Amber in Native American Jewerly and Fetish Carvings


Amber Bear Fetish Carving by Zuni artist Joanne Cheama

Amber is……
fossilized tree sap. Although amber is not a mineral, it is classified as a gemstone. Most of the world’s amber is 30-90 million years old. It can contain insects, small vertebrates and other particulate matter both plant and animal. Amber is commonly a clear golden color, but it may have greenish to goldish inclusions.

Amber is sometimes used in Santo Domingo necklaces for the beads or for adornments added to the necklace.

Amber necklace with Fetish Bear by Santo Domingo artists James and Doris Coriz

Amber Hummingbird Fetish on a Treasure Necklace by Santo Domingo Artists James and Doris Coriz

90% of the world’s extractable amber is located in the Baltic Sea off the coasts of Poland and Russia.

Bee seeing you……….


11 thoughts on “Amber in Native American Jewerly and Fetish Carvings

    • Most Native American artists purchase their materials from suppliers and since the majority of amber comes from the Baltic region, I would image much of the amber used in Native American jewelry is Baltic. In fact, I have seen many items described like this… “Sterling Silver Baltic Amber Navajo Bracelet” for example.

      With that said, amber is also found in a number of states in the US so it is possible that NA artist could obtain North American amber but probably unlikely.

      I have some vintage Native American pieces with amber in them so it is not a new usage but it is somewhat scarce to find.

      Thanks for the question !

  1. My Dad traveled frequently to Poland and brought back many wonderful gifts for our family. One item was necklaces of what he said was “amber” – but it looked and felt like plastic to me. After I read your description of amber, I wish I had appreciated my necklace more. (Unfortunately, it was stolen along with many other treasure in a home burglary many moons ago.

    • Lucky you to have received some Polish amber but so sad it was taken. There are quite a few legends about the part it played in Polish history.
      It is interesting that you mentioned the plastic-like appearance/feel of amber beads because I wondered about that too the first time I saw amber.
      When at an estate sale with my brother, we spotted 2 sets of amber colored beads. We both wanted them but I told him he could choose first. He chose the uniformly colored, heavier necklace (which turned out to be faux plastic, appraised at checkout at 50 cents which is what he paid for them) while I secretly wanted the lighter weight necklace which with its irregular shapes and odd flecks within looked more real and interesting to me. At checkout, I learned they were real ($50) and priceless to me. I love wearing them – they are lightweight and radiant.

  2. We once purchased amber beads in Mexico, not knowing how to look for the real thing. When we returned home, we read that faux amber will burn when a match is put to the piece. We lit a match and tested our new amber. The beads burned like candles!


    • I’m not familiar with that criteria but have read that it doesn’t “melt” like plastic would but it will “burn” like an incense stick would and releases a sweet, pine scent. Plastic would smell awful.

      Another test is to see if it will float in salt water, which real amber should. 2 Tablespoons of salt in 8 oz of water approximates sea water. Of course this only works if the amber is not attached to a ring or other setting. If you have single beads, amber beads should float, plastic beads will sink.

      There are quite a number of other tests, but these are simple.

  3. I am envisioning insects & seeds preserved in slow moving tree sap probably while still alive for us to appreciate millions of years later.

    Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
    And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

    As You Like It Act 2, scene 1, 12–17

    • Sermons in stones – I see that every day as I look at the beautiful stones and other materials used in Native American jewelry……and out my front door at the Rocky Mountains !
      Thanks for sharing the interesting snippet from Shakespeare !

  4. Pingback: Amber Revisited – How do you know it is real? « Native American Jewelry Tips

  5. Hi, I recently bought (at auction) a very long (34 inches) what looks like an antique Native American fetish necklace. It is held together with what seems to silk threads (or some other type of thread material). There are approximately 70 carved, various fetish animals, with a carved bear pendant at the bottom. Could you, please tell me how I would research this item? How could I find out if it is indeed an artifact? Thank you, Shelley

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