I’m wearing one of my own as I type this but it’s the old fashioned kind, one I probably bought in multiples from a stall in the Monastiraki flea market in Athens to bring back home for friends. There was a time that was the only sort of evil eye bracelet you could find: blue and white glass symbols strung on a leather chord. Now they come studded with sapphires and diamonds or painted in fine and vibrant enamel tones.
Meghan Markle often wears one, sometimes in the form of a pendant with a blue topaz eye, but she has also been seen wearing a delicate gold evil eye bracelet. How did this ancient symbol of protection leap from proud proof of a Greek vacation to royal jewelry status?
I often, and proudly, trace its rise to designer Ileana Makri, who brought the shape and all its meaning from Athens to Barney’s New York in late 1999. The first time I saw an evil eye that did not look like the ones from the flea market was one afternoon at Barney’s while staring into a vitrine with Makri’s name lightly etched in the corner. They were as full of the talismanic power as any I had ever seen, but they were also full of diamonds.
Whenever anyone asks me why we still wear evil eye pendants, or why we wear them now more than ever, I point them to this Greek-born jeweler. And so, after seeing Meghan Markle wear an evil eye (one that promptly sold out after a photo appeared) I emailed Makri, at home in Athens—in an apartment with one of the best Acropolis views I’ve ever seen—and asked her for her views on this ancient mystical symbol of protection.
Tell us about the history of the evil eye.
A quasi-universal symbol of protection, the evil eye is referred to as μάτι (mati) in Greek. The concept and the significance of the evil eye is especially prominent in the Mediterranean and West Asia.
The evil eye is a “look” or “stare” that is believed to bring bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. The perception of the nature of the phenomenon, its causes, and possible protective measures, varies between tribes and cultures. The evil eye is a talisman that is meant to protect you from these evil spirits.
Belief in the evil eye—“mati”—dates back to Greek Classical antiquity, to at least the 6th century B.C. when it appeared on drinking vessels. It is referenced by Plato, Hesiod, Plutarch and many more classical authors who attempted both to describe and explain the function of the evil eye.
Plutarch’s scientific explanation stated that the eyes were the chief, if not sole, source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye. It is a curse or legend believed to be cast by this malevolent glare, and usually given to a person when they are unaware.
An evil eye is a talisman or amulet, designed in the shape of an eye, traditionally in the colors blue or green, that indicate spiritual protection. These talismans or evil eye “repellents” come in different shapes and forms as pendants, bracelets, earrings and rings. Or can be hanging in a glass bead form over the main door or entrance of someone’s home to keep the hearth protected.
When did you start wearing one?
My mother would put an evil eye pin on my crib to make sure any negative energy directed at me would be turned back and I would be protected and safe. Around the age of 6, I got my first piece of jewelry which was a small gold ID bracelet with a tiny evil eye charm hanging from it.
Do you wear one always?
Since I was a child I wear an evil eye either as a pendant, ring or earring on several occasions, especially at times when I feel additional protection is needed, though not necessarily every day.
As a designer, besides the talismanic aspect, what is so alluring about this shape?
Aside from its symbolism, which I embrace, for me the eyes are the most powerful and meaningful part of the human body. People’s eyes always fascinate me and that is what inspires me in creating a piece of jewelry that imitates the shape of the eye and hopefully also incorporates the strength of it.
Have you seen an increase in interest right now? If so, how do you explain it?
The evil eye has always been a bestseller as people associate it very much with our brand. We have in fact seen an increase in sales for our evil eyes since Covid-19 and I think this is mainly due to the need of people to acquire something that would boost good luck and protection in these difficult times.
What’s the most classic evil eye design and what is your most creative interpretation of it?
My most iconic evil eye design is the Dawn Pendant. This is the pendant that I was wearing the winter of 2000 at a big birthday party of a friend of mine in New York. Everybody started asking me what this was, as at the time the evil eye and its meaning was unknown to most people in the U.S., and over 10 people ordered it that same evening.
That triggered the idea to develop the collection and present it to Barney’s, asking them to include them in the selection they had made for that season. I had to brief all the sales people of the Madison store when they received them 6 months later, so they would be able to explain to their customers the symbolism of the eye.
I believe that my most creative interpretation of the eye, is the “Crying Eyes” Collection. The Eye has often taken symbolic form in my work. One day, the moment came for these eyes to come to life and express themselves in a more personal, emotional way. The embrace of this daring approach brought new life and dimension to my work, bringing them “to life” to express tears of both sadness and joy.
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