The healing power of mermaid tears: how silversmith Amber Veyser Kitzler found her marbles on the beach

amber in her studio

I think if we lived on the same island, we’d be besties. When you scroll through Amber’s Instagram page, it’s just such a fun, jaunty place that it makes you want to jump on a plane and fly to Canada for your next vacay.

Amber Veyser Kitzler, grew up in the Canadian Rockies but found the ocean when her mom moved Amber and her two brothers to Vancouver Island post-divorce.

Amber is a passionate sea glasser and a self-taught silversmith.

She creates handcrafted, one of a kind sterling silver jewellery with the sea glass she finds, under her own brand bykitzy.

What makes her jewellery truly unique, is that she works with her clients one-on-one, making the client an integral part of the design process.

She guides you through choosing the perfect piece of sea glass and deciding on the design elements that will most complement the piece you have in mind.

Amber’s passion lies in taking something old, broken, tossed away and transforming it into something beautiful and valued.

“Seaglass literally is me because I once felt broken and lost. Now I’m different from what I once was, with hints of my original self still showing through, and I’ve got a whole new purpose in life,” she told me when I asked why she loves her work.

What the hell is sea glassing?

Seaglassing is the wonderful practise of walking slowly on a beach with your eyes trained on the shore, searching for hidden gems, cast up on the beach by the tide.

Sea glass is glass that’s been tumbled in the ocean until it has a frosty appearance. Sea glass is similar to beach glass, but they come from different types of water.

Sea glass can be found on saltwater beaches whereas beach glass comes from fresh water and is typically less frosted.

Time, water and the motion of the ocean, weather pieces of glass over decades.

It takes at least 20-40 years for a piece of sea glass to be made, sometimes it takes as much as 100 to 200 years for a piece to acquire its characteristic texture and shape.

Where does sea glass come from?

Sea glass begins its life as normal shards of broken glass that are tumbled and ground until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded.

In this process, the glass loses its smooth surface but gains a frosted appearance instead.

Genuine sea glass originates as pieces of glass from broken bottles, broken tableware, and can even come from shipwrecks.

A lot of sea glass comes from what glass and tableware factories historically dumped into the ocean.

That’s why it’s common to still find pieces that are intact enough that you can trace their origin – and there is a whole group within the sea glassing community that lives for the detective work of figuring out where a piece came from.

When you pick up a piece of sea glass, you’re picking up a piece of history – and that’s part of the fascination.

Amber was introduced to sea glassing by a friend.

I had taken my friend and co-worker Natarcia Achadenha crabbing, and during one of the lulls – when we waited for the crabs to stampede into our traps and offer themselves up as a sacrifice for our dinner – she said ‘Let’s go sea glassing while we wait!’ and my response, naturally, was ‘What the hell is sea glassing?’.”

At the time, Amber had never heard of the terms ‘sea glassing’ or ‘mud larking’.

A mudlark is someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value, and this is a term that was especially used to describe those who scavenged the banks of the River Thames in London during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

For Amber, it wasn’t love at first sight, and she wasn’t as into it as she’d soon become.

However, it was a nice and relaxing experience and she planned to return the next day by herself.

Over the next few days, she sat on the beach the entire day, sometimes searching the sand for treasure, sometimes just sitting and looking out at the ocean.

I felt such peace and calm in my mind, felt such freedom to just ‘be’ or even ‘not to be’.

The beach helped Amber find her zen.

Something that had been lacking from her life for many years up until that point.

She had long struggled with untreated anxiety and depression, stemming as far back as childhood.

This eventually turned into substance abuse and the resulting physical, spiritual and emotional collapse that’s inevitable in that life.

She had only just begun her journey of recovery, a few months before being introduced to sea glassing, and the space it allowed her was simultaneously exciting and calming.

The process of searching and, if lucky, finding these ‘mermaid tears’ hit all the right buttons in her dopamine-craving brain.

And it allowed her an easier transition in her recovery by shifting her focus from one addiction to another.

“But in this case, the sea glassing was a ‘good’ addiction,” Amber explained. “Anyone who sea glasses knows what I’m talking about, in terms of the addictive nature of it. It can become obsessive, and I don’t mind admitting that it took me some time to learn how to balance my newfound pastime, so that I would not forsake all the tedious elements that are part of living a life, like feeding yourself or cleaning the house!”

Leaving the beach every day felt hard, even if all she did there was sit and look out over the water.

Being on the beach was profoundly healing, and Amber began getting to know who she was inside.

It also gave her much-needed time and space to think about the person she wanted to be.

“I feel that we, in recovery, are given a great gift in the form of a chance to transform ourselves. I began to formulate this notion of who and what I was in terms of my place on this earth and in the cosmos – all at the beach!”

And while she spent time at the beach, keeping her nose to the pebbles, in search of these absolutely amazing pieces of sea glass, a wish to do something with them grew.

Amber has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and has always enjoyed being creative.

But the sea glass she found really challenged her to come up with a way to find an artistic aesthetic that suited her best.

While pondering what she could do with the beautiful frosty orbs filling her heart and her pockets, she heard a voice say, ‘You’re going to become a silversmith.’

“Now, this is the part where you think, ‘This lady is nuts!’ – and you wouldn’t be wrong – but I had never in my life heard a voice in my head like that (and haven’t since). But it sounded like it knew what I needed to do so I thought, what the hell?”

She figured she’d better find out exactly what this silversmithing stuff is all about, and started teaching herself how to do it.

Despite her artistic background, Amber had never even thought or considered the notion of making jewellery.

She’d liked jewellery well enough, but had never had any interest in creating it – until she started feeling like that was exactly what she was supposed to be doing.

She started by acquainting herself with the material; wire wrapping was relatively easy, to begin with, and she used online tutorials to learn more.

By working with wire, resin and sea glass, she found her way through the early steps of the craft by experimentation.

With confidence it was time to advance to silversmithing.

“Thanks to a one-ounce gold coin my grandfather had purchased in the 1930s, for something like $39, and that my mother gave to me to cash in, I was able to buy tools for silversmithing. That coin was worth over $1,300!”

From there she decided to focus on only two things to get started; how to make a simple ring and a bezel, and then take it from there.

She deliberately avoided looking at the work of other silversmiths working in jewellery because she didn’t want to inadvertently be too influenced by their work.

She wanted to let her own style grow organically as she learned more and deepened her skill.

One of her favourite things about the work is getting to use the tools.

“I’ve always been a power tool kind of gal (my ex-husband used to buy me things like chop saws as anniversary gifts and I loved it!), so all the fire, sawing, cutting and melting that’s involved in silversmithing really floats my boat!”

I asked her where she gets inspiration for her pieces today, and she said it mostly comes from the ether, though she’ll sometimes spot something in a shop window and do an interpretation of that.

Most often, her customers are her inspiration.

“They’ll give me some notion of what they’d like me to create with their ideas and, between the two of us, we create something that came from our two diabolical minds joining together!”

“The beach is where I found my marbles, literally and figuratively!”

The beach and sea glass have special meaning for Amber.

It’s the place where she goes to connect with the energy of the larger universe, where she feels happiest – besides in her studio or with her family – and it’s where she found her true calling.

And the metaphors, don’t end there; sea glass is something old and broken that’s been tossed away.

But it can be transformed into something new, beautiful and valued.

“Sea glass literally is me, in that I felt exactly like my original self was once broken and lost, but now I’m different, yet with hints of my original self still shining through as I move forward with a new purpose.”

Amber collects her own sea glass when she has time, but when she gets busy with many orders or her day job, she has less time to go to the beach.

Then she’ll approach sea glass collectors from around the world and make a trade for the perfect piece.

She finds the old-school barter system quite handy; it allows her to trade a piece of her finished jewellery for sea glass of equal value.

On rare occasions, she purchases sea glass online, but this is simply to get rare colours – like red or yellow – and to get pieces in perfect condition – such as intact bottle bottoms or antique coloured marbles.

“I used to go out every day, right at dawn, no matter what the weather and used to joke that it was like a full-time job. These days, I tend to go once or twice a week, so I’ve dropped it back to a part-time job,” she joked.

Amber also vacillates between sea glassing and mud larking, depending on how the tides are.

Mud larking is only possible when the tide is out and the mud is exposed. For sea glassing, you essentially just need a sliver of beach to be free of water to find treasures.

She tells me that she’s lucky because the people who first populated the island were terrible naturalists and enjoyed throwing their trash right into the ocean.

“I’m being sarcastic, of course, because throwing the trash right into the sea is disgusting to our modern values and nobody with any sense would condone it today. But we all know that without those old beach and ocean dumps we wouldn’t have our sea glass or the fun of mud larking. Those old evils turned into our good fortune, over time.”

There’s a passionate community around sea glassing.

Amber tells me she has met so many wonderful people just from having a shared interest in the beauty of transforming old garbage into something new.

From clients to collectors and fellow sea glassers, there’s a global community of sea glassing enthusiasts, and for everyone, the ocean and beach hold a special meaning too.

“Everyone is so helpful and kind and fun. I am so lucky to be a part of this nerdy subgroup! I’m absolutely in love with this goofy calling and the people in it.”

Social media has been the avenue by which Amber has been able to connect with these like-minded people from all over the world.

She’s been able to get her work in front of people who would never see it otherwise, but more importantly, it has allowed her to connect with people she would never have met without social media.

In the future, Amber hopes to transition to making jewellery full-time, even though the solitary nature of studio work makes it lonely at times.

“But then again, all I have to do to connect with anyone is to open up my social media and I’m linked to old friends, new friends, and friends I haven’t even met yet!”

And, of course, there’s Whiskers, her elderly cat, who keeps Amber company and makes an occasional cameo in her videos.

You can follow Amber on Instagram and TikTok, or check out her Etsy shop.