battle, coitus and even actual birth!

And then there is the inevitable death. Under close inspection, one can literally see the echoes from life’s end as radiating waves of shimmering reflections referred to as “strain”. The strain is a direct result of a dramatic death struggle that ensues as the creature, slowly, dies in the gripping mire of tree resin.

From afar, we see the strain in fossilized amber as beautiful reflections. In heat-treated amber, lacking natural strain, the beautiful reflections are called “sun spangles”.

Alas, life and death is but a beautiful and bittersweet struggle from beginning to end. From its humble beginnings and the origins of life entombed within, amber reminds us of that beautiful struggle. We are mesmerized by amber because it is a miniature time capsule and preserved within that capsule, are the secrets of life itself.


In the forest primeval, a creature calls…
Its echo is heard for millions of years.
Frozen in time; the drama unfolds--
A death struggle painted in amber tears.
--S.N.Nellis. 2007