The Secret Life of Amber

Home Harvest, Beth Hemmila (Hint Jewelry):
amber, garnet, carnelian, citrine, green tourmaline,
and silver Tree of Life charm

A couple weeks ago I picked up a book that has caught me by surprised. I'm not much for non-fiction, but Victoria Finlay's Jewels: A Secret History has woven together elaborate stories about gems that keep me coming back for more. It's hard to describe how Finlay makes a simple gem come alive through travel, history, and legend, but she's a clever writer with a lot of wit and insight about humans and their passion for beauty. Jewels: A Secret History has me looking at gems in my bead stash with a reverent awe.

For the next several weeks, I will select one of my favorite stories from Jewels: A Secret History and summarize it in my blog. To follow Hint Jewelry's whole blog series on Victoria Finlay's book, click on the label The Secret Life of Gems.

Finlay's first chapter explores amber -- one of my favorite gemstones. If I didn't know that amber was fossilized tree resin, which just seems so darn cool, I'd still be drawn in by its warmth of color. I always seek out my amber bracelet when I feel like a need some emotional healing, and there is a knotted amber choker design in my sketchbook that yearns to become a reality. Amber is a fair mistress hiding out in my gem collection.

In Finlay's Jewels: A Secret History, my favorite story about amber is actually a Greek legend concerning a boy named Phaeton who was the son of the sun god Helios. In an effort to compete with dad, Phaeton and his seven sisters hitched up some horses to a chariot in order to race the sun across the heavens. In his boyish enthusiasm, Phaeton lost control of the chariot and almost doomed the world to complete destruction. Zeus, king of the gods, took action and sent a thunderbolt to kill the boy. Phaeton's body floated down to earth near a north-flowing river called Eridanus, and his sisters were turned into black poplars. Weeping over the death of their brother, the sisters tears spread into the river and became amber.

Not only do I love the tragedy and romanticism in this amazing myth, I just dig how the Greeks used story to hint at the truth concerning the secret location of amber mines. In the ancient world, keeping the source of your amber supply hush hush was similar to some top secret spy mission.

In Jewels: A Secret History, Finlay makes the connection that amber really is the tears of a tree (conifers instead of black poplars) much like the sisters weeping in the Greek legend. Scientists have a theory suggesting that millions of years ago there may have been a bit of global warming similar to Phaeton driving the sun too close to the earth, and the evergreen trees started to ooze tons of resin as a way to heal themselves. This ancient fossilized tree resin is what we know as amber.

Now every time I pick up a piece of amber to enjoy its warmth and color, I have the joy of seeing this delightful gemstone as a teardrop of a sister who was turned into a tree over a bit of fun gallivanting across the heavens. Simply beautiful!

To enjoy more of my voyage through Victoria Finlay's book Jewels: A Secret History, check out my series The Secret Life of Gems.


  1. Very interesting! Didn't know about theory of earlier global warming, trees oozing...have a few amber pieces from the Baltics...will enjoy them all the more now...thanks!

  2. What a fascinating post! Have always revelled in the "stories" behind the stones and tell some of them on the hang tags on my jewelry. Buyers love the info. Will have to add this book to my library. Thanks, Beth!

  3. Oh! I forgot to mention that "Home Harvest" is a gorgeous design.

  4. Amber is such an earthy color ... I love all variations of it... I love the grouping u have up there.

  5. Amber is indeed a fascinating gem with hidden secrets begging to be found by the discerning eye. The teardrop mythology surrounding amber makes it just that more enticing and desirable to wear. I must have that book! Thank you for sharing this incredible story and your beautiful Home Harvest necklace.

  6. Great post! I will have to search for that book.
    Have a great day!

  7. I am so going to order a copy of this book, or put it on a wishlist. I love that there is a story. That is what I aim to do with all my pieces and that will certainly add to the story that evolves from each piece. Thank you for sharing that inspiration today! Enjoy the day! Erin

  8. That was so interesting - I loved the story. Andrew Thornton had a piece about the lore of gems on ArtBeadScene today. I enjoy studying the healing properties of stones and using them on jewelry for friends who need help at the time. I will have to check out this book. Thank you for sharing

  9. Interesting! I just requested this book from my library. I'll look forward to reading it.

  10. I'm so thrilled you all are connecting with this book. It is almost due at the library so I'm definitely buying my own copy to have on hand. Thanks for reveling in amber with me!

  11. This book has been sitting on my "TO READ" pile for ages now. I look at it and want to plunge into it, but know that I won't get anything done if I do.

    I first became enamored with Finlay's work in her book, "Color." Oh, how I love that book. It puts me in the mood to travel and paint and make things and see the world and just delve into the history of the most seemingly mundane things and relish all the beauty in them.

  12. Andrew that's so good to know that her Color book is equally as interesting. I have them both on my Amazon wishlist and I can't wait to finish this one and start the Color one. I feel exactly the same way about getting in the mood to travel and work with colors and materials. Thanks for stopping by!


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